Let’s face it, processes are boring at best necessary yes, but not something that gets people out of bed in the morning.
Maybe it is the control it tries to exert on the masses like an authoritarian adult trying to keep the kids under control. We are all a rebellious lot and the same goes for our rocky relationship with processes. Unfortunately, we can’t really live without them. The best and brightest might, because they will do the right thing in spite of process, but for the other 90% of us and for the sake of scalability, there needs to be clear guidelines.
Common process pitfalls
There are some common pitfalls for business around processes.
1. People need to feel that it ‘works’ for them. In other words, they have to see that a process makes a difference, for the better, to their day-to-day operations. There is no point in creating elaborate, complex processes just for the sake of it, or to make you feel that you’ve earned that ITIL badge, or justify that expensive BPM course.
The whole purpose of a process is to break down something complex, into manageable steps for everyone to understand and follow, thereby ensuring consistent work practice.
2. If you cannot measure whether process is being followed, there is no point in having it. You won’t be able to confirm that it is working, and you won’t be able to improve, because you won’t have any baseline. Without continually refining and improving your processes based on real world feedback they will become obsolete, because people will either not follow them at all, or create their own ‘parallel process universe’.
3. People need to understand how a process supports the organization’s policies. If the process doesn’t enable compliance to company policy it is doing more harm than good this is pretty obvious, but it is surprising how many times this happens, especially at micro or team level. People do what they consider to ‘work’ for them, but in the process they have cut the oxygen cord to the mothership…
So, what are some strategies and practical tips to ensure processes become stepping-stones instead of stumbling blocks for your organization?
Below I will briefly outline each of the components, with a common example to clarify the concepts from a practical/real world perspective.
Company Policy & Process
Start with your company policy; make sure that your process 100% supports it. The next step is to outline and briefly describe each step in the process so that people can see how and what each individual step is about and how it supports the company’s policies. Without this as a starting point your process is not worth the paper it is printed on…please don’t laminate it and stick it next to someone’s cubicle. It won’t make any difference.
Example: Company policy specifies that customers can raise a major incident or outage, and that the company will respond within 30 minutes of the incident being logged.
To reflect this policy, a major incident process step must exist in the company’s incident management process.
Once you have described the steps in your process you should be able to easily identify the different work Instructions you could create to guide and educate staff on the process. Work instructions are critical for training and reference in case someone doesn’t understand how to put something into practice. Work instructions will potentially drive back towards fueling your continual improvement.
People will often not question high level process, or make suggestions at a high or abstract level about how they can improve their day to day operations. However, put something practical and lower level that they deal with every day in front of them, and they will very quickly tell you why it doesn’t work. You can then simply ask them what should be done differently with the work instruction as a practical reference, which then feeds back to process improvement. This takes continual improvement to the people, instead of leaving it with the analysts.
Example: A work instruction exists that outlines the steps a Support Consultant will follow in order to manage a major incident to completion, including escalation and communication channels within the business.
And, finally, for each step, document the business rules. Why is this important? To make sure you can map your processes to technology, and to ensure technology (ITSM software and tools), supports your business. This is a critical success factor, especially when choosing a new or improving an existing ITSM solution.
Example: A business rule specifies that an email alert is triggered to an executive email group when a major incident is logged, and again 15 minutes prior to the SLA of 30 minutes being breach if no contact has been made to the customer.
Tip: Be careful not to document the business rule in too technical terms, i.e. how it relates to the technical aspects of the ITSM tool make sure it is independent from how it is implemented in the tool. For example, don’t document the triggers and tool configurations you need to deliver the rule, otherwise your process documentation will have to be revised should your ITSM tool be updated or changed.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s summarize with a diagram:
Make sure your process backs your policies.
Describe your process steps.
From the process step’s description, derive work instructions for each step.
Document the business rules related to each step.
And, finally, give your most important asset in continual improvement (yes, people), something practical to chew on, namely work instructions, thereby providing them with easily identifiable building blocks in your continual improvement framework.
