Visible Work = Tip of the Iceberg

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Users and customers that are not familiar with IT practices might mistake the speed with which an IT professional completes a task as evidence for the task being easy and simple. This is similar to the tips of icebergs in that the visible IT work is merely a small part of the project. Just as you do not see the massive bulk of an iceberg beneath the water’s surface users and customers do not see the planning, preparations, research, and training that goes into a successful IT project.

I have had many people come up to my desk and say “I saw that you were not doing anything, so I was hoping you could help me with a project.”

These same people then apologize when I explain that I was reading the latest documentation for a product. They then realize that I was doing the most important part of my job, which is to be informed on how systems work and interoperate. I do not mind these interruptions, because it gives me a chance to explain that good IT work is mostly reading about the technology and researching different solutions.

These users are fooled by their own eyes when they see me just sitting at my desk looking at a monitor. On the surface it would appear that I am doing nothing significant. Those users are confusing the pushing of buttons on a keyboard as being IT work.

Part of an IT professional’s job is to eliminate this misconception. Good IT work starts as a purely mental visualization or thought experiment. How will the systems connect? What protocols would be best for the infrastructure? How will the system failover in an emergency? Great IT professionals think these scenarios through and follow-up with research to validate their designs. Then the process of documenting and peer reviewing their work begins. Mistakes are discovered and corrected, and then new questions emerge as colleagues point out possible improvements or limitations.

It is only at the end of that process that the design is implemented, and this is when IT professionals actually type out the commands, run the scripts, and install the hardware. That final part of the project is what some users and customers mistaken to be the bulk of the work in IT, when in many cases it is the part of the job that is the most fun. Implementing the systems and pushing the buttons is when we IT professionals finally see all of our hard work pay off.

Talk with your end users and customers about what an IT professional’s real work is. Share with them how you design a system, and explain how it benefits everyone to spend more time planning in advance before the implementation phase to ensure that an IT project goes smoothly. Make sure that management knows that results will not be visible until most of the work has already been completed in the form of research and other preparations. Do not let someone else artificially accelerate a project just so that they can see you pushing buttons and cabling hardware.

Otherwise you might need to use another iceberg related term to describe an IT project with – “Titanic.”

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