Podcast Episode 11 – Structured Problem Analysis

2808468566_dc22dede4b_zIn Episode 11 of The ITSM Review podcast Rebecca Beach discusses structured problem analysis and problem solving methodologies with guests Simon Morris and Tobias Nyberg.

Topics include:

  • Strategic activity
  • Kepner Tregoe
  • Slack time and overload
  • Bias/challenging assumptions
  • Maturity barriers
  • Playing the blame game
  • Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll

Books mentioned and further reading/information:

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ITAM Review and ITSM Review Feeds

ITSM14 Preview: Tobias Nyberg, Bring Me Problems Not Solutions

Tobias Nyberg of Svenska Handelsbanken and itSMF Sweden
Tobias Nyberg of Svenska Handelsbanken and itSMF Sweden

In the run up this year’s itSMF UK conference ITSM14, I chatted with Tobias Nyberg about his upcoming session entitled “Bring me problems – not solutions”.

Q. Hi Tobias, can you give a quick intro to your session at the itSMF UK Conference?

The presentation will address the essence of problems and show why the ways we look at problems are important to all organisations and professionals. It will also give the attendees hands on advice based on how we have worked with this simple but effective method to improve change and development in my organisation.

The presentation isn’t core IT Service Management but the method we have used to define problems for better solutions is applicable for most change efforts within any ITSM organisation – big and small. It’s definitely not rocket science but at the same time, sometimes the most obvious things are also the ones we most easily forget or ignore.

When we started to work with problem management everyone was very eager to start fixing things where we sometimes missed clearly defining and commonly agreeing on the root causes. And even when we tried using some of the popular methods like “Ishikawa” and “The 5 Whys”, we quite rapidly drifted into discussions on how to solve things.

When addressing this I found that people are worried and often feel anxiety when talking about problems and that it is a bad thing owning a problem. It was hard to keep them in the problem-zone because they felt uncomfortable – they wanted to jump into the solution-zone as quick as possible because everyone loves a problem solver.

Q. What are likely to be the potential issues an organisation may experience with attempting to work in this way?

The emotional and cultural relationships people and organisations have to problems differ some from case to case but it seems to be difficult to have a positive attitude towards problems.

So this presentation expands on that, with hopes that the audience return to their workplaces with a new view of problems and a different perspective on their value.

Tobias Nyberg is a Process Owner and Process Manager at Svenska Handelsbanken in StockholmSweden. He has a growing interest in IT Service Management and how ITSM can deliver value to companies and people. Tobias strongly believes in sharing as the best way of boosting knowledge in the ITSM community and is an active member of the Swedish itSMF chapter.

medium ITSM14 banner aug 14

Tobias’ session is on day one of ITSM14 and featured within the Back to Basics track. To find out more or to book your conference place please visit itSMF UK

Follow Tobias on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

Building the business case for configuration management

Carlos Casanova
Carlos Casanova

This article has been contributed by Carlos Casanova from K2 Solutions Group

At last year’s itSMF USA conference in Nashville I had the pleasure of meeting Dagfinn Krog from itSMF Norway. We had a great conversation regarding configuration management and The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, and during the conversation, there were some references to attending the conference in Norway, but nothing I took all that seriously. Much to my surprise, a few weeks later I received a formal invitation to not only attend the conference in Norway but to participate in three different sessions.

Having never traveled to the region before, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in what many describe as “one of the best service management conferences in the industry”. Shortly after accepting to participate, I received an invitation from Tobias Nyberg from the itSMF Sweden to meet the itSMF Sweden team in Stockholm after the conference in Norway. To say I was thrilled to be invited to the region and meet with their member and discuss configuration management would be an understatement.

