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How to successfully complete an IT contract – then rinse and repeat.

How to successfully complete an IT contract – then rinse and repeat.

I’m coming rapidly to the end of my current engagement and have been reflecting on what I’ve been doing. Not out of any great sense of sadness or nostalgia but because I have to hand over to the permanent guys that I’ve been covering for while they were off doing more interesting stuff. Which means doing the Great Chinese Examination and writing down everything you know for them to pick up and carry on doing.

Then, while pondering how best to describe one less than dynamic project without embarrassing the Project Manager too badly, it occurred to me that my job is actually pretty varied in one way and very consistent in the other.

Don’t believe all that rubbish about monster pay packets, most contractors actually do it for the chance to work in different places with different people learning different things.

Although, to be fair, the monster pay packets might also have a certain appeal…

Anyway, my usual contract is to parachute into an existing team where I’m either filling the seat of someone off doing something else for a while, or adding some resource because the guys haven’t got enough hours in the day. It’s a case of turn up, get introduced, sometimes in detail, sometime very sketchily (although with my appalling memory for names and faces, it matters not a lot which!), work out the key players, the quick way to get to work and the coffee supply and get on with it. With a bit of luck I’ll also be asked to make things work better or even work completely differently, which is the bit I quite enjoy. But the real challenge is that steep learning curve where you have to fit into the team like you’ve been there for years. Then the real guy comes back and you’re out of a job again. Rinse and repeat.

So as I say, interesting work in a boring sequence. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, to be honest.

But there’s another thing I keep seeing, everywhere I go. Basically I work in and around Service Management, which is the bit that turns the technical wizardry of the data centre into the mundane consistency of the user’s desktop environment. All that stuff that ITIL used to be about before V3 came along and made it incomprehensible and expensive in equal measure. But ITIL has been around for a long time now, and certainly predates the working lives of a lot of the people I work with. So why does nobody know how to use it properly?

Everywhere I go, they have a Service Desk. The usually have a Change Manager. They may have got really enthusiastic and have a CMDB that works. Usually they’re just an asset register with aspirations; the test is to see if it can tell you who will shout if you turn something off. Which is all well and good, if you like your cappuccinos without milk.

Where is the Service Catalogue? I’ve yet to work somewhere that has even a pale shadow of the ITIL ideal. It’s not like it’s all that complex either, the broad brush approach will work perfectly well – email , internet, Office, Security, User Management, assorted approved applications, that kind of thing. Not the tin and wires, that’s for the propeller heads in the back office. The Service Catalogue is the glue that holds it all together, the steamed milk that makes your breakfast coffee sing and stops the cinnamon sinking. Without the Service Catalogue, how do you know what you’re providing, what your Change Manager is changing and what your Service Desk is servicing?

Perhaps I should get out more, but one day in my serial existence I’ll come across a site that uses the basic ITIL structure properly. And that would be really very interesting.

About the author: Alan Watts

Alan has worked in IT for most of the last 35 years, and first went freelance in 1996. He has been a PCG member from its start and has been spreading the message that freelancing is a professional career choice for many years. Alan also runs Malvolio’s Blog, a personal but highly informative take on the life of the modern freelance.

Alan Watts, Principal Consultant, LPW Computer Services

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