Thursday, 17 May 2012

The 6 Deadly "I"s of IT Managers

Where ITSM experts are gathered together it is an unwritten rule that certain topics get mentioned on the pretext that they are analogous to ITSM. I won't list them all, but for example we devoted a large part of a recent recording of ITSMWPROW episode 41 to discussing whether a service catalogue is like a restaurant's menu, or more akin to its website.

Aviation safety is another one, whether it be the systems needed to keep track of different components over their lifetime, or the importance of checklists.

On British Radio there is a rather funny show that pokes fun at the aviation industry, called Cabin Pressure. On a recently repeated episode they listed the supposed "Six 'I's " of decision related pilot error. Now as far as I know the list is fictional*, but I still think it bears examination from an ITSM perspective

  1. Impatience
  2. Impulsiveness
  3. Invulnerability
  4. Insecurity
  5. Indecision
  6. "I know best"
*But my readers know better, see the comment from Ken below. Interestingly the FAA talk about Hazardous Attitudes whereas I believe the equivalent part of the UK's  pilot raining talks about "Error Proneness"


I'm always amazed how many times organisations ring me up saying they want an ITIL assessment and "Your consultant has to be able to start next week" Lets think this one through. You've been delivering sub standard ITSM for years (for such calls inevitably come from such organisations) but suddenly you must have a report next week? That sounds like part of a well thought out strategy. Not. And of course one any ITSM improvement initiative is underway these same organisations will expect instant results even though you've spent ages explaining to them that cultural change doesn't happen overnight. Because the impatient organinsation doesn't see those instant results they'll often change direction before an initiative  has had a chance to work. In this they resemble the impulsive organsiation.

It might tell you something about my own failings that whilst I tend to be quite dismissive of the impatient I have a certain sympathy with the impulsive. This is the manager who will pick up every new idea with the enthusiasm of a puppy chasing a ball, until they get distracted by something else new and shiny. The downside is that they don't provide the strong and constant messaging that the workforce need to feel that management is committed to a new way of working. A classic example was a CIO I knew who couldn't go to a project meeting without telling that project that they were his most important priority. An hour later he would be telling another project that they were his most important priority. He genuinely meant it, at least for as long as he was in the room with them.

Impatience I find annoying, impulsiveness I find amusing, but invulnerability I find frightening. One of the main reasons goes back to my early career in CIB investigating corrupt police officers, and then as an auditor with one eye always on the lookout for management fraud. A common theme was the manager who believed they were invulnerable to censure and could therefore do whatever they wanted, whether it was sexual harassment, financial fraud or just plain bullying. I'm afraid I've seen it in a lot of senior IT managers, especially those who have worked their whole career in one organisation and "know where the bodies are buried" and it definetly spills over into their view of the value, or not, of ITSM.

Organizationally I also come across entire IT departments who believe they will never be outsourced, and therefore never understand the reality of needing to change in anyway that is more than superficial. Sadly they don't realise how vulnerable they are until it is too late.

Perhaps this is sometimes the flipside of invulnerability. There are so many mangers, not just in IT, whose insecurity breeds paralyzing fear. They know what they should be doing but don't have the confidence to do it, even if they know what they are currently doing is obviously counterproductive. It also leads to...

I'm not sure about this one, but I do know...

I Know Best
This must surely be the most dangerous of them all. Linked inextricably to our old friend The Dunning-Kruger Effect.  I never fail to marval at the number of managers who are presiding over chaos and disaster who bring in an external advisor for no purpose, it seems, except to tell the expert they he/she is wrong and they are right. That's annoiying for the consultant, but how much worse it must be for those stuck in the crew of an Admiral Tyron.


  1. Hi James,

    No, the list you have published is *not* fictional, but it is a variation of a *real list* that we use in flight instruction -- The Five Hazardous Attitudes. If you'd like to see this referenced, you can have look at the FAA's Aviation Instructors Handbook. You can find it here:

    As a Flight Instructor, I often use aviation analogies in my service management work, because of how readily the concepts can be applied. Indeed, I am working on a training blog right now that dips into this well. I find it quite ironic that you (inadvertently?) tapped into this.

    Anyway, recognition of hazardous attitudes is an important part of the Aeronautical Decision Making process that we teach to students and this same process also maps well to what we do. If you cannot recognize it, you aren't going to be effective at mitigating the effects of or eliminating it.

    If you have any questions about this or would like to discuss it, please let me know.


    1. I've been dipping into aviation (and train!) as an analogy for ITSM for many years, and before that into generic systems failure (see Bignell and Fortune as a n example)

      I can't help noticing that some people see the value of the analogy, and others don't.

      I'm trying to find what the CAA covers on this aspect of human factors

  2. Hi James,

    I have seen indecision a lot in organizations. The issue of making the decision that the process is good enough and it needs to be used now. This stalls everything, because no one wants to take the accountability for making the decisions. Result: issues are being discussed over and over again, without anyone ever making the decision....


  3. Peter, I'm a great fan of satisficing as a decison making approach. What I really struggle with is when everyone knows the new process, whilst not perfect, is going to make things better than the current process, but still won't implement it because it doesn't meet all the target criteria