This conference was, in some ways, very different to the many ones that I have attended in the US. The primary differentiator being that this one was much more personal. It could have been the size, which was at record number this year, but personally I think it was more than that. There seemed to be a more “family” feel to it which, for a foreign traveler was very welcoming. From first arrival in Norway to final departure from Stockholm, I could not have asked for a more personal and warm reception from everyone. It’s as if we had known each other for years.  A huge thank you to all involved for making a long trip away from home that much easier.  Ok… now on to why you actually read “ITSM Review”

Configuration management workshop

As I mentioned, I participated in three sessions, of which this was the first. This pre conference workshop focused on developing the business case for your configuration management efforts. We had a great group of individuals participating that were slammed with far more materials than they could ever have possibly absorbed in such a short time, but they all did a great job working through the five activities we had scheduled to start formulating the basis of the business case.

  1. Why is configuration management Important to my organization?
  2. What does “value” look like to my organization?
  3. How will each process area reap “value” from the configuration management initiative?
  4. What should I expect to encounter within my organization that will hinder value from being achieved?
  5. What will I do in the first 30 days once I get back to start generating value?

In a three hour session with a total of approximately one hour to work on the activities, it wasn’t expected that they would form cohesive thoughts and statements but, at a minimum, they would start formulating the foundations of their argument. In much the same manner, we can’t cover all the material from the workshop in this article but, below are some highlights for you to think about.

  • Without configuration management, your level of operational maturity will always be limited due to lack of insight into how devices and services mesh together to deliver business outcomes.
  • If you can’t define/demonstrate what “value” looks like in your organization and to the various domains that must participate, everyone will define it themselves. Leaving it up to each area to define without guidance will most assuredly result in a variety of expectations which you will likely never be able to meet.
  • Identify your biggest challenges immediately and address them or set a path around them. If it’s people, find out what their biggest desire is and see if you can satisfy it. If you can, they will be your biggest advocate and asset to success. If you can’t avoid, if possible, impacting their area for as long as possible until you have established some traction and a broader support base to take them on.
  • Get started. You can’t keep putting it off. The challenge of not knowing has always existed and has only gotten worse.  Waiting for a better time to do Configuration Management is silly. Do something, anything…. and do it now.

What Configuration Management, CMDB and CMS is and isn’t

This session was predominantly based upon materials from my book (The CMDB Imperative)  and framed the core concepts around executing a configuration management initiative. Unfortunately, whether it is clients in the US or individuals in Scandinavia, there are some common areas that everyone seems to struggle with implementing and/or understanding.

  1. CMDB versus CMS – They aren’t the same thing.  Understand the difference and which approach is most likely to work for you. Very briefly, they can be thought of as…
    • CMDB – A conceptual structure that provides perspective to the relationship between two objects controlled in a single data store.
    • CMS –  A conceptual structure that provides perspective to the relationship between two objects across more than one controlled data stores
  2. Relationships – Without them, you really don’t have configuration management, you have watered down asset or inventory management. You’re basically a manifest manager. Sorry!
  3. Transforming Data into Information – There is no shortage of data in every organization. We’re drowning in it.  Problem is, there is no context to it. Configuration Management adds context.
  4. Complexity – Yes, it can be complex if you let it be. Cut through it and look at it through a small network/neural network perspective. Focus on singular connections between items. Then repeat for the next and the next. Eventually you’ll identify them all.
  5. Perspective and Layers – You need to, if you haven’t already, adopt the perspective of the consumer rather than producer.  It is all about producer-consumer relationships and the view from the other side is not always attractive and you need to know that.
  6. Transitioning and Awareness – Your organization didn’t get to where it is overnight and it won’t sort itself out overnight. Set realistic expectations. Expect potholes and speed bumps. Plan for them and factor them in. Be aware of your surroundings at all times because they will sneak up on you.

Establishing a common vision of what “it is” and what “it is not” is instrumental to the likelihood of success. Set a sound strategy and vision and then start small and work at a tactical level to deliver value at regular intervals. You need the small “wins” early to stand a chance at bigger accomplishments later.

Anything about Configuration Management

The last configuration management related session I conducted for itSMF Sweden members, where we held an unstructured question and answer session whereby the individuals simply asked anything related to configuration management. We then had an open conversation about the question and/or statement.  From questions about specific challenges to advice for how to go about doing something, this session solidified my early sense that their challenges, questions and concerns were not very far from their peers in the US or UK.

