Achieving that Change in Culture

I was reminded this week of some of the barriers to the successful deployment of service management best practice. We tend to think, rather simplistically, that attending the training courses and gaining the qualifications will empower our teams to get on with the deployment of ITIL®.

If one were to attend a Microsoft Excel course, we could be confident that we would be able to carry those skills into the workplace. We would understand how to use the advanced functions and facilities of Excel and be able to explain and demonstrate them to our colleagues.

Service Management, however, cannot be deployed by one person in isolation. It’s something that has to be adopted right across the organisation. It requires the co-ordinated information and process flow from many roles and responsibilities. It also needs a deep understanding of why ITIL is so important. In fact it needs a culture change that places the emphasis on customer service and delivered value.

We were engaged in a project at major hospital where this realisation was brought home to us very forcibly. We had conducted some ITIL Overview training in preparation to a roll-out of what we thought would be a fairly straight-forward Incident & Problem Management process design.

What became clear, from blank expressions, was that although the team involved understood the words and diagrams of ITIL processes – they just couldn’t grasp how it would apply in their highly specialised functions within the hospital. There was an almost total culture gap. We weren’t on their wavelength and therefore our illustrations of how ITIL worked in practice were incorrectly aligned.

To overcome this, we engaged the team in an Apollo 13 simulation workshop. The difference was amazing. The team engaged almost immediately, motivation levels were clearly much, much, higher and the communication barriers eliminated.

The success was so striking that our client authorised the publication of the case study in IT Training magazine which is reproduced on our website. Here is the link: http://www.sysop.co.uk/your-account/downloads?c=8. You may need to register to access it and I’m sure you’ll agree it was worth the trouble. Some good lessons for us all in how to bring about the culture change needed to make a real go of ITIL.

Stuart Sawle
www.sysop.co.uk

What’s Next?

So, you’ve been on an ITIL® course. You returned to work bustling with enthusiasm. It was all very interesting and thought provoking but now there’s a reality check. How do you actually start putting what you’ve learnt into practice?

Well the first thing you should remember (as emphasised by your Sysop Trainer) is that you don’t ‘implement ITIL®’ – – whatever your boss says! Your task is actually to think about implementing best practice Service Management.

So, where do you start?

We will have talked you through over 20 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!

Most people take time to apply new knowledge. And often work priorities mean that trying to make improvements takes second place. If we are fortunate enough to have the time to implement new ideas, things seem not as clear as they did when we attended the training. Also, the situation in our own organisation is different from that illustrated during the training.

If you also attended our free short day Overview, you’ll know we talk all about focusing on those quick wins and maintaining momentum for the initiatives. The first to remember here is that you need to demonstrate success and gain stakeholder buy in. Think of how this can be achieved in your organisation. It’s usually by going for the easy things first.

Look at the areas that you already do pretty well but could do better. This will afford you a good starting point. Sysop offer a base-lining and benchmarking service that thoroughly examines how closely an IT organisation aligns itself with ITIL® best practice. Not just a point-in-time snapshot of the state-of-play but also an identification of where the quick-wins are to focus the initial effort.

Regardless of whether this service is used or not, a starting point does have to be identified and a baseline established – whether this be of ITIL® overall or just one specific area. This ensures that evidence is available to demonstrate service improvements at a later date.

Typically we find our customers will get those ‘quick wins’ and from the areas where they have already been successful in reaching a certain level of maturity. These tend to be; although not exclusively, things like improving the Service Desk; establishing formalised Incident Management; handling Change more effectively and adopting Service Level Management to define customer requirements; set agreements; manage expectations and measure performance.

Here are six simple steps that can kick-start your review.

Step 1 – Look at your Service Desk – Are abandoned calls an issue, do people tell you they can’t get through as promptly as they feel they should?

Step 2 – Do you just keep putting out the fire without finding out why it occurred and preventing further outbreaks?

Step 3 – Is Change being appropriately authorised?

Step 4 – Compare your customer’s values with your SLA targets and measurements.

Step 5 – Evaluate your Change Management process – does it enable or hinder?

I wish you well. If you need any help, remember Sysop offer much more than training courses. Thanks also to my good friend Michele Major-Goldsmith who’s article on the Sysop website was the inspiration for this blog. http://www.sysop.co.uk

The Value of IT Services

You may recall from basic ITIL training that the definition of a service is a means of delivering value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks.

Everyone understands what we mean by value, or do we?

This week I attended a Vistage presentation given by Mike Wilkinson of Axiavalue, an organisation dedicated to helping sales professionals, in particular, add value to their propositions. Mike says “We help businesses defend and grow their revenues and margins by understanding the things their customers truly value”.

Does that sound familiar? It should. It’s a key objective of Service Strategy.

