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The Limoncelli Test

Earlier this year, Tom Limoncelli wrote a blog post about how to rank and improve your sysadmin team. He was inspired by Joel Spolsky's post entitled "The Joel Test: 12 Steps to Better Code", a 12-question "highly irresponsible, sloppy test to rate the quality of a software team".

If you haven't read it before you should definitely do it now. Tom liked Joel's post very much and immediately wanted to write a similar one for system administrators, summarizing his own experiences and answers he was giving to people asking for his advice on how to improve their sysadmin teams. He could not fit that in only 12 questions and he ended up with 32 (although he considers 12 to be core questions) that he published in his blog post. Based on that blog post, this was the first time that he taught this course titled "The Limoncelli Test" and basically it was intended as a way to describe the best practices needed to build a strong sysadmin team.

The course started by having everyone taking the test: It is available online and you can send your answers and this will help Tom gather some anonymous statistics, so be sure to check it out. After everyone finished the test, Tom went over the results and asked where everyone was standing. Most of the people fit in the 16-25 yeses, meaning most people had solid foundations. There were no people with more than 26 points though. The questions are organized in 7 categories:

  • Public facing practices
  • Modern team practices
  • Operational practices
  • Automation practices
  • Fleet management practices
  • "We acknowledge that hardware breaks" practices
  • Security practices

Next, we went over each question and selected the ones people were interested to talk about as there was not enough time to go over all of them in detail. Tom discussed the challenges to implementing these best practices and had also some fun and very useful stories to share from his vast experience. We also had some very useful feedback from attendees with their own experiences in implementing a ticketing system, defining policies, recording (and using) monthly sysadmin metrics, writing "design docs" or having the appropriate level of monitoring, etc.

In the last part of the training Tom discussed change and why people don't like to change and had specific suggestions to how to overcome some of these challenges:

  • the 5 Why's rule: ask "why" 5 times to help understand the root of the problem.
  • reveal only one step at a time: to help maintain focus and reduce resistance.
  • data-driven: let data tell the story

He ended this part by explaining what matters to CEOs and in what order (first place is revenue, next increasing scarce productivity, cutting costs, competitive advantage, and on the last place technology for the sake of technology) and how to make your case understood correctly by understanding their priorities.

At the end of the session Tom asked everyone to write the top 3 things they would like to implement and circle the one they think is the most important. We then went to every attendee and read our top take-away. Based on people's feedback most people were interested in implementing "the 3 empowering policies" and the "opsdocs"

If you haven't done it already I would strongly recommend to take the test and see how does your sysadmin team rank on "The Limoncelli Test".