2.4. Directing Interruptions Away from You
Let's begin by trying to eliminate the single most annoying interruption that exists: someone interrupting you when he should be going to someone else. Is this the right way to handle such interruptions?
"Tom, there's a problem with the web server."
"Great! I look forward to your results when you talk to the people responsible for the web servers."
No, that would be rude. The great thing about being a system administrator is that everyone assumes that you are all knowing and all powerful. Sadly, most of us are only all powerful within a certain scope of responsibility. While it may be annoying to be asked about systems outside your scope, you really can't get
at someone for trying. Have you ever
asked the wrong person a question? Not likely. So when you get annoyed at someone for making a request that "is obviously not my job," put yourself in that person's shoes. He didn't know a better place to go.
are, it's a compliment: you're the
person he could think of to ask for help (or the smart people were at
). Most organizations don't make it really obvious who is the most appropriate person to go to for help with particular problems.
Until you make it clear who to
to for help, you can't really get upset that people don't go to the right person. I use several
to communicate to people the right way to seek help: web pages, signs, email signatures, and so on. When I was at Bell Labs, we had
all over the walls leading to the SA area that read, "Stop! Have you sent email to 'help'?" At another organization, the first thing I did was to install an internal web site that gave users a list of specialty areas and directed them to the right person given a particular situation. Web browsers were configured to
this page on startup, and soon everyone became familiar with the information on the page.
Customers often bother me just to ask, "Hey, do you know that something is wrong?" Having a monitoring system like Nagios that lets them check for
can reduce these interruptions. However, if your system is very stable, there are going to be few chances for them to develop the habit of checking the status web page first. The least you can do is to make it a link on your intranet home page.
When someone notices an
that Nagios hasn't been configured to test, I make a big deal out of thanking him, even going so far as to send a follow-up email pointing out that that situation is now being
for in Nagios and that we appreciate him making us aware of the issue because it has enabled us to improve our monitoring system.
How do you advertise the right way to get help? Stop for a moment and look around your office. Walk 50 feet from your desk. Now turn and walk back toward your desk while pretending to be a typical
and see what she sees. Does the
naturally lead her to interrupt you or someone else? What can be done to guide the customer to an appropriate person who isn't you? If you have a formal, tiered support system, are customers directed to the right people? How can they be directed better? Maybe a big sign or whiteboard that explains people's responsibilities would prevent a big heap of interruptions. It would be fun to make overhead signs like at an airport, but instead of signs for Concourse A, Baggage Claim, and Ground Transportation, you would hang signs that tell people where to go for help with Email, Internet Outages, and Printers.
Can customers be trained to go to the right place for help? Maybe. The first step is to make sure they're being properly told what to do, then to make sure they get significantly better service when they follow the directions. Punishing someone for not following directions rarely works. Ask any animal trainer and they'll agree: positive reinforcement works better than
(in the long
). People not following directions is usually a warning sign that the directions aren't clear to them, aren't visible enough, or that the directions don't work.
Alas, people will still come to you when you are trying to focus, which leads us to the