They were challenged by essentially the same things:

  • Lack of and/or constantly changing “leadership”
  • Poor, nonexistent constantly changing directives
  • Cultural resistance to changing how it’s currently done (a topic discussed extensively in the round table session I also participated in about the Future of ITSM at the Norway conference)
  • Misunderstanding/confusion of the difference between ITAM and SACM

The first three of these challenges are interrelated and based on poor or frequently changing leadership.  Think of leadership as a compass.  It sets direction and vision for where you need to go. If the compass is broken or the owner of the compass continually picks a different location to sail towards, you will never reach your a destination. When this occurs, the masses lose general confidence in leadership and will no longer feel that they should exert energy towards moving in any direction set by them.

An individual I met a long time ago, who was at the time working for a global enterprise well known for their musical chair approach to “leadership” had been subjected to this type of environment for years. He told me without shame or hesitation, (paraphrased) “I just need to get my work done today.  I have outlasted the last three CEOs & CIOs. I will outlast the next three if I just ignore the latest leadership whim and just do the work as I know it needs to get done. I’d like to believe that the next guy will be different, but I have lost faith in that potential so I just focus on doing my job today.”  The bottom line; without strong, reliable and consistent leadership, even the best ideas are likely to fail and breed a bad working culture.

The last item listed has been a more recent awareness as I have worked with more mid-sized clients typically less mature in their operational processes. As these companies try to improve their operational maturity and IT cost accounting, they recognize the need to first capture and maintain lists of devices in their environment and what they cost; i.e. asset and inventory management. However, with all the talk of how configuration management enables you to see all the devices, they tend to make the connection, incorrectly as it may be, that configuration management is the mechanism by which this is done. So, these companies venture down the road labeled “configuration management” unknowingly in search of “asset and inventory management”.

In summary

All in all, the events in both Norway and Sweden were excellent and I strongly recommend that if you have the opportunity to attend next year, you do. The organization of them is top notch, the venues are as you would expect and most importantly, you will be welcomed as though you have been part of their family since birth. Go and enjoy, you won’t regret it professional or personally.

This article has been contributed by Carlos Casanova from K2 Solutions Group

Balance your productivity books

What did you achieve in 2013?
What did you achieve in 2013?

The end of the year is coming and if you are anything like me you find time to reflect and ponder over the year that has passed. This year I had a chance to show myself that I have actually made a difference to my organization and that my work has been valuable.

I recently had the good fortune to speak at the itSMF Sweden Expo 2013 in Gothenburg. It was actually the first presentation I have given in this line of business so I didn’t already have a presentation to just whip out and deliver. I had to create one.

Someone presumably knew that I had been working as a Configuration Manager for the same company for almost three years and they probably assumed that I would have some valuable insights to share with my peers by now.

So when I was asked to present what I and my colleagues had accomplished over the last three years my first reaction was:

“What a great honour, I’d be delighted! But… I haven’t anything to tell, we haven’t accomplished anything yet…”

Having said that to myself I quite rapidly asked myself:

Really? Not a single accomplishment during three years worth sharing? I must really suck at my job!”

I don’t believe that I suck at my job so I set out to balance my productivity books to get an idea of what we had accomplished and what results we had achieved.

Finding the records

Looking into the past can be both dreadful and uplifting. It’s so easy to judge choices and decisions in retrospect when you have all the answers at hand. But you can also find forgotten gems of good stuff that will remind you of things that mattered but had lost its place in yours and others minds.

At the same time you might find that you don’t keep your records in good enough order to know whether or not you’ve been valuable by the end of the year. I had to wade through a lot of documents, blogs, posts and tweets, and talk to quite a few people to find the good bits and pieces that I had left behind as imprints of accomplishments over the years. Many things were still in my head of course but when it came to details and hard facts, I had to dig deep and look far to find them.

To my surprise there was quite a lot of things to be found that showed my accomplishments. Not only in form of project reports and management presentations but also in actual effects in my organization. Effects that weren’t directly connected to what I had done but at least started with my doings.

