Apollo 13, A Study in Service Management

Almost everyone knows the story of Apollo 13. Indeed it was made into a highly successful film starring Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell the mission commander. It illustrates how human ingenuity and carefully thought-out processes can be used in even the most challenging of circumstances to deliver success.

The parallels with IT service management best practice are striking.

There is a service desk (CapCom) handling all the communications between the astronauts and mission control. There are professionals dedicated to incident and problem management.

There are carefully thought out processes and a robust change management team responsible for making absolutely certain that the safety of the astronauts is never compromised by a poorly tested change. There is a carefully crafted strategy with clear mission objectives that had to be re-evaluated in the light of the catastrophic explosion.

Yet in all of this, the astronauts were returned to Earth safely.

Whenever Sysop consultants run our Apollo 13 simulation as an ITSM learning workshop, they observe the ITSM professional participants disregarding all that they have learned about ITIL® best practice. Processes, designed by the team to see them through the simulation, are forgotten and abandoned; communication breaks down; leadership seems to be lost in space.

The lesson from this, of course, is that this is exactly what happens in the workplace when best practice processes are stress tested by a major crisis. Just when reliable resilient processes are needed to support problem-solving and crisis management, best practice goes out of the window.

We often say that adopting service management best practice is as much bringing about culture change as it is about rolling-out the framework set out in the core volumes. If an organisation fails to win the hearts and minds of everyone involved in the provision of IT services, then an implementation of best practice, no matter how well intentioned, is doomed to failure.

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