What Crossfit has taught me about IT Service Management

Since the start of 2013 I've been regularly undertaking training in Crossfit.

During this period I've learnt various lessons on topics such as warming-up, stretching, basic weight lifting techniques, nutrition and muscle recovery. There are numerous articles in magazines and the web on the risks of Crossfit, particularly for new or inexperienced participants. From my experience, I enjoyed benefits of sustained weight loss and improved body composition and these have outweighed the two injuries I've sustained in the same period.

Recently, I reflected on my fitness progress and came to the realisation that I had unconsciously applied some of my lessons learnt from Crossfit into my work (Information Technology Service Management (ITSM)). This article covers some of the lessons learnt and to reduce confusion, I'll refer to training in Crossfit and working in ITSM as simply 'working'.

Working without a goal is valueless work.
If you turn up to work without plan, then you are about embark on unfocused activity. You will initially feel you are achieving something but as you tire, a little voice in your head may surface and ask you 'Why am I doing this again'? Without a concise answer that provides purpose, you'll stop yourself from achieving greater things. Have a goal, develop your plan, execute with purpose, measure results and take corrective actions. Activity doesn't always result in value adding work.

Recovery is as important as working.
Some people believe that in order to achieve more, you must work harder and longer. I've seen people wanting to achieve greater results faster and will therefore work longer hours, sometimes without rest days. From my research into fitness and leadership, a common thread appears in the importance of rest and recovery. In fitness, muscle growth occurs during periods of rest and sleep as the torn muscle fibers repair themselves. Without adequate periods of rest/sleep, you are actually inhibiting your body's ability to repair itself which in turn will lead to negative side effects in the longer term. In our world of information overload (especially via social media) people need to take real time out (e.g. holidays without connectivity to work) and reserve themselves at least 8 hours of sleep per night. This will allow you to rest properly, and then mentally and physically deliver more the following day. Being tied increases your chances of making errors, errors which may take weeks to recover (e.g. poorly worded emails at work or injuries in the gym).

Reflect on your hard work & good results. Refocus.
Similar to my advice on recovery, we need to regularly pause, check our progress against the goal, acknowledge good results and confirm our next steps (including any corrective actions). My training rest day is Sunday and I afford myself a cheat meal on this day. I also use this day to reflect on the previous week, check where I'm at with my program and plan  adjustments. I've found having frequent retrospectives on my progress (an Agile practice) useful at work and in the gym. 

Garbage in leads to garbage out.
Nutrition and diet is a key topic for most crossfitters. The results you'll gain from the exercise will be significantly greater if your diet intake is a proper mix of protein, carbs, fats, etc. A poor diet will lead to an inadequate amount of nutrition being available when your body really needs it (either in a workout or post workout recovery) leading to fitness goals taking longer to achieve. Similar issues can arise in IT Service Management. If your services/processes are taking in poor data, there will be a lack of quality information. This in turn will make service reviews and making informed decisions about corrective actions ineffective. As a consequence, achieving service improvement goals may take longer.

Find and contribute towards a supportive network.
Working (exercising and employment) can be hard, and good results don't just come overnight. As well as having a good plan, you need to think of the long haul or the duration of the journey you are about to commence. Building or joining a network of similar minded people is important for not only sharing advice, but to source encourage when times get tough (and they will). Further to this, you should be prepared to actively contribute with this network since your views and experiences are just as valuable as anyone else's, and your peers will enjoy your support when they need it most. 

Focus on good technique, not more reps or more weight.
Learning and focusing on good technique is important (especially in Crossfit ;-) ) for two main reasons. Firstly, good form will reduce the chances of injury and losing gym time during injury rehabilitation. If the rehabilitation is short term, then you'll also suffer financial losses as you'll need to continue paying gym membership and medical specialist fees. The second main reason is efficiency. Exercising with inefficient technique may lead to fatigue quicker, hampering you from achieving better results (either more reps or less time).  Slowing down your repetitions, demonstrating good, efficient technique will allow you in the long run, to do more and eventually move faster. At work, a similar philosophy exists in Lean (Toyota's production system) and one of its three identified forms of waste: Mura (unevenness). Unevenness or variation represent inconsistency in the flow of work, caused by changes in volume, mix and quality. To prevent this form of waste in IT service delivery, leadership needs to encourage standardised product and process design, and leveling demand. Leveling (or controlling) demand is a key point if we reflect back to a Crossfit workout. Who creates the demands on your body during a workout? You.

You may not need a coach but they will help.
Following on from the above paragraph, learning good technique can come from having a good coach. While having a Crossfit coach or personal trainer is not essential as a beginner, the benefits from having a pair of experienced eyes on your technique will obviously improve your performance. The earlier you learn good technique, the better. I feel a similar lesson can be learnt at work. Establishing a good network of experienced industry peers and/or a mentor can enhance your work career. Exchanging information and sharing knowledge and experiences with your network/mentor can help you avoid potential mistakes, identify new opportunities, provide insight and overall improve your career.   

Drive out context switching.
To complete a typical Crossfit workout of the day (WOD), you usually have to complete a predefined number of repetitions of one or more exercises, and repeat them for one or more rounds. For example, a WOD labelled Helen consists of:

Three rounds for time:
Run 400 meters
1 1/2 pood Kettlebell X 21 swings (or 55 pound dumbbell swing)
12 Pull-ups

You are required to complete each exercise before moving onto the next. In other words, you cannot stop after just 10 kettlebell swings and start on the pull-ups to then return to finish the remaining 11 kettlebell swings.This has given me an useful example of context switching, and the troubles it presents at work. At work, if you have multiple projects/tasks to complete, you will be more efficient and deliver faster if you focus on one set of similar tasks and complete them entirely before moving onto the others. You become more efficient because you are not wasting time switching between projects/tasks. One tip that Crossfitters use to reduce their WOD times is to think about their transitions between the exercises. For example with Helen, it would be wise to place the kettlebell next to the pull-up bar so that once your 21 kettlebell swings are done, the pull-up bar is close by & therefore time is not unnecessarily wasted. This practice reminds me of setting Work in Progress (WIP) limits, anther Lean practice.

Stop whinging and just get on with it.
Finally, working is (at times) just hard. There will come times when you'll be faced with a huge program or load of work whether it's an endurance WOD or a series of tasks/reports that you need to deliver. If you're the only one who can finish it, don't openly complain or whinge about it to others. You're wasting valuable energy that you could be using on the task, and quite frankly, others don't really want to hear it (as they're probably struggling themselves). You just need to dig deep and get it done!


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