One can learn the basics of Rational Tool Administration through documentation and training provided by IBM Rational Support. The learning process is even easier when paired with a mentor. However, effective Rational Tools Administration comes with the cultivation of behaviors which largely involve attention to detail and customer service.
While the information contained herein is derived from experience with Rational ClearQuest and RequisitePro, much of the knowledge can be applied in the administration of other tools as well. Adoption of these practices does not guarantee a successful engagement but the effort increases the likelihood of customer satisfaction and the sanity of the Rational Tools Administrator.
2 Working With The Customer
A Rational Tools Administrator has a customer or group of customers – individuals to whom we provide a service. Types of customers include project managers, stakeholders, clients, and users.
Messages to the customer must be concise. Reveal only what the recipient needs to know. Carefully consider the political repercussions of any communications. When writing email, place items to be addressed on separate lines rather than within a paragraph. Avoid using words, such as "may," "might," or "should." Gather enough information such that those words are not necessary. Proofread outgoing email correspondence several times. Familiarize yourself with the behavior and location of the "Recall" button on your email program.
2.1 Working With Stakeholders
Identify the stakeholders on your assignment and determine with your project manager the relationship you have with them. When using an alias to send mail to members of your project, determine if stakeholders are included and tailor your message accordingly.
2.2 Working With The Client
Identify the client user who most directly influences your career and make it a mission to please that person. That individual takes second priority after your project manager. Respond quickly to requests from this person and complete requested tasks as soon as possible. Aspire to give other users this same level of service.
2.3 Working With The User Community
2.3.1 Raise The Bar
Consider the following question: Should a Rational Tools Administrator respond quickly to every user request if given time to do so? Some people would answer, "No," because that level of service will always be expected even when the administrator is working on critical issues.
However, a Rational Tools Administrator, who responds quickly to issues, gains respect from the user community which will be patient when their issues are delayed due to more pressing issues.
2.3.2 Trust But Verify
Be sure to verify a user's description of an issue. Few people are dishonest. Many are inaccurate. Ask questions if a user's story does not seem right or is unclear. Depending on the nature of the problem, resources such as log files, system administrators, database administrators, and network administrators can help provide valuable information.
2.3.3 Make Phone Calls and House Calls
When email communications with a user are not helpful, make a phone call. If the phone call is unhelpful, make a house call! Face to face communication is by far the most effective way to learn about the nature of a problem.
2.3.4 Encourage Patience
The Rational Tools may at times run slower than expected. When using a web based tool, users must be discouraged from repeatedly clicking on a button, such as "Submit" in an effort to speed up the transaction. In RequisitePro, this activity often results in a file being locked, thus requiring the Rational Tool Administrator's intervention to unlock it.
3 Working With Rational Support
3.1 Drive The Process
While Rational Support personnel are more than capable of resolving issues that arise in the tools, be sure you understand the solution that Rational Support proposes. If you cannot explain it to your Project Manager, you do not understand it. Ask questions. Repeat back in your own words what you thought you heard. Consider the implications of the solution supplied to you and how it relates to project policies. For example, you might be asked to restart a server. Does that need to be approved? Are you allowed to restart software? Is it permissible to restart the server during business hours? Do not be afraid of sounding ignorant to Rational Support.
Ask Rational Support to email you a summary of instructions to resolve an issue in case you need to refer to it at a later date or document the reason for taking a specific set of steps to resolve an issue.
3.2 Think Outside The Box
While waiting for an answer from Rational Support, research the issue on your own. User guides, technical notes, and Google sometimes provide answers. Be sure to run your findings by Rational Support if you are unsure of your conclusions.
3.3 Follow Up
Stay on top of Problem Management Records (PMR's). Follow up with status checks if Rational Support is not responding in a timely manner. Escalate the issue when necessary.
4 Working With The Tools
4.1 Take Control When Good Tools Go Bad
Remain calm when a tool goes down. Although there is a lot of pressure to restore the system, remember that you are in charge and have built up a level of trust with the user community. Resist the temptation to make hasty decisions. Take the following steps:
- Attempt to reproduce the problem.
Verify that the issue is system wide and not isolated to a particular workstation or user.
- Notify the user community that the system is down and that you are looking into the issue.
- Try to determine the nature of the outage.
- If a server must be restarted to resolve a partial outage, be sure to schedule the activity with project leadership.
- Pursue leads simultaneously.
For example, if an outage appears to be database or network related, contact both administrators. Follow up with them if they are not getting back to you quickly. Escalate to their management if necessary.
- Perform basic functionality tests when the system is running again
- Notify the user community that the tool is available
4.2 Maintain Good Timing
When possible, work with project leadership to determine a release schedule. Avoid applying changes on demand. Apply after hours changes that disrupt user activity.
4.3 Build A Sandbox
Establish a test or pilot environment where you and your users can test changes and procedures. While a test environment is required in a Production Configuration to test schema releases, a separate Development Configuration is useful for applying changes which affect the whole environment (license changes and fix packs).
4.4 Save Often
Verify that user and tool data are backed up at least daily.
4.5 Keep An Open Line
Confirm that lines of communication, especially email and phone service, are working properly. If they are not working, immediately contact those who can resolve the issues.
4.6 Resist Isolation
At its most basic level, Rational Tools Administration is just pushing data. Administration work can be performed with little knowledge of the processes governing the use of the Rational Tools. However, you become more effective by knowing the answers to these questions:
- What is the goal or mission of my project?
- Why are the tools being used?
- How are the tools being used?
- What processes are involved?
- How do the teams operate?
The more you learn about the project, the better you can help others use the Rational tools.
4.7 Keep Your Hands Off User Data
Whenever possible, use a test database rather than production to verify a change or procedure. If you must do so in production, get approval from interested parties first and perform actions that are reversible. If actions are not reversible, document the testing activities in a comments field associated with the action.
Take advantage of existing resources when solving problems. For example, ClearQuest uses hook code written in PERL and Visual Basic. Since it can be difficult to recall syntax and keywords of the languages, you can use sample code that Rational has provided in its user guides and technical notes. Since both languages are widely used, other examples can be found on the internet.
5 General Guidelines
5.1 Cover Yourself
Retain clear records of client requests, instructions, directives, and approvals from the user community and Rational Support. File them in such a way that a given piece of correspondence can easily be found when you are called upon to explain a decision you made months ago or years ago!
User requests must be specific. If you need to guess at what is being requested, you do not have enough information. Either have the user break down the request into simple steps, or assist the user in doing so. ClearQuest itself, Remedy, and email can be used to track interaction with the user community.
5.2 Be confident But Not Overconfident
Project leadership and the user community must be able to trust Rational Tools Administration to provide solutions for modest and critical problems. While a large part of earning that trust is a track record of quality work, it is also a matter of being calm, cool, and collected – especially in a crisis. Do not panic. That said; remember that you are working on tools that people rely upon to complete their work. NEVER be the cause of an outage.
5.3 Establish A Reputation For Perfection
You make mistakes from time to time. Make so few that people are surprised when an error occurs. Triple check your work.
5.4 Get Backup Support
If you are on call 24 x 7, have a team member or a couple of team members back you up.. Train these individuals in basic administration tasks and in skills needed to handle the immediate needs of the project while you are away. Do not allow your support team to perform any task that could adversely affect the entire user community.