This article details the process of creating and maintaining a Standards Committee within your organization.
Forming a Standards Committee
The core components of a Technology Success Practice are standards and technical alignment. As mentioned before, without these components, a vCIO is making generic recommendations. Developing standards and aligning a customer’s IT is the epitome of a World Class IT provider. It is imperative a TSP creates and maintains a standards library at all times.
Before compiling a list of best practices, it is best to choose a group to regulate the process. A Standards Committee provides many benefits over handed down or tribal knowledge. It assigns centralized governance over each standard and best practice used for alignment.
The Importance of a Standards Committee
A vCIO takes TAM findings, generates a proposal, and discusses the recommendations with a decision-maker. Although this is a general order of things, there is a lot more to it. Developing standards can be a tedious process, especially on compliance or government regulations. The fact is the TAM, vCIO, or other personnel do not have to go at it alone.
Developing standards without a committee can go in two directions:
- Individual TAM and vCIO standards based on knowledge handed down from previous experience. The trouble with this method is that information will differ between people not synchronizing.
- A TAM has their own standards for an IT environment that differ from the vCIO. The vCIO may change recommendations to something they prefer before generating a proposal. Design Desk may change recommendations based on experience to give back to the vCIO. At this point, no one is in agreement and workflows stall.
Without a consensus, developing and maintaining a standards library is difficult. A committee will benefit each customer due to the standardization of alignment processes.
A committee can consist of various roles in the organization from the top to the bottom. Limitations on involvement in the group is an internal discussion. While everyone has contributions, it is best to limit participation to relevant personnel. Some examples of people to include are:
- Business owners, CEO, CTO, CIO, and other executives.
- Stakeholders or third party vendors.
- vCIOs, TAMs, Professional Services, Centralized Services, Service Desk.
The suggestions for whom to involve does not indicate complete inclusion. It is an example of how those involved are not limited to technical staff. Stakeholders and executive involvement reassure the Technology Success Practice is working as intended.
The range for incorporation in a Standards Committee is wide, but keep it specific. Although coverage is from the top to the bottom, only relevant positions need to apply. It would not make sense to include people in roles that are not involved with customers. For example, a cleaning service or the building’s landlord. These people do not impact the TSP’s customers so there is no reason for their involvement.
Minimum Required Resources
- Business owner: Can assist in providing a 30,000-foot view of how a business operates. They offer support in areas of management, strategy, accounting, and human resources. A business owner will have knowledge of everyday costs that tend to creep in under the radar.
- CEO or other executives: A CEO or ranking executive has experience in day-to-day management. Operating a TSP makes the executives relatable to other businesses.
- Virtual CIO: A vCIO has the ability to contribute feedback from a decision-maker. Using feedback from client strategy, a vCIO offers information not common to other delivery areas.
- Technology Alignment Manager: For the reason that a TAM already performs alignment reviews, their input is valuable. They perform the review, align customers to standards, and report findings to the vCIO. It makes sense when TAMs have regular involvement in the standards creation process.
- Service Desk: A great fit for the Standards Committee would be a member of the Service Desk team. A manager or team leader can provide valuable feedback about the type of tickets received. Knowing common problems that pop up daily will assist in crafting proactive standards.
Additional Recommended Resources
- Stakeholders: People in this group consist of board members, investors, or outside counsel. The inclusion of outside influence offers a diverse perspective from someone who has a stake in a business.
- Vendors: Third-party vendors associated with a TSP on a regular frequency. There are benefits of looping in representatives from products regularly implemented.
- Professional Services: Members of the implementer team deal with the functions of configuring services. They know where standards and alignment save time and effort during implementation.
- Centralized Services: Management of automation tools plays a key role in proactive services. Centralized Services assists with developing proactive best practices for remote agents.
The personnel available to choose from will vary depending on the size of the TSP. Whether the pool is small or large, it may be best to limit membership to management and above. Managers tend to have the best sense of how their delivery area is functioning. They can supply the necessary information to the table. If a TSP is on the smaller side, it may have all employees present.
Building a Standards Library
Once a Standards Committee forms, the next step is to develop a standards library. The library contains a TSP’s best practices used for technical alignment. Standards allow a vCIO to propose efficient and proactive strategies as a result of technical alignment.
