Josh Work Professional Organizations Trip Reports Conference Report: 1999 LISA, The Way We Work

"Deconstructing User Requests and the Nine Step Model"

Thomas A. Limoncelli, Lucent Technologies/Bell Labs

Tom Limoncelli provided insights on how he developed the 9-step model of systems administration. to help reduce user complaints and to more often solve the problem reported correctly the first time. The steps can be broken into 4 phases:

  1. The Greeting ("Hello!")
    1. The Greeting
  2. Problem Identification ("What's wrong?")
    1. Problem Classification
    2. Problem Statement
    3. Problem Verification
  3. Planning and Execution ("Fix it")
    1. Solution Proposals
    2. Solution Selection
    3. Execution
  4. Verification ("Did it work?")
    1. Craft verification
    2. User verification/Closure

While this may seem straight-forward to those of us who have administered systems for longer periods of time, some people either don't know or don't follow this process. The perils involved in skipping steps can lead to solving the wrong problem (steps 2-5), choosing a solution that doesn't solve the problem (step 6), making a mistake executing the solution (step 7), not checking our own work (step 8), or having the user call back with the same problem (step 9). Worst yet, some administrators don't even bother with step 1 and don't answer the phone or their email (or whatever the contact method is) politely.

"Adverse Termination Procedures -or- `How to Fire A System Administrator'"

Matthew F. Ringel and Thomas A. Limoncelli, Lucent Technologies Bell Labs

Matthew Ringel discussed how to fire a systems administrator, as well as what to do when you're the one being fired. The paper itself contains several case studies from which the authors created a 3-tier model:

In summary, if you're in the unenviable position of firing someone, you need to ensure that all three tiers of access are covered, because leaving one or more undone can result in a disgruntled person (with super-user privileges in the case of system administrators) having access to your systems, networks, and data. If you're the one doing the firing or the one being let go, be professional. You may have to work with these people or companies again, and while expletives may be satisfying they're also counterproductive.

"Organizing the Chaos: Managing Request Tickets in a Large Environment"

Steve Willoughby, Intel Corporation

Steve Willoughby discussed that more than simply software but also the infrastructure to support customers' needs. Status reports are good (if not essential); having data that proves what you do and how much you do is absolutely required for management to increase (or sometimes even maintain) head count and budget. Electronic mail and simple scripts are okay for managing problem reports but tend not to scale well in an enterprise environment. Steve's group designed and implemented a new system to meet the needs of both customers and system administrators.

Having service level agreements (SLA) and senior management of both the customer and support sides is required. Intel also rotates its senior people onto the help desk, automates processes, and allows the user to control the closure of a ticket. They've found that this system scales better, requires fewer administrators per user, and results in users having more control over their problem reports and feeling happier about the process.

Future plans include more work on root cause analysis to help resolve problems before they become disasters.

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Last update Apr24/02 by Josh Simon (<>).