For hardened IT pros, weathered by years of alerts pinging and technical issues resolved, it’s simple to forget just how tough it is for managers in a business to get a handle on how and why monitoring solutions are so important. SolarWinds Head Geek, Sascha Giese, offers some tips on how managers can be better leaders for those who build and maintain these solutions, while also being better representatives of monitoring technology and teams in the boardroom.
It’s easy to grow distanced from other peoples’ levels of understanding. For hardened IT pros, weathered by years of alerts pinging and technical issues resolved, it’s simple to forget just how tough it is for managers in a business to get a handle on how and why monitoring solutions are so important.
But it’s essential that this understanding is nurtured. Monitoring managers, responsible for leading boots-on-the-ground technical folk who carry out monitoring, need to know how they can be better leaders for those who build and maintain these solutions, while being a better representative of monitoring technology and teams in the boardroom. Here, we IT pros cast aside our hard-earned cynicism to offer some tips on how managers can do just that.
Exposure to monitoring
Stop us if this sounds familiar: as a manager, it would be useful to be exposed to monitoring concept primers [MJ1] before being given management of a monitoring team. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s remarkable how many managers are given this role without ever getting the chance to get to grips with what the tech actually means.
In our experience, managers often ignore the existence of something like A Dummy’s Guide to Monitoring – a resource a business can share before the keys to the monitoring team are handed over. Thankfully, even if an organisation doesn’t provide this, there are many resources available to offer this early-doors education.
The resource (or resources) should provide three distinctive steps. First, is a monitoring 101[MJ2] to break down why a monitoring solution is a differentiator. This is especially helpful for managers who aren’t doing the monitoring themselves but are consuming the results and don’t know how it got there.
Then, managers should opt for a resource that runs through the techniques behind monitoring[MJ3] to better understand how teams are using this solution to improve business results. Finally, a learning guide that breaks down how to take monitoring (which is the collection of data and for some, alerting), and automate the response[MJ4] , so humans need to get involved less often. In identifying and using resources that help drive understanding in these areas, managers can make better-informed decisions, and share clearer feedback with their own superiors.
Understand the process
Another challenge managers tasked with overseeing monitoring solutions and teams face is in understanding the process and knowing how to communicate this process up through the different levels in a business. Thankfully, there are many ways managers can help drive understanding around existing workloads and set boundaries for the monitoring team. That said, much depends on corporate culture and on the information a business needs from a monitoring team and solution. It’s also true that the monitoring solution may not always hold the answer to this.
Monitoring tells you how the environment is doing, but it doesn’t tell you the workload that’s being built at that time, or the context of a big bleeping red screen when an alert goes off. So, how can you educate people as to why they did or didn’t get an alert?
The main piece of advice would be to establish a workbook or a runbook saying, “Here are the things we’re going to monitor by default, and here are the things we could be doing if you ask us about it.” This resource is also a wonderful thing to hand to a manager, as it gives them an idea of how workload can be spun up, or down.
Turn questions into more questions
We know how frustrating it is for managers to be pulled up by their superiors on an issue related to monitoring, and not have the answers needed. Among the most common questions monitoring managers face from higher-ups, is “why didn’t we get an alert for X?” Managers and engineers are asked this all the time. For engineers, the query is a simple one they can address with a technical answer. For managers, it’s more difficult, as the people typically demanding this answer are looking for a holistic response, more business-focused than technical.
If a manager finds themselves fielding this question without the information to answer it, an effective tactic is to put it back to the person posing it. Ask: how did you think this was supposed to go? What were you expecting to happen in this process?
This allows you to do two things: confirm or correct mistaken opinions about how the environment is designed and figure out if you’re not monitoring parts of the environment that need to be monitored. If a superior is surprised that they missed some information because it wasn’t being monitored, it helps you and your team to refine your focus, and find out what is, or isn’t business-critical.
There are many ways managers can arm themselves with the knowledge required to better understand, and empower others in a business to understand, the power and capabilities of monitoring. Not only will this make conversations with upper management that much easier, but it’ll enable managers to wield a powerful tool with that much more efficacy, for which your organisation will be grateful.
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