We have all probably heard the slogan ”Common sense is like deodorant, the people who need it most never use it”. In my observation that probably rings true for many organisations when it relates to a Continual Service Improvement (CSI) plan or strategy.
The more an organisation grows, the more it becomes an essential requirement to its success.
We can all bang the drum of “the customer is king”, “the customer is central”, “the customer is <fill in the blank>”, or whatever slogan the next pundit tries to sell us. If I were to put myself in the customer’s shoes, I would have to fill in the blank with: the customer is well and truly over it. Over the lip service.
You can only have so many mantras, visions, slogans, goals, values – whatever. When all the customer get sold is all the marketing guff but no substance, it is like going to your favourite restaurant, ordering the t-bone steak, and getting one of those fragrance pull-outs from a magazine with a note from the chef saying that he can sell you the smell, but the fusion of smell and taste is just an illusion. Would you accept that? Should your customer accept the same from you?
CSI is the substance – it’s what happens in the background that the customer cannot see – but can taste. It provides substance to your mantra, vision, goals – for your staff, and for your customers.
What is more, it forms the backbone of your strategic plan, and feeds your operational plan.
Without it you are lost – like a boat without a rudder. You will still go ‘somewhere’, if only by the effort of competent staff tirelessly rowing and steering the organisation through their own little ‘swim lane’ as part of the broader process. However, you won’t have much control – not enough to make sure you set your own destination. Yes, by chance you might end up on a beautiful island, but there are a lot of icebergs and reefs out there as well, and Murphy will probably have the last say.
There are other misconceptions that may get you stranded too,
“…but all our staff do Continual Improvement every day”.
The problem with this statement is, that if you don’t provide them with a framework and a channel or register where they can document current, or propose new improvement strategies, you are:
Not creating awareness or fostering a culture that is all about continual improvement.
You are not leveraging the power of collective thought – which is extremely important in continual improvement, especially since they are probably the foot soldiers who are most aware of the customers’ most intense frustrations and struggles.
You might not act on every suggestion added to a register, but at the very least it will provide you greater insight – whether that is to be used in planning, resourcing etc.
Another example: “…but we just don’t have the resources or time to act on these suggested improvements”.
Not all improvements will require the same level of resourcing.
Order ideas by least effort and maximum value – then pick one you can afford. Even if you start with the smallest, it’s not always about what is being done, but actually starting somewhere and creating the culture first.
Remember, Continual Improvement is more about creating the culture first. Create the culture and the rest will be much easier.
Golden Rule: Start Now!
So, you haven’t done anything and you now feel like you’re four again, and the plate of vegetables placed in front of you has a mountain of peas, each the size of a small boulder (insert your own nightmarish vegetable of choice).
All is not lost though – you can turn things around, but there’s one golden rule: There is no better time to start than right now! Every moment you delay, opportunities for improvement are lost.
Go forth and research!
Provide a register where others can contribute ideas or suggestions.
Review and decide, as a group, what you can afford that will provide most benefit.
Ask some practical questions to get the thinking started:
Where are you now?
Where do you want to be?
How you will get there – what would you have to do?
Where do you need to mature?
What do you have to do to achieve that maturity?
Where are the gaps in your services, organisational skills/training etc.?
What would you have to do to fill or complete those gaps?
If you want to be passionate about Service Management, you have to be passionate about constantly improving and evolving. The nature of Service Management is evolution – if you stop you’ll stagnate.
Francois specialises in continual improvement and applying practical ITSM solutions and strategies in the real world. His career started in Systems Management and IT Operations, and for the last 6 years have been focused in implementing and improving Service Management principles in the Application/Product Development industry. He is passionate about practical ITSM and how to leverage real value for the Customer and Business alike.
For 2014 itSMF UK has decided to focus on four key topics that will drive its agenda for the next 12 months. These topics will be the basis for all of its content, events, SIGs, Regionals, and Masterclasses throughout next year.