Benefits of a Standards Library
Building standards from scratch are intimidating due to the size and complexity of customers. While going "all in" on the process of performing alignment reviews is nice, the approach must be carefully orchestrated. Overdeveloping standards from the start can cause analysis paralysis; too much input causes a lack of output. In other words, spending too much time developing and not aligning prevents work from getting done.
Having a standards library will help the vCIO in a tremendous fashion.
- Institutionalized knowledge: No more handed down or word of mouth support. All best practices, standards, and compliance requirements are recorded for the entire organization. A repository of knowledge that everyone can agree on prevents questionable methods.
- True vCIO process: Enabling the true process of vCIO comes along with a standards library. A TSP no longer has a Virtual Captain Obvious making generic recommendations. The true vCIO process enables real business impact and client strategy.
- Reduces reactive noise: When standards and best practices are in place, they reduce reactive noise. When a customer is in alignment it prevents reactive support which in turn frees up the Service Desk. Lowering the frequency of tickets through technical alignment is an indicator that the process works.
Analysis of Standards
Without standards and best practices, an onsite alignment visit would not make sense. It would be near impossible to come out of it with useful information for the vCIO. A standard or best practice breaks down into three individual components.
- Question: These should be objective and have a yes or no answer. Questions should not be open to interpretation.
- Why are we asking: This justifies the question to the client. If a customer comprehends the business impact, they are more likely to accept the recommendation.
- How to find the answer: Assessments check hardware or software for particular configurations. Rather than assume the TAM is aware of how something works, document steps to complete this task. It is best to cite a source on that method of standardization. Include a URL to a manufacturer or vendor page describing the preferred configuration.
Aspects of each visit should have a clear definition when performing an assessment. These are about the audit as well as its performance. A standards visit includes the following:
- Establishing standards: Define standards and best practices before the first onsite visit. Manufacturers and vendors often supply best practices for their products. Examples include Windows Server, Exchange mailboxes, or a UPS device.
- Technology or Compliance: When developing standards for onsite assessments, focus on technology or compliance. Technology standards include best practices for configuring and monitoring technology. Compliance determines whether the client is within acceptable parameters for private or government regulations. Technology and compliance depend on each other.
- Elements to inspect: The client is relying on the TSP to assess their technology. They determine what needs improvement and make recommendations to a decision-maker. Inspected items are what clients are counting on to keep them compliant.
- What to consider healthy: Technology assessments decide what is healthy in a customer’s IT environment. Elements of the assessment that are not aligned generate recommendations to the vCIO. The customer is relying on this information as part of a service commitment to them.
On the back half of TAM is technical alignment. This is the process of assessing customers and aligning technology against defined standards. This part is as, if not more, important than developing standards. Creating standards without performing reviews are irrelevant in the alignment process. It will be a waste of TSP resources and a severe letdown for clients.
- Standards are the definition: Alignment is a process of assessing how an environment is versus what it should be. The core responsibility is noting item alignment and passing findings to the vCIO. Company standards are the definition of this process. Without them technical alignment is irrelevant.
- Technical Alignment is objective: Technical alignment of customer technology is an objective analysis. Standards formatting dictates an answer of ‘yes’ as the rule and not the exception.
- Good example: Is the system partition at least 40GB in size?
- Bad example: What size is the system partition?
Where to Start
Every decision has an impact on a customer’s operations. Standards development from a Standards Committee maintains assessed items delivered to the vCIO. It is more important to develop quality standards over quantity.
It may be challenging to locate a starting point in the standards and alignment process. It is best to concentrate on priority areas. There are elements to consider and the list below assists with choosing where to begin.
- Plan Standards Committee meetings a year in advance. Ensure they are set on the calendar and resources can dedicate proper time.
- Define a recurring meeting schedule for the Standard Committee to meet. Keeping best practices up to date requires constant attention.
- High-impact areas address the customer’s immediate needs. Preventing reactive service issues and lowering noise will contribute to customer success.
- It takes time to develop and refine standards into a format that covers diverse areas. Make the initial standards functional, then concentrate on refining them over time. They will continue to evolve as technology and clients' needs change.
