Are your IT Services becoming stale?

I am sure that your organisation strives to offer your customers (internal and external) a consistently reliable standard of IT service – and why not?

The accepted usage of the word (Wikipedia) is as follows:

Consistent behaviour or treatment.

“the consistency of measurement techniques”

Synonyms: evenness, steadiness, stability, constancy, regularity, uniformity, equilibrium, unity, orderliness, dependability, reliability, lack of change, lack of deviation.

We certainly want to give our customers the feeling that they are dealing with a business that is dependable, orderly, reliable but not to the extent of being boring and perhaps too predictable.

But let’s look at that Wikipedia definition again – it includes the phrases “lack of change, lack of deviation”. Is that what we really intend? Static, not improving, not moving with the times?

The emerging methodologies of DevOps and Agile demonstrate an increasing requirement for us to deliver business benefit quickly. However, we do want to be consistent in the way that we deal with our customers.  They need to feel that there will be no negative surprises in the product, quality of service that we offer so that they will have above all that very desirable outcome for any customer or client – peace of mind.

This means that all those great qualities of which we are justly proud like service, product and above all quality should be taken as givens. This is why the well-established disciplines of ITIL® service management are so valuable. But we need to ensure that these disciplines are not set in concrete. The dynamics of today’s business drivers require swift, responsive adjustments to the way we work.

Modern, effective IT organisations do need to invest in the DevOps & Agile way of working. In doing so they will quickly appreciate that neither replaces the ITIL® disciplines – more they depend on them for underlying quality and direction.

The guidance given in the recent AXELOS practitioner publication goes a long way to squaring this particular circle. For our part, at Sysop, we have taken care to make sure that our Practitioner training course helps our students to better understand the need for a flexible approach whilst maintaining, indeed improving, service quality.

Positive change is a necessity of the modern IT organisation. Make sure your consistent approach encompasses a consistent desire to improve, change and innovate.

stuart.sawle@sysop.co.uk

http://www.sysop.co.uk

I am indebted, once more, to my good friend Ivan Goldberg for the inspiration for this blog (www.ivanjgoldberg.com).

Finding Focus for your Plans.

I am indebted to my good friend Ivan Goldberg for the inspiration for this blog www.ivanjgoldberg.com.

Stephen Covey in his benchmark book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says that we should always put first things first.  On the face of it that is almost a truism but the question is, how often, in reality, do we achieve that desirable outcome?

There is the well circulated story of the supposedly well-organised manager. He was asked: did he have a to-do list?

He did, he said, and went to his trusty laptop to demonstrate.  There was a total of 72 items on the list ranging from “Contact the bank to discuss the overdraft as requested” to “Clean the car”.

He was pressed to disclose how many of these items he thought that he would actually complete. He said that there were so many that he never seemed to achieve any of them.  In any case, he went on, day to day things get in the way and the list just got longer.

What a waste of time and effort.  It has been wisely said that rather than have a to-do list we should have a NOT to-do list and in his case the first item on that should be stop doing a to-do list.

The caveat is of course that unless the to-do list is valuable, achievable and realistic then it is worthless.

It can all be resolved by some discipline in two respects; (1) To restrict the to-do list to no more than three items and (2) To set the priorities on the list and not to divert except in exceptional circumstances.

The reason for a list of three items is a function of immediacy of memory. Three items can be recalled very easily and adding further items can start to clog the memory.  Additionally it is far easier to set priorities.

If this is too extreme consider a Kanban board. A Kanban board is a work and workflow visualization tool that enables you to optimize the flow of your work.

All the items on the list need to be focused to the benefit of the business and lead to a defined and specified outcome.

If these simple rules are not followed then the likelihood is that items of little or no value can intrude and get in the way of what is really significant.

The really important feature is to set your priorities.  Look at what you are planning to do, define each item in whatever terms you decide are relevant to the success of the business and then decide the priorities on each item.   Don’t change unless something exceptional merits the change.

Moreover, keep to the priorities that you have set.  We can be so easily distracted by the day-to-day happenings in the business that very often the really significant things take a back seat not by design but by happenstance.

There is no doubt that it demands self-discipline. If these priorities are so important to the future of the your organisation then nothing should get in the way of fulfilling them.

