Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hurricane Triggered by Butterfly Wings

I harbor very little faith in the ability of IT folks to effectively document trouble tickets. I become surprised when I stumble upon rare occasions where succinct and timely documentations happen. In general, IT workers tend to be highly knowledgeable in their specific fields of expertise but view documentation as being superfluous. I've heard on many occasions variations of this attitude--which basically boils down to documentation being "someone else's job." Maybe our voluminous workload precludes us from focusing time on documenting effectively--I admit that I slip into half-assed mode every once in a blue moon.

I experienced an exception to these perceptions last year. While working at the Help Desk, I escalated an unusual issue stemming from an error message on an esoteric clinical system which no one else at the Help Desk knew anything about. I gathered all the information possible from the customer, created a problem ticket, and escalated the mysterious issue to a high-level clinical support group. I did not expect any engineers to provide useful resolution notes for the problem ticket.

Couple hours after the initial call, the same customer called back to inquire about the status. I dreadfully anticipated spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone simultaneously translating engineer-ese to plain English, and performing damage control should the customer become dissatisfied with my answer. I pulled up the resolution notes, and my mouth nearly dropped when I saw a concise, informative description of the resolution. It was written by a system engineer whose name I had never heard of before. Thanks to the neatly-written information, I was able to convey the message to my customer without any problems.

Being pleasantly surprised by the quality documentation, I fired off a quick email to the engineer whom I had never met before. I thanked him for writing a timely, accurate, and easy-to-understand status update. I felt it was good to give credit when and where it was due.

Six months after I had sent the routine follow-up email of gratitude, I participated in a Project Management training class which was attended by two dozen folks from various areas of our vast IT organization. While the attendees were partaking in the introductory icebreaker exercise, I learned that one of the fellow attendees was the engineer whom I had sent the email to months earlier. During a classroom break, I walked up to the engineer, introduced myself to him, and thanked him in person for the superlative work six months earlier. Networking couldn't hurt, right?

What happened next was eye-opening. The engineer then told me that at the time I had sent him the complimentary email, he was employed as a contractor. He had since then interviewed for a full-time, permanent position with the company, and as a part of satisfied customer testimonials, he had used my email as a supporting example to his hiring managers.

What seemed like a trifle at the time turned out to mean a lot to someone else, even though I had no idea at the time. After all, how much impact could a brief email from someone near the bottom of the organizational chart accomplish? Apparently, a lot (as an added bonus, it was good for me to learn not to judge a book by its cover--there are IT professionals out there who possess exemplary communication skills).

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