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It doesn’t pay to overlook dragons. Not even in IT.

‘There's NO Such Thing as a Dragon,’ the mother repeats over and over again in Jack Kent’s charming fairy tale of that name. A small dragon appears in her son Billy’s room in the morning and he runs downstairs to tell her right away. But the mother doesn’t take the news seriously at all. There’s no such thing as a dragon, that’s all there is to it.
Jan Skrabanek

13. 6. 2022

The son takes her word for it and the dragon gets ignored by both of them. But the dragon keeps getting bigger, the more they ignore it, the faster. Before they know it, it’s grown so big it takes off with their whole house on its back.

Now they can’t ignore the dragon any more. As soon as they begin to take notice of it, it rapidly shrinks back to its original size. The lesson is clear: problems we ignore tend to swell-up and grow. That’s one simple truth to be remembered, not only by children. Even adults tend to overlook problems and pretend they just don’t exist. In psychology, this is called being in denial. A common example may be that of an alcoholic, convinced they have everything under control, or of a sick person refusing a medical examination. But it applies much more broadly. The bereavement model by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s that describes 5 phases of coping with a tragic event gets used nowadays to cover even resistance to change in organizations, and gets a mention as part of ITIL® Practitioner Guidance. The first phase of her model is precisely this – denial.

We don’t have to solve everything immediately, but merely by paying attention to things we’ll gain some elementary control over the situation.

Children sometimes close their eyes when they are afraid. We find it amusing, but we also behave as if work problems cease to exist when we do not give them our attention. But we can’t get rid of that niggling feeling of unease. We realize that neglected organizational and administrative work is welling up somewhere beneath the surface, slowly building, and at the most inopportune moment may overwhelm us, just as when the dam holding back postponed tasks, forgotten forms and unresolved problems finally bursts. The issues might be a mess in licenses just when an audit is declared, or some unresolved server capacity shortfall coinciding with e‑shop demand during the pre-Christmas peak. The dam bursts, the dragon takes off with our house on its back, and our closed eyes will do us no good at all.

The boy from our opening fairy-tale shows us a better approach: stop ignoring problems. We don’t have to solve everything immediately, but merely by paying attention to things we’ll gain some elementary control over the situation. The ground beneath our feet will stop bubbling, the dragon will start to shrink.

Harry Potter figure

Something like this happens in the initial stages of implementing ALVAO Asset Management. Fragmentary and scattered asset information first gets centralized in one place. This often reveals problems that we had no idea about beforehand: Suppose there are twice as many computers in Active Directory than are physically found in the company; or long-unused virtual servers being run completely unnecessarily, taking up expensive licenses; or invoices for purchased machines that are untraceable, and, worse still, each one was sourced from a different supplier. These are all the kind of things that the customer will have to solve in due course. But previously unknown and intangible problems have turned into explicit, solvable tasks.

Setting expectations straight is essential to a company’s internal communication, whether to do with work on projects or day-to-day operations.

To successfully redress being in denial, we need to understand why it is so appealing to us. It offers us certain benefits. Denying reality is simpler, seemingly safer, and does not force us to leave the comfort zone of the current situation. It helps us to keep alive a false sense of reality. This is why setting expectations straight is essential to a company’s internal communication, whether to do with work on projects or day-to-day operations. We don’t necessarily have to be living in denial to be looking at problems in a distorted way. This is all the more true if we are dealing with people from other departments.

On the other hand, as is sometimes said, the grass is always greener over the fence. By analogy, we often think that working in other departments would be easier. And they think the same about us. We have no problem criticizing slow progress on a distant front, but as soon as someone criticizes ours, things turn nasty. Take, for example, a situation where people from the company’s management expect to resolve common incidents in unrealistic timescales. The discussion with the IT manager will be extremely challenging as long as it is based on mere impressions and unverified assumptions.

Having a precisely mapped state of affairs will give our side of the argument a solid foundation and help the challenger understand the situation from our point of view. An example from our own practice concerned IT costs at the Moog company: “It is only thanks to ALVAO that we gained a clear idea of how much IT services cost. Previously, all sorts of costs were allocated to IT, which acted as a bottomless pit. Now we can provably assert we need a specific amount for the replacement of HW within 3 years, for the designers’ AutoCad licenses and the like,” is what Jozef Hlaváč, IT Director, told us. Thanks to the service desk and an overview of the team’s capacity utilization, he managed to get more people onto the team. In order for a person to successfully argue for the hiring of additional workers, you have to be seen to be keeping things in order and showing transparent management of the department. To begin with, you have to stop ignoring the dragons.