The aim is to create a sense of coherence and continuity across all of its activities and give its members (and the wider ITSM community where possible) the support they need. Yes, these four key topics (referred to as the “ITSM Big 4”) are chosen by YOU.
In order to help select these four topics there has been:
An online poll
Numerous discussions with the itSMF UK member base
Two Twitter Chats
Two roundtables at the itSMF UK Conference in early November
I have to say it’s great to see how proactive itSMF UK has been with this initiative, adopting new channels (Twitter) and also proactively communicating with people outside of the UK for their opinions, despite the fact that the concept will be UK-based. However, having taken part in both the Twitter Chats and the roundtables at the event I couldn’t help but feel that there is a specific type of input missing – practitioner input.
I think it’s important to stress here that this isn’t itSMF UK’s fault. Within the ITSM community there are a lot of dominant voices and opinions, which is not a bad thing (I must stress), but it does sometimes mean that either other voices cannot be heard over these opinions, or it can prevent others from coming forward with their thoughts (specifically if their thoughts differ). It’s also often the case that practitioners are so knee-deep in actually doing ITSM that they often don’t have the time to provide input into these sorts of initiatives.
I had hoped that the practitioner presence may be more noticeable in the roundtables at the conference, but in reality I struggled to spot more than one practitioner amongst the large group of consultants in the room. This is when I started to realise, that if not careful, the ITSM Big 4 will be chosen based on perceptions of vendors and consultants alone, with very little input from the ITSM Big 4’s actual target audience – the practitioners… the people actually doing all of the stuff that we are talking about.
Unfortunately I don’t have the answer as to how itSMF UK (or any of us for that matter) can better succeed in reaching the ITSM practitioners of the world, but I do know of four practitioners dotted around the globe that contribute content here at ITSM Review on a regular basis. So I thought, why not ask them?
Below, ITSM Review regular contributors and practitioners provide their views on the ITSM Big 4.
First of all I want to say that I think that the ITSM Big 4 concept is a very cool idea. I like that itSMF UK is working to focus on 4 major topics. Secondly, rather than simply giving you my top 4, I wanted to start by commenting on some of the themes/ideas that I have seen being raised in the Twitter Chats.
IT as a business partner – Yes, this is key: IT caring about the business objectives/Business caring about the technology provided.
The future of service management – I think the future of “ITIL” is a little too narrow in focus – stop making the discussions about the theory of a framework.
Is ITSM maturity a “regional” issue? – As I sit across the pond, it is so easy to me to see where the US is a “late” adopter of this movement – when I communicate with one of my ITSM brethren in the UK, Europe, or Oceania how they think about ITSM is well ahead of where I see my fellow countrymen. If that is truly the case, how do we start building better communities?
Building skills over certification – to me, working as a practitioner is like being on a daily version of “Iron Chef” – I don’t know what the “special ingredient” for the day will be but I know I have a short amount of time to impress the business with innovate processes to help the business satisfy its appetite (outcomes). It doesn’t matter how many certificates I hold, it’s how well I apply the lessons I have learned.
Basics – Should anyone ever talk advanced ITSM concepts if they can’t show they are providing best in class IT basics? I think there is a lot of “improvement” to be made around Incident, Problem, and Change because we have still not mastered those disciplines (assuming most people would consider Incident, Problem, and Change as basic operational processes for IT).
ITIL and AXELOS – As a practitioner, I do not care who owns ITIL, what type of profit they are looking for, or the issues regarding improvement of the model. It’s like walking onto a car lot and being told “…oh, we know you want to take a test drive, but let me redirect your focus on to how we mined the ore to make the engine block” – give me something I can use to make my business more efficient and effective.
So, to sum up… ITIL shouldn’t be part of the big 4, concentration on basics is essential, I don’t care as much about the future as I care about the NOW, and yes, demonstrating IT value to the business and opening two-way communication is critical to success.
The questions I ask myself on a day-to-day basis are:
How do we improve operations in context of what the business needs?