One of the lessons learned here is to keep a better record of my own accomplishments. Starting 2014, I’ll track things I do in some kind of ledger so that I can find records of my activities more easily.

Doing the math

It’s a good thing to measure. I think most people in the ITSM industry can agree to that. And we have all heard, read and talked about the necessity of measuring in the smartest possible ways to gain results.

When it came to measurable results in my records, there was close to none, and the few metrics I had were not really comparable. And all that aside, I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to show or to whom.

It’s tricky measuring ones value or the value of ones accomplishments. I was pondering over one aspect of this in another article some time ago and I did come up with some interesting findings.

The value of metrics and what they tell you is probably not the most important aspect to consider if you want to balance your productivity books (a completely different story if you are balancing the financial records of your company, I’d presume). But if you are interested in numbers, do the math and see what you get. The result may surprise you.

Presenting the report

Even if you don’t have the opportunity to tell your peers in the community the results of your work with a presentation at a conference, you would gain from summarizing it in some way. This will force you to select what was important and what was not.

Use the result as a compilation of the work-year to keep in your personal archive. Use it to tell your boss what a great asset you are to the company. Use it to share your success with your peers, your spouse or even to explain to your mother what it is that you actually do at work.

But most importantly, use it to empower yourself with the knowledge that you have accomplished many important things this year and that you are your own fortune.

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ITSM Big 4 – the practitioner view

What would your four key topics be?
What would your four key topics be?

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.

Earl Begley, Total Quality Manager at the University of Kentucky (US)

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.

Tobias Nyberg, Configuration Manager at Handelsbanken (Sweden)

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;

  • Management awareness
  • Practical advice

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.

Practical Advice

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.

Francois Biccard, Support and Project Manager (Australia)

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:

We all make the assumption that people must be ‘getting’ the basics by 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.”

Gregory Baylis-Hall, IT Service Management Analyst at Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP (UK)

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.

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Practitioners: Do you feel unwelcome in your hometown?

bibleAs a practitioner within a large organization and having been so for about eight years now, I find myself quoting the Bible every now and then when talking to my colleagues about IT consultants.

The quote I mostly refer to is Luke 4:24 – “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.”

I’m not a religious person, but from my Bible reading I can definitely understand the frustration and the annoyance of not being listened to by management. Jesus probably didn’t have a problem with his management per se, but he sure had some problems getting his message through.

Have you ever felt this?

There seem to be two main situations within business where people feel like the unwelcomed prophet; when they return from a course and when the IT consultant shows up.

Situation One: Bad Education

Employees return from a course, perhaps even with a certificate of excellence, filled with new knowledge and energy. Do management and colleagues listen to these employees and the new knowledge that they have to share? Or are they too preoccupied listening to their favourite podcast (I know that even I have been guilty of this)?

This is a good example of the prophet (the employee) not being welcomed. Colleagues and bosses don’t accept that the employee has gained new knowledge, nor will they let them use their new insights. Nobody believes that the employee has come back from the course more skilled than before.

However, some people do come back from a course with a clear vision of how to change things for the better. They can connect their new insights to their already existing knowledge and wisdom. But no one cares since they can’t see that the prophet actually has anything new to say.

In this situation an employee will feel unappreciated. Why did the company invest both good time and money in education that they aren’t prepared to listen to and/or harvest any value from?

Situation Two: All hail the Messiah

I’m sure most of us have, at least once, found ourselves in the situation where a new IT consultant is brought into the team and suddenly receives “Messiah” status. You know, where management automatically listens to everything he or she says? Often despite the fact that you have been saying the exact same thing for years and no one ever bothered to listen to you. The stranger is more welcome than the, since long established, employee.

The consultants words are automatically taken for truth, the measures they suggest are taken as law and if you (the practitioner) do not obey then you are a troublemaker without a doubt.

In this situation an employee will feel a lack of confidence from management and that their skills and knowledge are less valuable than a strangers.

