Dear user: Details do matter

The help desk gets the dreaded call: A report on a 'broken' PC from a well-meaning but technologically clueless manager

Plenty of on-the-job stress inducers lurk for us IT pros, including big-picture items such as business initiatives or tech adoption. But like slow and steady drips of water, the little stressors add up. Even an issue as minor as a user who gives incomplete details about a tech problem can sap precious energy reserves.

I work at a company that manages several long-term care and independent-living retirement facilities. One of the general managers is well known among the IT staff -- a problem from him often means that most of your day is blown.

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This manager's lack of tech understanding means he gives only partial details about problems when submitting work orders or help requests, all of which he marks as "high priority" or "emergency." One time, he reported a TV as not working; the problem turned out to be a loose cable. On another occasion, he said the Wi-Fi was down. The real story: He incorrectly entered the network key.

We've explained to him not only how more information but also what kind of data would help us. It hasn't sunk in -- and probably never will.

To add to the frustration, he works at an offsite facility, so phone calls grow lengthy and go in circles because he has trouble explaining what is wrong. A trip to the site, including travel time, often resolves the issue most quickly but isn't always feasible.

He is, however, a nice person and treats IT courteously, so it's hard to get overly annoyed about the situation. In a way, this makes it worse. After taking the time to determine how "high priority" the request really is, working through the truly emergency items to get to his problem, watching the hours fly by during roundabout conversations or travel time, then finally fixing the issue, our nerves are frayed. But at the end when we explain to him what the problem was, his reply is always a grateful, "OK, thanks!"

One day, he submitted a work order saying that "an employee's computer was not working." That was it, the entire description -- not even the name of the employee. I sighed when I saw the ticket since I could only imagine what was going on.

Since I didn't know which person was having problems, I called up the manager. He said he was at the user's computer, "trying to get her into the system," and it "isn't working."

But he'd gone the extra mile and already mapped out a plan for the IT department. He told me, "The computer's broken and we need to replace it."

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