How do we improve beginner, intermediate, and advance ITSM practitioner skill sets? What does the pathway from practitioner to consultant/industry expert look like? What do I need to do to be taken seriously in my ITSM community/context?
As far as I am concerned frameworks and Tools really don’t matter – it’s how we build knowledge on best class operations and allow the practitioner to select/use the framework/tools that best suit their context that is key.
Looking at the public conversations around the itSMF UK ITSM Big 4 initiative it certainly feels as though the channels are flooded with pundits wanting to share their ideas. So I guess I should add my little practitioners view to the mix.
I see two main areas where people like me need help;
Help us with management
As a practitioner, it can often feel all uphill when you approach the thought-leaders of the business. You are constantly told that you need to work outside-in and top-down. But sometimes it’s very difficult to do that without management support or understanding.
I would like bodies like itSMF UK to focus on how to spread the word further than to those of us who already “get it” but can’t do much about it. I’m stuck with my management and even if I did have some influence it doesn’t take me far enough when wanting to change things. I could have the most brilliant idea in the world to work outside-in and top-down, but without management on board (or to be honest, without even getting them to listen to me in the first place) I have no chance of implementing it.
I don’t know that much about the ITSM-scene in the UK and other countries, but when it comes to Sweden a lot of practitioners like myself are having problems with management that are not interested (or sometimes don’t even know what you’re talking about) when you try to speak service management with them. They’ve all heard of ITIL, but they don’t understand the whole concept of IT Service Management.
I also know that itSMF Sweden struggles to get CIO’s, CEO’s and that type of executive to its conferences and other events. And we (the practitioners and consultants) get stuck in only talking to each other about how things could be done, if only we could reach management and get them to listen to us, and more importantly understand what we’re talking about.
The other thing that I see a huge need for is more practical advice on how to succeed on an actual day-to-day basis. How we successfully use and implement processes, what tools we use, what the best methods are for specific things etc.
We’ve got a huge body of knowledge in the ITIL-books and we’ve learned a lot on the theories there. But the books, the consultants and the thought leaders all tell us that we need to take all this stuff and change it so that it suits our organization, our special needs and circumstances. But then they tell us not to change it to much! Or they tell us that if we change the wrong stuff, we’ll be screwed! Nobody actually tells us what to do on a more practical level, nobody tells us how much change is ‘too much’, or what the ‘wrong stuff’ is that we shouldn’t change.
Of course some practitioners may be lucky and may find some good consultants to help them with the practical stuff, but for most of us that isn’t an option.
Some of the ‘themes’ raised in the Twitter Chats etc. such as: the future of ITIL; innovation from IT driving and helping the business; maximizing and exploiting IT investment; anticipating the future; business alignment and integration of IT services, etc. they are all interesting topics and they all have a part to play, but they are not relevant to many practitioners right NOW. How can we possible focus on maximizing and exploiting IT investment, when we don’t even know how to successfully do the basic practical stuff and we can’t get management to pay attention to us?
I would really like to see itSMF UK (and all the other itSMF bodies for that matter) keep in mind that there is a great body of practitioners that still struggle with management support and how to make incident/problem/change work.
In my view ITSM has gone on this self indulged journey, where it was so focused on itself it became inflated to the point of exploding. In my opinion, it becoming inflated had some benefits, but created many misconceptions and failures along the way as well. I recall watching an online presentation by Rob England a while ago where he was talking about ITSM and DevOps and how they might be at that point where they are a bit inflated…
I think for the first time I see something new in ITSM circles – we’ve realised we were a bit too impressed with our badges and libraries with pictures of shells on them, and that we lost a bit of touch with reality. That is why getting back to the basics resonates with me. One tweet from Barclay that I think is very true:
@itSMFUK most of the Q's I get from practitioners are about fairly basic practical advice – where to start< how 2 make #itsm work #itSMBig4
We all make the assumption that people must be ‘getting’ the basicsby now – but in reality this is exactly what most people struggle with – they don’t ‘get’ the basics, and they cannot envision how to implement or use the basics, or how it applies to the chaotic world they travel in every day.