Sadly enough I have seen many practitioners go against the IT consultants, even when they actually agree with them, simply because they felt wrongly treated by management.

So how should you handle these situations?

Unfortunately I don’t have all the answers, but I can tell you how I’ve personally started to deal with these situations as a practitioner (aka the prophet).

  • Let things take time ­– if you come back from a great course, sit on your new found knowledge for a while and share it piece by piece.
  • Don’t give up – when you feel unappreciated and mistreated, stand up straight and show that you are to be reckoned with.
  • See the good for the company, not just yourself – it’s not a one man show and sometimes it’s okay to stand back for the greater good.
  • Let the consultants shine too – if the IT consultant does a good job, it will rub off on you. You might even learn something new.

In Summary

The consultants that are the good ones understand the problem of prophet/practitioner vs Messiah/consultant, the not so good ones don’t mind taking credit for everything as long as they look good in the eyes of management. Needless to say we (the practitioners) don’t care much for the latter.

Good consultants know how to cultivate and grow the practitioners that they work with – and we, the good practitioners, know how to behave to maximize this symbioses of development and change.

So if you are in a place where you feel like the consultants are Messiah, where the gospel are sung only by outside people and where you preach to deaf ears or an empty temple, think again.

If management does not utilize your skills and knowledge the way you feel is for the best, be persistent and await your time.

Maybe it’s not the words of Luke but the words of Matthew we should embrace; “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:39)

To any practitioners reading this article, how do you personally deal with these situations?

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Do you clog your social media channels with useless crap?

True value or ego massage? '64 % of the people sharing information from others to others did it to get attention, show friendship, show they have inside information, show humour...'
True value or ego massage? ’64 % of the people sharing information from others to others did it to get attention, show friendship, show they have inside information, show humour…’

Do you care what you share or clog your social media channels with useless crap?

In this article Tobias Nyberg explores why people share at all.

Sharing and caring

Is there a way to tell if what I’m sharing actually has any value to others? Do my followers, readers and community peers have any use for the information I share or am I guilty of clogging the social media channels with useless crap?

Out of the 239 twitter followers, 158 Facebook friends, 93 Google+ circlers, 343 LinkedIn connections I have, a very small percentage interact with me frequently when I share stuff with them. How can I tell that they and the ones that are silent find value in my contributions?

Is sharing caring or is it a way to feed my ego?

I asked myself, the Google+ Back2ITSM community and friends of mine this question some time ago since I wanted to try to understand if I bring any value to the community in these areas or if I should just stop spreading worthless information.

The answers were, of course, not simple or even all in the course of what I expected. And just to set some prerequisites straight, I wasn’t necessarily looking for hard fact metrics on value (even if it would be nice), a good feeling about the value takes me close enough.

There are some basic tell tails to see if you bring value through the social channels. If people follow you on twitter, have you in circles on Google+, friend or follow you on Facebook connect with you on LinkedIn they at least think that you at one point or another brought them value. The problem is of course that most people don’t un-follow, un-friend or un-circle you if you no longer bring any value. They’ll either ignore you or mute you from their streams.

Another thing is if your followers re-share your contributions, you would expect them to find your information valuable to them, and in some cases it probably is. But as it turns out, the main reason people share stuff from others, is to either look smart themselves or in other ways boost the image of them. (See also ‘Suffering with consumption‘)

An old study I found on how word of mouth advertising works is probably possible to apply on social media as well. At least for the sake of argument in this situation. That study shows that 64 % of the people sharing information from others to others did it to get attention, show friendship, show they have inside information, show humour, etc.

There is of course value in that, maybe just not the kind of value I was hoping to bring to the community.

Writing and sharing for your own sake

Some of the people I’ve spoken to about this says that they aren’t that interested in what value to others they contribute with. They write, share and interact for their own sake. And I guess that’s a perfectly fine standpoint as well. It can be a way to collect and sort out thoughts and ideas and put it into structure for use, now or later on. And if someone happens to read it and find it valuable, well, good for them. But will they continue to create and share content if no one ever uses it or find value in it?

