ITSM, password reset, project management

The Project: A Possibly Recognizable ITSM Fairy Tale

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One day, the boss forgot his password

My name, for this tale, is Nate. I’m an ‘Admin’ (for people not systems). Note I said “the” boss; I work for eight of them and five are male, so technically I am not singling one out for any later “coaching” on the ethics of airing any issues with data retention and recall (his memory, if you will). Technically. Hence, “Nate”.

So anyway, the password. I tried the normal ‘workaround’: I told him what it was. Sadly, it seems an automated reminder had prompted him to change it the day before, and it was during a meeting, and he didn’t take time to write it down or tell me. So I started to outline other options. Unfortunately, I lead with “There is not much we can do about…” (I do know better, but had not had enough caffeine that morning) and found myself groaning (inwardly) as his hand came up to stop me.

“We can’t have that,” he began. “What we need is a way forward, a way that eliminates this issue once and for all!” Now I was physically cringing, because I knew the next words that were coming. “What we need,” he declared, “is a PROJECT!”

There was more, but I enabled my internal white noise filter (all Admins have this ability) and set about sending notice to the usual participants. Once more, the quest would begin…

Surviving a Brainstorm

This time (which I say because it is not the same every time), several weeks were spent “identifying the real problem”. There are many fine methods for pursuing such knowledge (FMEA, KT, C&E, and many more) but pretty much none of them were applied (as usual). Rather, the managers consulted a number of Very Important Advisors (all managers have them; note however, that some find theirs only in the mirror) which resulted in this PROBLEM STATEMENT: “People forget passwords!”  This was quite acceptable to the managers, as each of them saw the value in noting the problem was not exclusive to them. A bonus was that the statement was clearly “people focused” (an important part of last month’s ‘managers summit’ in Las Vegas), and so, must be correct.

With the problem ‘identified’, they now decreed a Project could officially begin to FIND A SOLUTION. The agreed method for this (again, this time) was to be ‘brainstorming’. Now, in a civilized world, brainstorming has some pretty simple, rational guidelines. In general, they are a) form as many ideas as you can, b) don’t judge or criticize others ideas, c) no idea should be considered too strange, and d) associate the ideas to form better ideas. Of course, this is business, so civilized and rational really tend to not apply.

Instead, a number of ‘passionate experts’ were gathered from in and outside the company, and ensconced in a room (with plenty of coffee, snacks and catered lunches). Soon after, each began wielding, like lightning, their pet conclusions (formed on the journey to the meeting) in order to sway the others; they thundered the addendums to their names (declarations such as ‘Black Belt’ and ‘Expert’ and ‘Sensei’) and rained acronyms like hailstones. In my role as moderator, it was my task to ensure the storm did not overwhelm anyone (especially me) while calmly attempting to steer them in a coherent direction. In the end, however, it was not me but rather a wizened man that sat near a corner whose repeated mumblings of “Why why why why why?” finally drew the others attention and resulted in relative agreement. When the last why had been answered, the result was “We must improve the human brain!”  They considered this an apt conclusion (having been reached in a brainstorm), and when the storm subsided, three plans had been formulated to support this solution.

First, to enter a brain to see what is really happening (like that movie!) This was insisted on by the Sensei, because one must always ‘go to the gemba’ (the others thought gemba must be Japanese for brain, so they agreed). Second, begin pursuing a biochemical improvement (like that movie!) This came from ‘the whys guy’ (though his real motivation was that he was young in the days of Free Love and psychotropic enlightenment, and never got over it). Third, simultaneously pursue an implantable tech AI (no movie came to mind) for those that were anti-drug (and possibly vegan). This was called for by the Software Engineer, who, being a coder, thought of the others collectively as “Ops”; they in turn saw him as “Dev”, or equivalently, Geek.

They all agreed these solutions sounded not only practical but also a bit mysterious and cool, and therefore (because all experts like to cultivate these airs) must be correct.

I, as always, took notes and tried to suppress a sense that Rod Serling was smiling somewhere.

Project Launch + 18 months

As per protocol, I turned things over to a Project Management Professional after the brainstorm. Thus, I only occasionally heard of ‘progress’ on ‘Project Outer Limits’ (yes, they got the movie wrong). Some highlights:

The main Project was split into three Sub-Projects: Project ‘Nanoization®’ (because they decided miniaturization was so 1966) was at first overshadowed by Project ‘LSD’ (for Lobe Supplementing Drug, of course) and Project ‘Kahn’ (geek, Trek – you get it). This was because they found that actually, miniaturization was in fact still a relevant term, but it was only being applied to things, not people, so there was no existing research to leverage to make ‘Nanomen®’. This forced them to spend several months trying to develop some before abandoning the ‘people’ part and creating a robotic Nanosub® that was able to map brain function better than ever before. Despite this, ‘Nanoization®’ was scrapped for “not meeting its original goal”. The Nanosub® was locked into a Nano-vault and subsequently lost somewhere on the way to a permanent storage facility.

Project LSD was showing fine results among the test mice. By month 11 the mice were communicating in 18 languages, had solved several ‘unsolvable’ problems, and had fabricated a FTL engine using a 4D printer of their own design. Unfortunately, the FDA had then refused permission for human trials for at least ten years, which had ‘LSD’ on the ropes. The final stroke was the disappearance of the mice (and all of their work) late one night during month 16. A perfectly round, extremely smooth-sided hole, exactly one meter in diameter, was found bored through the building the next morning, extending straight up from the “Mouse House” through 19 floors of concrete and steel and a security guard named Stu. I like to believe they are living happily on an earth-like planet many light years from here and not considering the universe would be better without us in it.

Project Kahn produced a promising prototype (wearable) that had enabled those using it to perform many complex tasks they had no chance of performing without it. Unfortunately, test subjects quickly developed a dependency to the device, and became catatonic when disconnected (I heard that there were 11 of them, now kept in a sub-basement lab and powering the entire global internet, but that could just be a rumor). The project leads then forged ahead with an implant version – reasoning it could be permanent and avoid the withdrawal effect – but the first test subject stole the device (and all the research and materials), escaped to a secret island (location unknown), and is building a secret headquarters prior to announcing himself as the first bona fide Super Villain (though the public has not been made aware in the interest of not starting a panic, and avoiding lawsuits). Needless to say, Kahn is now defunct (the Project, not the upcoming Super Villain).

The original issue about forgetting passwords has been transferred to a think tank, whose members are in a never ending debate as to whether a password reset is an Incident or a Request. My managers are unconcerned, because I eliminated the need for their passwords by ordering laptops that use their thumbprint to grant access two days after the episode that lead to the Project.

Project Wrap Up

As I typed the last of the reports and encrypted them with a program that has no key, I decided that I would (anonymously) share what I hope will be a cautionary tale for those of you involved in PROJECTS. They CAN be successful – if you involve the right people, for the right reasons, working on the right things, at the right time. That may of course be why I subtitled this a fairy tale (which I declare to be wholly fictional), and why any resemblance to anything you have encountered is purely coincidental.


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Michael Keeling

Michael has been providing consulting and guidance in IT Operations, ITSM and SIAM to enterprise level organizations in many industries for more than 20 years, and has extensive background in data center and service desk operations, technical writing, mentoring, cause analysis and workflow improvement. He is known for bringing the view of a detective to these efforts, perspective he credits to education in crime scene investigation and over 10 years designing processes and performing risk management in the private security sector prior to his career in IT. A confirmed realist that believes no project can be truly successful unless all involved parties are grounded in reality, Michael is always prepared to paint ‘the elephant in the room’ bright yellow when appropriate….

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