An important note about standards is they are a living, breathing rule set. Standards change over time from new technology, processes, and procedures. Reviewing standards at least once per year keeps them up to date as the industry shifts. Learn from mistakes by rolling these variations into the standards library. Small improvements over time will lead to big changes.
Standards Committee Meetings
Creating a standards library without a firm meeting date is difficult. Piecing together best practices as the backbone of a Technology Success Practice will not work. Each member would need to be present and ready to contribute on a predetermined schedule. This section will detail how to meet, when to meet, and what to achieve during these gatherings.
The Five W’s of Standards Committee Meetings
The easiest way to explain the Standards Committee meeting process is to break it out into the five W’s: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.
Who is meeting
- Determine who will be attending the meeting based on a list of members. As aforementioned, enrollment is open or invite-only and known before the first meeting.
- Find out if anyone not regularly in attendance will join the meeting. It is best to know if a special guest or employee is making an appearance. Notice of their arrival may alter the agenda already set in place.
What topics are considered
- Decide what topics to discuss at each meeting before arriving. This prevents wasted deliberation in trying to figure out what is a priority.
- Use a collaboration tool or shared spreadsheet to keep a running list of ideas. Members can add topics they feel are relevant between meetings. The meeting organizer can decide what is and is not a priority.
Where to meet up
- If meeting during the workday, fill a conference room or gather outdoors when weather permits. Every member should meet in person and not remote when possible.
- If meeting after hours or scheduling an administration day, meet at a restaurant or coffee shop to keep the atmosphere social.
- Create a ‘lunch and learn’ and turn the meeting into an extended lunch break. Cater food and beverages to keep employees engaged.
When to meet up
- Decide on a frequency that makes everyone comfortable. Meeting every three months may be optimal for most TSPs. This is dependent on the client’s needs and complexity. Attempt to schedule around calendars to prevent the regular absence of key members.
- Pick a time of day that works for everyone in the group. During the workday may work, but depending on schedules it may not be optimal. See if after hours is convenient.
Why the meeting is occurring
- Know the meeting agenda before the start. No one should gather without a clear view of meeting objectives in place.
- Have a set list of goals to accomplish. This will make sure the meeting stays on track.
Asking these questions when formulating a schedule will discover what serves for everyone. Meetings are scenario-driven, meaning they are not the same for all TSPs. It may take some time to work out the bugs and set a rhythm.
Topics of Conversation
When the committee reviews standards, alignment, and best practices, a few things occur. Standards and best practices are an ever-evolving list and need constant attention. Standards are added, revised, and removed from the library as industry trends change.
Running a Meeting
Standards meetings cannot be lawless and need one or more delegates running the show. There are methods to employ when deciding how to run a meeting.
- Assign someone to schedule, manage, and run the meeting on a permanent basis.
- Advantage: Prevents wasting time each meeting figuring out who will run it.
- Disadvantage: Assigns authoritative functions to a single person who may not welcome outside opinion.
- Rotate who will run each meeting.
- Advantage: Allows everyone a chance to run a meeting and does not grant all the power to a single person.
- Disadvantage: Some of those chosen may not have the skills necessary to run an effective meeting.
- Pick someone at random for each meeting.
- Advantage: A random person will run the meeting.
- Disadvantage: It takes time to choose someone and may wind up choosing the same people often.
- No one officially runs the meeting.
- Advantage: No one is in charge.
- Disadvantage: No one is in charge.
The option of assigning the same person may be the best choice for a startup Standards Committee. As a rhythm gets into motion it is possible to pivot to a rotation. A random selection at each meeting is inefficient due to the potential reassignment of the same group of peers. No one running the meeting is not recommended.
Maintaining the Standards Library
When it comes to achieving a goal, it is sometimes easier to get there than to maintain your position. A standards library is no different. Forming a committee, setting meeting patterns, and creating standards take hard work and dedication. It would be a shame to see it go by the wayside. Maintaining the standards library keeps standards and best practices up to date.
Performing upkeep on standards is a regular part of meetings. The initial development sees best practices as relevant at the time of creation. Over time they are out of date and require maintenance to stay connected to business trends.
Standards library maintenance should be the main focus of committee meetings. Once the initial standards are in place, keep a regular rhythm for updating, adding, or removing standards from the library. Falling behind on this process will plunge a TSP into a hole and to dig out is difficult.