Some people believe that value from what you contribute with will come out eventually, for someone, and you won’t probably even know it. So their strategy is to keep sharing what comes to mind (and perhaps what make them look smarter) and then let the information be valuable, or not. I guess that would be sharing without caring.

I’ve also been told that it’s impossible to know if you bring any value if you don’t know what your followers want and find value in. And that is a bit tricky to say the least when you don’t know them at all, or even know who they are besides a screen name.

One method that I’ve found to be more used than others is a pragmatic approach of loosely collecting vibes on the channels on what kind of value you bring. Most of us probably do that but some even have methods of sorts to create an perception or understanding on what social media channels to use because they bring more value (as well as gain more value as it turns out) to their followers. Some people write it down to track changes and to see their “vibe-trends” over time.

In the end, it seem to be hard to measure the value of what you share on social media and it’s hard to even create a perception of the value of your contributions to others. I think it’s safe to say that much of what many people share is valuable for ego boosting though, may it be mine or your ego.

When I share things with the community I would like to think I care about what I share and what the information bring in form of value. But to be frank, sometimes I share value and sometimes I share crap. But even more importantly, sometimes, quite often, I don’t share at all. Because I care what I share.

Practitioners versus consultants: what benefits do both roles offer?

Duran Duran
ITSM practitioners may not get to be seen as “rock-star saviors” in the same way as consultants, but may be the actual "rocks" through which change takes place

Ever wondered what the difference is between being an ITSM practitioner and a consultant?

Here, Tobias Nyberg shares his experiences of how being an ITSM practitioner compares with being a consultant on a day-to-day basis

I call myself an ITSM practitioner, in the sense that that means I’m not a consultant. ITSM practitioners are there for the long haul, whereas consultants are usually only brought in to consult in the short term or on one-off projects. What this means practically is that being an ITSM practitioner brings additional opportunities and challenges that are not usually within the remit of a consultant.

Being a practitioner requires working in a sustained fashion over a longer term, so in many cases, this means I have to find ways to keep the momentum and energy up when projects end and consultants leave, and the normal business-as-usual work takes over. It can be challenging to feel you are really making a difference when you are in the middle of the daily business and everything is functioning well, whereas consultants have the benefit of being able to make a more recognizable contribution over the short term.

One of the things I really like about not being a consultant is that I have a different kind of responsibility towards my employer, my company and my colleagues, which is to make things work — and to make them work better — without the support of a project or other expert consultant. It means I have the opportunity to drive change from within, and to have the kind of long-term buy-in to make changes become a reality.

It also means I have to work and live the results of my efforts for as long as I stay at my company, which puts a different perspective on working relationships. I’ve worked with consultants that drove change so hard that everyone hated them when the project finished (well, except for management). But that was all right, since they got the work done and could leave after the project was finished.

Between a rock and a rock star

Unfortunately, we practitioners can’t use up all our organizational goodwill and call in all the personal favours we need for a single project, and then expect to have any swag left to cover the rest of the year. I believe this means that there is far less to lose by playing it hard as a consultant — as long as there are some hard-working practitioners left in the building to keep pushing the changes after the consultants have gone.

Of course, it can be a bit of a drag not to be seen as one of the rock-star “savior” consultants who show up and help make ITSM practitioners shine, but I’ve grown to accept that — as the saying goes, prophets can’t really expect to be welcomed in their own home town.

So when your boss runs in to the office, proclaiming that she or he has seen the light and the true path to ITSM goodness through the eyes of the new consultant, you just smile and cheer, and silently thank yourself for the excellent groundwork that led up to this moment of clarity. Never mind the fact that you’ve probably been saying the exact same thing for the past six months, although no one was willing to listen to you back then.

We, the practitioners, need to be there to take care of all the daily business, and gradually identify and implement areas for improvement. We are the ‘rocks’ who get the chance to see the theories and the frameworks, and then put these into practice in reality. We are the ones with the hands-on experience and firsthand knowledge on how to do things, and how it all really works. So, we may not get to be the rock stars, but we do get to be the rocks on which change is built.

