IT leaders-take a walk on the wild side!

Daniel Breston
3 min readFeb 3, 2021

As a CIO, I started my day at the Service Desk. I usually walked in with donuts and coffee, and we discussed:

· What was currently happening

· Concerns they had from yesterday or previously

We placed these items on a Kanban board. We liked the physicalness of the board as it helped to visualize the issues and impact areas. We also had a replicate virtual board to share the stories with the rest organization.

Why the Service Desk?

The Service Desk is where the truth about service performance, people demand, & support issues can be quickly determined. I knew if I would have a good or bad day within a few minutes of my visit.

Why not just look at a dashboard or a report? You can game dashboards or reports. One look at the faces of the Service Desk gave me a candid picture. They knew the useful applications, services, support areas, helpful vendors, annoyed managers, and how issues would make life difficult for them. They represented the Face of IT, and I needed that face to always look amazing.

The rest of my daily walk

Lean has a concept called Gemba, described as:

Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “the actual place”. Japanese detectives call the crime scene Gemba, and Japanese TV reporters may refer to themselves as reporting from Gemba. In business, Gemba refers to the place where value is created; in manufacturing the Gemba is the factory floor. Wikipedia

I describe Gemba as a way to get out of the office and Observe what is happening where I work or consult or coach. Sherlock Holmes told Watson: You see, but you do not Observe. He had asked his friend how many stairs there were between the front door and his door. Watson did not know even though he had climbed them for years.

I walked to observe. The first few times I did this, people were nervous. Gemba has rules, and the first is observing respectfully. I can ask open questions, take notes, ask clarifying questions, and then end the observation of that area with a Thank You.

What happens next is the significant bit

You walked, you observed, you asked, you thanked. You now need to go back to your office and face the truth. What you saw, if you are an IT leader, is how people are benefitting or struggling with the technology you have provided. I created a story format of:

· This is what I saw

· This was the impact

I then gave this to the Product Owners. Notice I did not tell them how to fix it or by when. Lean, DevOps, ITIL4, and Agile all suggest that I am there to offer support by removing obstacles, setting guardrail metrics, giving them cover from angry managers or if asked and ONLY when requested, providing a suggestion on what I would do or liked done.

Attitude, Behavior, and Culture via Observation

Culture change occurs when people alter their attitudes and behavior. Staff will emulate the attitude and behavior of their management, so I had to model the culture I wanted to introduce across my organization

Teams saw I never blamed anyone for an issue. Product Owners saw that I asked them to consider the story as something they could add to their backlog of work. Teams saw that I helped them have a rhythm of 70–80% customarily expected sprint work and 20–30% improvement. Every sprint — have something improve somewhere. We also visualized the flow of work and value, but that is an upcoming post.

My peers viewed that I was genuinely concerned and considerate about their staff and the way technology was enabling them to work. Even in these remote working times, I still do a virtual walk. It is not as simple, but I can attend morning stand-ups or weekly meetings, thus still learning. I now coach this behavior, and the impact is impressive and very fast as IT is becomes viewed as a valuable partner.

Oh, and I send to the Service Desk or team members chocolate boxes!

How do you collaborate and learn?



Daniel Breston

Coach, facilitator, workshops, ghost writer, speaker for IT management and vendors