These days, there just isn't a perfect time when networks and systems can be taken down for planned maintenance. It causes too much of a disruption and damage to the bottom line. But while it may be inconvenient on many levels, it's our duty as IT managers and staff to perform the maintenance necessary to help prevent a catastrophic failure that would be far more detrimental to the business.
If you're struggling to convince upper management that your next IT maintenance window is necessary, follow these tips I've found to work over the years:
1. Show that you're prepared. Even though you aren't considered salesmen, IT managers need to wear a salesperson's hat when trying to get approval for special maintenance windows. I've found that one of the greatest techniques is to overwhelm decision makers with information. The information should not only detail why system maintenance is necessary, but also list a step-by-step configuration process and any fallback plans.
While it's likely that none of this information will be understandable to non-technical managers, it shows a high level of effort, which helps to magnify the importance of a particular maintenance window. And since you're the subject matter expert on IT, it becomes more difficult for decision makers to say no.
2. Divide and conquer. In the past, I've tried to get approval for special maintenance windows in meetings attended by managers from different departments. While it certainly saves time having all the decision makers in one room, I've learned that my task becomes more difficult. Technologies and systems often touch multiple departments. When managers get talking about the negative impact a maintenance window will have on their departments, there's a tendency for them to get cold feet.
If you have to seek maintenance window approval in a group setting like this, it's best to seek out one or two managers and pitch your idea to them beforehand. If you can get buy-in from at least a few managers prior your meeting, you can use them as leverage to support your cause. By doing so, you won't fall into a group think trap.
3. Paint a scary picture. When IT systems are running like clockwork, it's easy for other departments to forget what it's like to have a major system outage. As an IT manager who actually wants to avoid unexpected downtime, it's often necessary to candidly tell a tale of what would happen if necessary maintenance is not performed.
Paint a picture of what could happen if the latest security patches aren't installed until next month. Or let them know what would happen if you weren't able to implement a robust disaster recovery solution and your infrastructure failed at a critical time.
Your stories need to create the necessary amount of fear to get them to listen to you. Fear isn't the nicest emotion to use, but it does work and should be considered another tool in the toolbox.
[Read why the biggest threats to an organization aren't evil outsiders, but more routine risks involving poor planning and shoddy oversight in "The Banality of IT Failure: Overlooking Mundane Insider Threats."]
Whether you use some of these tactics or your own, the most important thing you can do is to monitor the reactions of the decision makers. People respond differently to how information is presented, and it's critical that you identify what works and what doesn't. Then, the next time you need to pitch a special IT maintenance window, you'll be able to get approval much more quickly by using methods that work best in your organization.
Do you have your own tips for winning management approval for special maintenance windows? Share them in the comments section below.