It’s good to share

Our experience is something we need to value properly and share with other ITSM professionals so we can help both ourselves and the ITSM community grow.

Unfortunately, the downside of working at one place for a long time is that you automatically don’t get any fresh experience from anywhere else. A consultant can visit many companies and see firsthand how things are done and how it works there. But that breadth of experience can be hard to come by in other ways if you remain in the same company for a long period.

That’s one of the reasons I believe it is good practice for us to share our experience with each other and among the ITSM community. It’s one sure way to grow without switching to consultancy.

I’m currently working with a special-interest group where we are a majority of practitioners. It’s a great group — enthusiastic, and eager to share and learn from each other. There are some consultants who participate there, too, and they often contribute as much as anyone else. It’s always interesting to see the differences in how and what consultants and practitioners share.

But there are good reasons for that. Consultants are obliged to honour confidentiality agreements, so can’t share everything from companies where they have worked, as they can’t mention customer names without consent; also, the intellectual property might not be theirs to share, etc. However, they can share a variety and breadth of experiences from many different organizations, summarizing these with the details hidden or masked.

We practitioners, on the other hand, are able to share more information within our own discretion. We can be more detailed, and can discuss matters of interest with more depth. We also have a more profound and specialized knowledge of what we do at our organizations, but we are not as diversified and broad in our knowledge as consultants.

Best of both

When I set out to write this, it was because I had discussed the good and bad things about being a practitioner versus being a consultant with four different persons within a week.

The results were that three practitioners felt they were made smaller at their companies because of consultants, and that they had nothing to offer the community in terms of experience. Yet one consultant said he felt frustrated that he could never stay long enough to actually see the long-term results of his efforts, and that he could only ever share generalised information about his work.

In my own experience, I have been both a consultant and a practitioner — and I do like both roles, but for different reasons. Together, we tend to make great teams and drive change quite symbiotically. Let’s remember that we are different for good reasons, and strive to use that to grow — both as professional individuals and as a business community.

Bring me problems not solutions!

Albert Einstein is often quoted as having said ‘If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution’. Since Mr. Einstein was, undoubtedly, a clever man, I’d like to believe that those are his words.

Understand the problem first

Where I work no one seems to care about problems. All I ever hear about are solutions and what to do to make things differently, and hopefully better or right. People even make a point out of the fact that they don’t like problems and therefore don’t care about them much.

Now, one could of course argue that finding solutions and communicating these is better and more productive than finding problems and whining about them. But you should not do one without the other.

We are not after your solutions

Several times a week a general manager, colleague or just plain random person walks by the room where I, and my fellow process managers, hang out and give us solutions.

And we try to embrace these solutions kindly and gently ask ‘what problem does it solve? How will we know that this change will fix anything that’s broken?’

Now, it is appropriate to mention that we are not particularly good at goals and objectives at my company either. If you have clearly-defined goals it is, of course, easier to see the problems that keep you from reaching your goals, therefore you require less effort effort to define these problems.

In many cases problems are about value. At least they are if you, like me, work in the banking industry where all that counts is value. It is probably different if you work in, for instance, healthcare or the military.  If a problem prevents you from gaining value, or if that problem wastes money, you will ensure that you are able to remove it.

PSG (Problem – Solution – Goal)

As one step in the quest to be more effective I decided to write down a few pieces of advice to my coworkers, something to have in mind when talking about problem solving and making improvements. So I put together a one-slide presentation, accompanied by a brief document with my thoughts on the need for a problem definition before starting to think about the solutions. We called it the ‘PSG-model’.

There is, of course, nothing amazing about this. I didn’t invent anything, didn’t have any new bright ideas and I didn’t produce anything original apart from the slide itself. It is merely a simple, common sense method.

But it worked!

The key message was that the solutions are merely the path, and the journey from the problem to the goal. If we don’t have a clear goal, we can use the problem definition (and a sense of ‘right’ or experience, if you will) to define and agree on goals.

