A Christmas FSM tale: lighting the way to success

In a similar vein to last year I thought a fun analogy would be a great lead-in to the holiday season.

I am sure we have all seen or experienced Christmas light displays that fall into one of these categories, I know which one best describes my efforts, (it’s the last one!):

  • The overnight, perfectly coordinated display
  • The “how much holiday stuff can I fit on my lawn” display
  • The “I guess I should do something” display
  • The “half my lights don’t work – whatever – something is better than nothing” display
  • The “I’m going for the all singing, all dancing smart home display”

Invariably, every holiday season most of us open our storage containers and attempt to figure out how to manage through and purchase hundreds of feet of Christmas lights, extension cords, inflatable Christmas characters, and LED projectors. By the end of the season, the sales team at my local hardware store know me by name.

Without fail, my frustrations rise while trying to untangle cords, configure complex gadgets and climb step ladders at 11:00 pm while my neighbors all walk by silently shaking their heads… with only half of my, soon to be earth-shattering, display completed, and some sense of sanity left I jotted down a couple of “Doctor heal thyself thoughts”.

Understand your availability
It isn’t like Christmas sneaks up me – it is the same date every year. I know what needs to be done, what I should purchase, how much time it takes and how busy it gets during the Holidays. For some reason invariably, the statement “Christmas is only 1 week away?” comes out of my mouth.

I have experienced many times where FSM projects have struggled due to not understanding client, SME, or customer availability. Understanding and building in time allocations that account for things like, IT shutdowns, vacations, procurement processes, customer knowledge, busy cycles (i.e. school startup, furnace turn-on season, etc…) In many cases, project team members are not 100% dedicated and have their core job responsibilities to complete. Understanding these challenges and building it into your project plan help to minimize unexpected delays.

Spend time to educate yourself and look for the root cause to save significant dollars
“Why are only half of my lights working on this string of lights?!”. This seems to be one of my seasonal songs. When frustrations are high, I am not ashamed to admit in the past that I have foregone any attempt at understanding why and simply made a dash to the hardware store. Not thinking that I will still have the same problem next year…this year YouTube combined with a bit of discipline saved me a lot of money and time by showing me how to troubleshoot and replace lights in a string. A skill that I will use again for years to come.

I have spoken to many FSM leaders and front-line staff in my journeys and heard phrases like “Rip and Replace”, “We need something new” and “What I have today doesn’t work” numerous times. In some cases, this may be valid (i.e. product limitation), however without understanding root causes you may be throwing away money every year versus educating your teams on how the system works and understanding it capabilities and limitations.

There is always a process
Should I hang lights first then figure out the extension cords? Configure Alexa with my smart outlets before starting? Setup my lights during the day or night? These are some things that go through my brain every year. There is always a process. Frantically driving to meet Dave at the hardware store (that’s right, we’re now on first name terms) to buy a longer extension cord or to Best Buy to purchase a full price ‘working’ smart plug could all be avoided if I took some time to understand process. Someone should have told me to lay out my lights to ensure that I have all the pieces I need to complete the project.

In many perceived “technical only” projects the process impact(s) or change(s) are not understood or determined inconsequential. Technical teams, do this every day, and think the change or process is so simple however it may not be obvious to the end user. Take the time to assess impact with end users. Get out and talk to end users.

Learn from someone who knows what they are doing
I have the luxury of living next door to an electrician and someone who invariably has the best display in the community.  Picking her brain on what are the best lights, the steps to take, what amperage should I put through a standard outlet, ladder safety, etc. has been invaluable. Our conversations and her help has saved me a lot of headaches and potential fire hazards.

While many of us don’t have the luxury of living next to an FSM expert there are numerous FSM conferences, forums, and user groups that are available to provide advice and support. You may think that no one has similar challenges or be in a competitive space that limits your ability to reach out to peers in the same vertical. There are always similarities, regardless of verticals. We all have same day emergencies, deal with customer escalations, have challenges with time keeping, etc…

My neighbor, by example, is a commercial air conditioning electrician and not by any means a full-time Christmas light installer.

Most importantly:  have fun
This year I am blessed with a 2-year-old daughter eager to help. What used to be a chore has now become a family event that I look forward to.

While I am not recommending having your children implement or re-engineer your FSM solution, I am recommending finding something to engage your teams. Look for, and promote any wins, big or small. Find out what team members are passionate about and assign them those tasks or leadership roles. Do you have staff that have want to learn about Change Management or Business Process but in a technical role – why not ask them if they want to shadow or assist in a small task. How about the person who’s attending Toast Masters every weekend to be better at public speaking – why not ask them to help out on your next project town hall.

While sometimes work is hard and gruelling it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun at the same time!

Happy Holidays!

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