The natural concomitant of this discipline is the essential need to have a team to whom you can and do delegate in the safe knowledge that they can be trusted implicitly to perform.

Ask yourself the key CSI questions:

  • Where am I now?
  • Where do I want to be?
  • How am I going to get there?
  • How will I know I’ve arrived?
  • How do I maintain my improvement momentum?

Alongside these one can consider the personal self-searching questions that will help you get that “to do” list down to a manageable and productive size:

  • What should I do more of?
  • What should I do less of?
  • What should I STOP doing?

Happy planning!

stuart.sawle@sysop.co.uk

Attaining Service Management Maturity

I enjoy the conversations I have with students attending our ITIL® courses. They normally revolve around the maturity of their organisation compared to documented best practice. This has led Sysop to put a survey in the field to see if we could establish the overall take-up and maturity of IT service management. The results are somewhat alarming:

OVER 50% OF COMPANIES ARE NOT READY FOR MAJOR INCIDENTS!
• Over a third have an IT-business alignment problem
• 37% point to low or no IT professional development
• 13% have no Change Manager

33% of respondents say they ‘need to do more to align their IT with the business’, with 4% admitting that their IT-business alignment is ‘poor’. Almost two in ten also say that management has ‘no understanding’ (5%) or a ‘poor understanding’ (14%) of the importance of IT to the business.

You can read the full report here: http://www.sysop.co.uk/your-account/downloads?c=10.

So what do you do if you think your organisation is deficient?

Remember that IT Service Management is, for the most part, a cultural change. To bring about this level of change requires patience and tenacity. I would endorse the methodology suggested by Dr. John Kotter – it has just eight steps.

Step 1: Establish a Sense of Urgency
Help others see the need for change and they will be convinced of the importance of acting immediately.

Step 2: Create the Guiding Coalition
Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort, and encourage the group to work as a team. Make sure this group includes a senior management sponsor, management buy-in is key.

Step 3: Develop a Change Vision
Create a vision to help direct the change effort, and develop strategies for achieving that vision.

Step 4: Communicate the Vision for Buy-in
Make sure as many as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy.

Step 5: Empower Broad-based Action
Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision, and encourage risk-taking and non-traditional ideas, activities, and actions.

Step 6: Generate Short-term Wins
Plan for achievements that can easily be made visible, follow-through with those achievements and recognise and reward employees who were involved. If you are a million miles from having a Configuration Management System, despite the fact that it would be wonderful, to have one in place don’t even try to start with this! Look at the areas that you already do pretty well but could do better, this will give you a good starting point.
Approach the task by trying to see which gaps in your processes you could bridge with least effort.

Step 7: Never Let Up
Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision, also hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the vision, and finally reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents.

Step 8: Incorporate Changes into the Culture
Articulate the connections between the new behaviours and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession. Remember the advice of W. Edwards Deming: gradual, incremental changes are most easily assimilated.

Check out our acclaimed Service Management Workshops. http://www.sysop.co.uk/training-courses/69/tutorled-courses#c72

Stuart Sawle

http://www.sysop.co.uk

ITIL® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limited.

Fifty Years – A Major Milestone

I don’t normally like admitting to my age – but this week I am celebrating a pretty major milestone – 50 years in IT. I’ve always considered myself particularly lucky to have begun an IT career when the industry was in its infancy, when we were fresh-faced, young and pioneering.

I left grammar school at 16 with a handful of ‘O’ levels and had been intrigued by computers for some little while. Luckily, for me, a neighbour friend was an IT Operations Shift Leader at Dunlop and suggested that I apply as a trainee operator. I took to it like a duck to water. Operating large mainframes which were tape-based was demanding work physically. The tapes were 3.600 ft zinc spools and some 100 tapes per shift needed to be mounted / demounted on the eight tape decks on each of the huge LEO III mainframes. Understanding what was going on came much more easily. I had a natural aptitude for IT and in that respect it has never been hard work.

I was just 19, when my boss asked me to set-up and run an offline job-assembly function. The goal (successfully achieved) was to improve consistency and reduce job-assembly errors. This work caught the attention of a senior colleague who head-hunted me to join him as Chief Operator at Halfords in the centre of Birmingham. The small ICT 1901 mainframe here was a step down from the sophistication of the LEO and, at the tender age of twenty, I had the challenge of supervising the operation of three shifts, job and data control.