By that I still believe there is a lot of value in the ‘new’ – e.g. anti-fragile, DevOps, Agile, Gamification etc – but only because it gives you a perspective of the past and where we have come from, and it gets people excited about the future – to see that we are not becoming stagnant.
We need to see how ITSM fits into the real world, with its challenges etc, not the perfect world or utopia where you have highly competent and skilled people and resources, clearly defined process and wonderfully automated tools. We need to see ITSM in bare feet not high heels. I also believe more needs to be said about Cultural change and effective ways to achieve that in imperfect organisations – which comes back to the wise saying by Rob:
“Good people will deal with bad process – in fact they’ll fix it. And good process can work around bad technology (and identify requirements). But new technology won’t fix process. And improved process won’t change people.”
AXELOS has to be a subject up there on my list – as of January 1st they will be officially launching and the best practice management landscape will change for everyone. I feel that they’ve done a good job of interacting with the ITSM community but I’m still not convinced if the same can be said for the project management community. PM’s I’ve spoken to don’t know anything about AXELOS and companies that have approached me regarding Prince2 training haven’t had AXELOS cross their radar…which I find worrying considering the significant role that they now have with the best practice management portfolio. Because of the changes that will happen long-term, we (the practitioners) need to be aware that change is inevitable and more importantly what the impact of said changes that will be in the long-term.
Demonstrating value of IT to the business – how do you really demonstrate value to the business? It can be down to how IT is perceived by the business and not necessarily in a monetary term, for example, beg the question would you recommend your service desk to your work colleagues? If so, why – if not, why not…and work from there.
The service catalogue in my opinion is the jewel in the crown of ITSM…I get told it shows how IT can demonstrate the value to the business, and that it’s a key part of ITIL and SIAM. If this is the case why is it that so few IT departments actually do it? I can only imagine that the Service Catalogue is being pitched at the wrong level. Sure, practitioners get it and I’m sure IT managers understand the advantages of it BUT if the business was aware of the tangible benefits perhaps it would demand it.
With this in mind I’ve been lucky to attend several conferences this year and at each one I’ve been in sessions where the audience are asked who has a service catalogue and every time I would say less than 5% put their hands up…this number ideally needs to grow for the service catalogue to stay relevant, the question is how.
Practical advice and skills – Cobit5 is all about the governance and ITIL is all about the doing in service management, more practical advice that’s less vendor specific would be helpful. We don’t have the time to read volumes of books, but case studies would give practitioners useful snippets of topical guidance. These case studies could perhaps be categorised by different sectors.
Soft Skills – when I was at the itSMF UK conference this year a common thread was “engage with people in the business”, talk with them and more importantly listen. Getting back to the good old basics of “the fluffy stuff” as it’s referred to is important but appears to be a skill largely forgotten.
So what will the ITSM Big 4 be?
itSMF UK will announce the chosen four focus areas on December 11th at 8pm GMT via it’s third Twitter Chat, so there is still time to have your say (and remember you don’t have to live in the UK to make your voice heard). You can get involved on Twitter using #ITSMBIG4, you can use the comment box on this article, if you are an itSMF UK member you can join the discussions in the online forum, or if you would prefer to remain anonymous you are welcome to send me your thoughts directly or via our contact form to share with itSMF UK on your behalf.
So to all you practitioners out there, please do step forward and share your thoughts. This initiative is aimed at supporting you in the areas where you need support, it shouldn’t be based solely on what consultants and vendors think you need.
And remember, as always, regardless of the ITSM Big 4 initiative please do let us know what it is that you need help with. All ITSM Review content is aimed at helping you on a day-to-day basis, so please do tell us what you need and want from us and we will always do our upmost to provide it. That’s what we’re here for!
As a final note, thank-you to Earl, Tobias, Francois and Greg for taking the time out to provide their input.