Mark de Graaff joined the NS (Dutch Railways) in 2009 and has pursued a traineeship there. His assignment at NedTrain, one of the business units of the NS, was to support the Application Management department in implementing Application Services Library, ASL®. In doing so, he used the ASL Self Assessment, part of the ASL Starter Kit.
24-hour services demand that people be replaceable
NedTrain provides maintenance and service, cleaning and overhauling for all kinds of trains. This takes place 24 hours per day, 7 days per week in more than thirty locations across the Dutch railway network. In October 2010, Mark was assigned to ensure that employees from the Application Management department could more easily replace one another. When applications have to be available 24 hours per day, organizing so-called standby duties is certainly no luxury. In addition, it had to be easier to share knowledge and experience with one another. Mark: "Exchanging knowledge was hard because people used different terms. For example, importing a job is regarded by some application managers as part of change management, but not by others. By introducing terms uniformly, you can mention possible exceptions and then everyone knows what is going on. And if you are not clear what is going on in your own department, you cannot present it uniformly to the outside world. The Application Management department was therefore sometimes not involved in change phases, although it should have been, or the reverse: asked for work while it should not have been.
Positive side effects of the ASL Self Assessment
"The department consists of about ten managers and we started by running the Self Assessment. Together with the head of the department, I was looking for a trainer who would help us further but, in the mean time, we wanted to know where we stood, which processes we had down and which we did not, so that was why we used the Self Assessment. One positive side effect is that employees were forced to work with the ASL mindset. Everyone did have the ASL book, but actually getting immersed and applying it in practice is another matter. By scoring yourself, it becomes much more tangible and more practical than the book. It also became less non-committal."
The change phase
Once the trainer had been found, made-to-measure training was set up, consisting of two practical days and a theory day. The result of the practical days is a list of more than one hundred and fifty areas for improvement. These are then clustered using the ASL processes. "For example, under the documentation heading we noticed that there was no uniform application description for each application. And the point, 'which application documentation do you have to maintain?' also belongs there". After this inventory, we looked at the strengths of the application managers themselves and on that basis everybody was assigned an improvement cluster. The idea behind this is that you have to appeal to people through something they are good at. Mark:" they are happy to do that! In addition, the quality of the work benefits because it is closer to the work that they are already doing. And they enjoy it. I have one colleague who used to be an information officer. He is very careful and accurate, so he is linked to this cluster. We also have someone who communicates clearly and concisely and so she was also assigned the communications cluster. Everyone then develops his own cluster based on the areas for improvement and distributes it to colleagues, for example by shifting it onto them or organizing a plenary workshop."
When we ask Mark what he did not like about the change phase, he does not have to think for very long: "The speed of implementation. Maybe five percent of the change phase that we drafted after the course has been achieved up to now, the summer of 2011. I assume that the majority will be finished by the end of 2011 but I think that a total lead time of one year is long." The course and especially the two practical days were the greatest success factor for Mark: "It was clear that the department sometimes does work that really belongs in business information management or infrastructure management. Those borders are now clearer. ASL is now more engrained in everyone. Everyone is talking and thinking along the same lines, which means that it is possible to exchange knowledge and to replace one another. It is also much clearer to other departments what they can expect from us."