I began to take an interest in the George II operating system and pioneered its implementation to streamline operations and reduce mis-operation. This led to a change of career as I learnt how to program in PLAN – an assembler language proprietary to ICT 1900 mainframes. I loved it and determined a short while later that I could earn much more money as a freelance programmer.

Very soon I was assigned to a major development project for Woolworth – all in COBOL. I hadn’t written a COBOL program in my life but I had, at least, covered the basics in a college course. My PLAN and GEORGE II experience stood me in very good stead and I quickly earned a reputation as the technical guru. I could understand diagnostic dumps when many of my colleagues found them perplexing.

I was a freelance programmer at Woolworth for nearly three years when the new Data Centre Manager asked me to join the management team and establish a competent technical and operations support department – again with the principal objective of improving consistency of service and reducing error.

Now I was really in my stride. I had some very competent technical guys but the challenge was to develop the operations support group, exploit the operating system and bring real business benefit to the organisation. This opportunity was enhanced when I led the project to migrate the George II workload to the newly launched ICL 2900 range under VME.

This was exciting pioneering written large! Woolworth IT developed a reputation for leading-edge technology and practices and I was often invited to speak at User Group conferences and joined working parties to help steer ICL development plans – most of them focusing on reliability, consistency of service and error reduction – a bit of a recurring theme here.

My responsibilities at Woolworth increased and I was given responsibility for not only the Rochdale data centre but also the data centres in Swindon and London. Life was certainly getting exciting!

In 1985 everything changed. A new IT Director changed the technical direction from ICL to IBM. Senior IT professionals with extensive experience of IBM operations were parachuted in and I was offered a very attractive package to go do something else – and that something else was Sysop.

The early days of Sysop saw an increasing fruitful partnership with ICL. We pioneered the development of storage management systems to exploit the capabilities of automated tape libraries – always looking at ways to help clients reduce cost, improve reliability, and improve storage management.

Then along came ITIL®.

In 1990 Sysop was one of only three companies who offered training in IT Service Management. The other two no longer exist – which makes Sysop the world’s longest exponent of ITIL. Sysop consultants have travelled the world, working with clients in across Europe, Australia, South America, USA, the Middle East and South Africa.

We continue to innovate and see ourselves as a new breed of IT educator. My team champions the alignment of IT with business, promotes the pivotal role of the IT professional and believes that the primary purpose of training and education is to change behaviour in the workplace.

Our mission is to provide a more creative and stimulating, world class educational environment that addresses vital areas of IT service management. Our training and education is designed to make ITIL more accessible, digestible and relevant for its clients, while its practical workshops can be tailored to the specific needs of the client organisation.

Our goal is still to help our clients improve their IT services focusing on reliability, consistency of service and error reduction – Now that does sound familiar?

Am I going to retire? Not while I’m having so much fun!

Stuart Sawle
http://www.sysop.co.uk
ITIL® is a trademark of AXELOS Limited.

Service Management more than an Operational Discipline.

Once every quarter the ITIL® examination bodies release the statistics for examinations taken by geographic territory.

It’s good to see that the world-wide numbers of IT professionals taking service management exams is still increasing but I find it disturbing that so many do not extend their professional development beyond Foundation level. The total number of IT professional sitting the ITIL Foundation exam is ten times more that the total number of students taking Intermediate exams. This means that only about one in a hundred goes on to qualify as an ITIL expert.

I know, from contact with clients, that service management is far from a mature discipline. The operational processes (Incident, Problem etc.) are generally well established. But clients are still struggling to gain control over key processes like Change and Asset Management.

It’s very obvious from looking at the job titles of course attendees that the desire for ITIL competence is still very much skewed towards the operations support and technical areas. It is still pretty rare to see IT professionals who work in the design or transition lifecycle stages – let alone strategic management.

I am absolutely convinced of the value of sound service management processes. I know that client organisations can benefit enormously from the ITIL service management framework. We have to persuade designers and developers to take a greater interest in developing their service management skills?

BCS, itSMF and AXELOS have a key part to play here.

Stuart Sawle
http://www.sysop.co.uk

Is giving 100% too much?

I read an article in the Financial Times (Rhymer Rigby, 16th March 2014) that asked the question “Is giving 100% too much?” The article focused on productivity and effort but it struck me that the general thrust applied equally to the ITIL® Continual Service Improvement process.