We started to turn the solutions presented to us, or the ones we came up with ourselves, into problem definitions. When that had been completed it became notably easier to agree on goals. The solutions we turned to problems without value were discarded, and we managed to swing the mindset at meetings, and our spontaneous walk-ins, to be around problem definitions instead of nifty solutions.

This method became so well accepted that some people apologised when they mentioned solutions during discussions, even though it was perfectly legitimate to do so.

Activity observations

The next step was to create a bit more structure around how we recorded and documented all the problems and goals (former solutions) so that we could act on them and put them to use. A document template was used to guide whoever wrote the problem and goal down, and we purposely left anything regarding solution out of the document. We called them ‘activity observations’.

The time where we actually sat down for a few minutes with the person who came by with a solution also made a big difference to how we were approached all those small enhancements or plain whining of a more personal nature.

I’m certain there are some ITIL abbreviations for what we did and what came out of it. As for now I couldn’t care less, it works and no one can tell me we did it wrong, because we did it our way despite all the prerequisites that form part of this organization.

All and all, we managed to turn the wide plethora of solutions, random ideas and general whining to problem definitions and commonly agreed goals. It has taken us a little further towards valuable IT Service Management.

Not Invented Here…

Fieldwork at the Ostrich School of Coping Skills

One of the biggest challenges I’ve been put up against this year is probably the view that, if something wasn’t invented here, it’s no good. And boy, have I struggled with trying to make things look like we actually invented them here.

I won’t try to figure out why the ‘not invented here syndrome’ is so rooted in our organization. There are probably lots of reasons, historical, organizational, cultural, previous experiences and what not. Some experts tell me I have to change the attitude among my co-workers and kill the opinions that abound and are aimed towards massacring external influences. That would probably be a good thing, if you had the support and means to do it. I, and my ITSM colleagues, went for another approach.

The post-it walls

We have a ‘war-room’ on the third floor of the building where most of operations and tech department are located. That’s where people gather whenever there are major incidents going on, or just for debriefing when the nightshift go off and the dayshift starts. The walls of this room were once covered with whiteboards and huge post-its. Every now and then some manager would move the post-its around and write stuff on them during the meetings that were held there.

When we looked into this room we discovered that they had built a sort of an incident and problem management ticketing system with post-its on whiteboards.

As we are interested in having people working in the ITSM-tools we have, and actually following the defined processes, we of course asked:

Why don’t you use the ITSM-suite and the incident and problem management processes?

We mostly got mumblings and a lot of staring at shoes in response. The ones who spoke back did so in a quite animated manner. Some claimed that the processes were over complicated and useless, others argued that the ITSM tool didn’t meet their requirements or that it was too hard to understand how to use it.

No problem, we thought, let’s work together to change what doesn’t work well enough in the tool and the processes. However, the people in the room were not so interested in that.

First of all, they didn’t recognize what they did as incident or problem management, it was the ‘8:45 war-room meeting and that’s where we actually work’. So even if we had some shiny processes to help them do their job more efficiently, we weren’t welcome. Just for that reason.

Furthermore, not only did we miss the opportunity to control, but also the ability to measure the processes and activities. Apart from that, you had to be physically present in the room to be able to get all the information needed to work on the cases. The various managers had different ideas on how to do things as well, so we never got a chance to actually work in a process oriented way or with commonly agreed routines.

Inventing it here

We started by accepting the methods used in the room with the post-its and slowly but patiently planting small but important changes to the methods and the vocabulary. We did some parallel registration of the data on the post-its in the problem management ticketing tool, and we began to show the advantages of a tool that wasn’t physically restricted to a single room.

By now we’ve lost the post-its and we register and follow all PM tickets in the ITSM tool. We’ve started to deliver some metrics on what we believe should be important to the company, and we show that our methods get the job done faster and with better results than before.

There’s still a long way to go to make this stick throughout the entire organization and to be able to convince all the people involved that it makes a difference.

But, just the same, we have actually invented problem management here at my company and we are proud of it!

(Please just don’t tell anyone…)

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