Bad Habits of Capacity Planners

    August 11, 2015

    By Per Bauer

    Capacity planners fill an essential role in any productive IT department, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect.

    While plenty of people know that IT departments often save the day by fixing the problems that others couldn’t begin to approach, few are aware of just how often those problems occur. On average, a company’s IT manager has to deal with about eight unexpected tech issues a week, and each of these fires takes approximately three hours and 24 minutes to put out.

    These problems don’t just cause small pauses in internal productivity, either — IT issues can result in a loss of traffic to the company’s online resources, including online stores, which in turn causes a decrease in revenue.

    What’s more, these problems don’t have to be as regular and expected as they’ve become. IT workers agree that the majority of the problems they deal with could be avoided with proper capacity planning. Rather than using data analysis to look back and explain what went wrong, I believe that IT departments should be observing patterns in data usage and demand to make sure everything goes right. This is the job of a capacity planner.

    Planning Done Right

    It was capacity planners that made Verizon’s launch of the iPhone 4 in 2011 so successful. The phone company needed to ensure they had the necessary systems in place to meet what was expected to be humongous demand for the popular smartphone’s latest incarnation.

    Customers willing to pay boatloads of money for the miracle device may have found themselves unable to because of jammed servers, resulting in both lost sales and very widespread — and potentially very public — frustration with the company.

    To prevent such a scenario, capacity planners did an intensive data analysis using TeamQuest software, ensuring that everyone who came to Verizon’s site for an iPhone would get one. After seeing the results, Verizon increased the number of physical servers, added online storage, and reconfigured firewall and single sign-on systems.

    The capacity planning was so effective at determining what Verizon would need that the launch went off without a hitch. There were no system jams, no bottlenecks, and no shutdowns, despite the crazy user spikes — it was nothing short of an IT miracle.

    Speak the Right Language

    Of course, capacity planning doesn’t always go right — and that’s because IT leaders can fall into some bad habits. First, too many fail to master the art of business communication. Instead, they use IT jargon, which might as well be gibberish to many of the mere mortals in other departments.

    But business, of course, has its own jargon, and capacity planners need to learn it if they want their ideas taken seriously. When people are made to understand why you give the advice you give instead of seeing it as something obscure and esoteric, they can make more informed decisions about allocating resources.

    While it’s the workers in IT who have all the data, it’s the people upstairs who ultimately decide who gets what share of the pie: speak their language or face the consequences.

    Look at the Right Numbers

    Another common capacity planning problem is a failure to use the right metrics. Above all else, IT leaders should be studying changes in consumer demand.

    Consider what might have happened if Verizon had only looked at how many people bought an iPhone in 2010. Without taking the demand’s growth trends into account, the company would have made utterly unreliable predictions about what demand would be like that year. This speaks to another essential trait in any good capacity planner: you have to use technology to ask the right questions. These will vary based on the context, but they should sound something like, Does this company have the correct amount of capacity in place to meet changing consumer demands?

    Similarly, planners must be aware that not all data is the same. The metrics a given business is using might be completely irrelevant — you can’t just assume that they’re already capturing the metrics that drive its capacity. A big pitfall for planners is believing that the company they’re working for is giving them the right numbers. The fact is that it’s your job to determine how well a company is accounting for data demand, not to work with the information you’re given by people who aren’t associated with IT.

    Walk in the Customer’s Shoes

    Finally, too many people are afraid to engage with the consumer-facing side of a given business. If capacity planners can’t put themselves in a customer’s shoes, they’ll never be able to understand why demand trends in the way it does.

    This was another aspect of capacity planning that Verizon mastered. They knew their iPhone would launch in January, luring people from their cozy fireplaces to their stores. But store lines are their own type of bottleneck — people don’t enjoy waiting in line in the dead of winter any more than they like waiting for a Google tab to load.

    Visualizing this scenario led Verizon to create a pre-order option. Existing customers could pre-order the phone and have it shipped to their house. This way, the company cut down on physical demand at their stores while giving customers a more enjoyable shopping experience. By approaching the issue from a business perspective, rather than seeing it purely in technological terms, Verizon proved it better understood their customers and enjoyed a more successful launch.

    Want to make sure you’re prepared to give customers everything they want? Use TeamQuest’s software to see how mature your IT department is and take comfort in the fact that you can meet demand, no matter how large it gets.

    (Main image credit: Dennis van Zuijlekom/flickr)

    Tags: apple, iphone, verizon