The Ft article quoted Graham Allcott, author of How to be a Productivity Ninja, saying that people often look at tasks the wrong way – they focus on the detail of what they are doing, rather than the impact it has. “It is actually far more practical to think in terms of the 80-20 rule and focus ruthlessly on doing things that have the greatest impact.”

That, of course, is the essential point of the first stage of the CSI improvement process – “Understand the Vision”. What is the business mission? What are the business goals? Are the improvements we are contemplating going to deliver justifiable business value?

Just because we can make an improvement doesn’t mean that we should. The effort expended might achieve a better return if it were directed elsewhere. The cost might not be justified by the benefit to the business.

There’s an old, light-hearted, quality question. Which is the better bag: a designer leather hand-bag; or a supermarket carrier bag? The answer, of course is that it depends on the use to which it is to be put. A designer hand-bag won’t carry very many groceries and ladies would look pretty silly in the night-club dancing around a supermarket carrier bag.

The primary purpose of Continual Service Improvement (CSI) is to continually align and realign IT services to the changing business needs by identifying and implementing improvements to IT Services that support business processes. Of course, any improvement comes with a cost which must be justified by the value of the improvement.

Continual service improvement needs to consider the degree to which the portfolio meets the business needs. The value of continual service improvement is realised when there is closure of the gap between what has been promised and what is delivered. There needs to be a deliberate effort to recognise when requirements have changed and respond accordingly.

This is where we need to challenge ourselves. Is enough, enough? The law of diminishing returns and the Pareto 80:20 rule both indicate that there will be a point when further improvement is not justified. The (Act) point in the Deming cycle that directs us to seek out other opportunities – gradually and incrementally improving all that we do – for the benefit of the business as a whole.

Stuart Sawle

www.sysop.co.uk

 

Adopting ITIL® Best Practice

One of the recurring themes of questions from budding ITIL® Experts is what’s the best way to go about implementing ITIL® – putting into practice what I’ve learned on the courses?

Well the first thing you should remember (and I’m sure your Sysop lecturer will have pointed this out) is that you don’t ‘implement ITIL®’ ……..whatever your boss says! Your task is actually to think about implementing (or better still adopting) best practice Service Management.

Where do you start? We will have talked you through well over twenty processes and a variety of functions. How are you supposed to implement all that? Well again, remember what you were taught, implementing the processes is about adopting the ideas and adapting them to fit the needs, culture and requirements of your organisation. It’s not about applying the guidelines in the books word for word!

Remember that IT Service Management is, for the most part, a cultural change. To be successful, regardless of the focus — innovation, growth, culture, cost structure, technology — a new methodology of change leadership is required. That suggested by Dr. John Kotter is an excellent methodology with just eight steps.

Step 1: Establish a Sense of Urgency
Help others see the need for change and they will be convinced of the importance of acting immediately.

Step 2: Create the Guiding Coalition
Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort, and encourage the group to work as a team. Make sure this group includes a senior management sponsor, management buy-in is key.

Step 3: Develop a Change Vision
Create a vision to help direct the change effort, and develop strategies for achieving that vision.

Step 4: Communicate the Vision for Buy-in
Make sure as many as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy.

Step 5: Empower Broad-based Action
Remove obstacles to change, change systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision, and encourage risk-taking and non-traditional ideas, activities, and actions.

Step 6: Generate Short-term Wins
Plan for achievements that can easily be made visible, follow-through with those achievements and recognise and reward employees who were involved. If you are a million miles from having a Configuration Management System, despite the fact that it would be wonderful, to have one in place don’t even try to start with this! Look at the areas that you already do pretty well but could do better, this will give you a good starting point.
Approach the task by trying to see which gaps in your processes you could bridge with least effort.

Step 7: Never Let Up
Use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision, also hire, promote, and develop employees who can implement the vision, and finally reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes, and change agents.

Step 8: Incorporate Changes into the Culture
Articulate the connections between the new behaviours and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure leadership development and succession. Remember the advice of W. Edwards Deming: gradual, incremental changes are most easily assimilated.

Stuart Sawle

http://www.sysop.co.uk
ITIL® is a registered trademark of Axelos Limited.