Whether we are providing services internally or externally, we IT service providers must never lose sight of the fact that our customers always have a choice. We can only be sure of their continuing commitment to us by demonstrating the value of the services we deliver. So what do we mean by value?

The first thing we need to take on board is that our definition of value is irrelevant. It’s our customer’s definition that matters. They probably won’t be able to articulate it as a simple definition – and that’s why we need to bring our professional skills to bear, to identify and understand those things that our customers really value and then shaping our service offerings to offer those things. It’s called differentiation.

Value is all about the customer’s perception – which is why it’s important to communicate the value of our services to our customers. We need to continually remind our customers that our services are worth the money they pay for them.

We need to be aware that value, and the perception of value, changes over time.

IT services in the eighties and nineties tended to focus on delivering business functionality more efficiently. There was a fairly simple equation: does the business save more from these services than it has to pay for them (return on investment)? Nowadays, it’s more about competitive advantage. Can the business deliver value to its customers that its competitors can’t? It’s the job of IT services to support the business in achieving this objective. That’s value!

All we have to do now is deliver it!

Stuart Sawle   http://www.sysop.co.uk

Making the Service Desk Count

Here at Sysop, we have spent a great deal of time in and around Service Desks of many shapes, sizes, skills and geographic dispersions. Distilling all of the feedback, It seems to me that creating a good Service Desk is all about understanding what the business needs from the desk and creating a function to support that need.

A Service Desk can be shaped to provide any type of service the business wants,  but it’s this very level of detail we need to be clear about and there are some vital steps that will help us to create the type of service our users expect.

We know that front line support is largely a thankless task. It takes a special kind of person to really do it justice. Resilience is certainly a vital quality, and something that most support people internalise and continue to develop of as a consequence of the day to day experiences of being in the front line. Resilience though is but one vital quality.

There are a number of very important factors that will help us in our pursuit of great staff and ultimately an acclaimed Service Desk. When we recruit and select Service Desk staff we must surely choose them because they demonstrated an appropriate level of skill, common sense and probably because we quite liked them. Yes, Likeability is an essential quality! So what else is needed?

Commitment—the Key

As either a stakeholder or user of Service Desk, we tend to expect a lot and give very little. I know the old adage “it’s better to give than to receive”, but the poor old Service Desk would have to be superhuman to have any sort of chance of be getting it right in many organisations.

The key is commitment – commitment from senior management, and commitment and passion from the line managers most closely involved

Heard it all before? Probably, but, let’s face it: if you don’t choose the right people; pay them the right salary; give them appropriate training; provide them with the correct tools for the job; and, most importantly, give them the autonomy they need; how can they ever provide the kind of service our users expect?

Walk the Walk

By management commitment I mean more than funding the desk. After the initial investment, it is imperative that senior managers continue to ‘walk the walk not just talk the talk’ on behalf of the Service Desk function. They need to: support the Service Desk; understand and respect their remit; back their decisions; extol their achievements; and conform to due process like all other users.

The Service Desk will fail to be successful if senior managers (and their PA’s!) don’t respect its position. The Service Desk should have: a defined remit and agreements to conform to; priorities to commit to; and a host of activities to complete to keep the wheels in motion. Senior managers must not be allowed to ‘jump the queue’ for non-critical requests.

It is essential in developing and maintaining a good desk that they too commit to and support the agreements that govern the Service Desk. If the Service Desk is delivering service in accordance with well thought-out SLA’s then they should be meeting the needs of all parties, even the senior management team.

Gaining the buy-in and commitment is probably the most exacting challenge facing IT service managers. It’s certainly the most common weakness we come across when helping customers improve their services. It helps when a third-party advocate makes the case to senior management. It’s easier for a Sysop consultant to challenge senior management attitudes and behaviours than it is for an in-house manager. Give us a call, we can almost certainly help.

Stuart Sawle

Thanks to Michelle Major Goldsmith for her contribution to this blog

Getting to Grips with Problems

First of all, thanks to my colleague John Allder for prompting me on the topic of root-cause analysis or more simply put: getting to grips with problems.

The phrase ‘root cause analysis’ is often used in a general sense to describe the activity of identifying the underlying cause of an incident.  However, the phrase Root Cause Analysis (RCA) is also given to a specific technique that is intended for use in investigating a series of actions or occurrences that lead to an undesired outcome.

Every major problem should be reviewed to learn lessons for the future.
• What was done correctly
• What was done wrong
• What could be done better in future
• How to prevent recurrence
• Whether there has been any third-party responsibility and whether follow-up actions are required

RCA helps to identify not only what happened and how it happened but also why. Only by understanding why will we be able to devise workable corrective measures. For instance, suppose a network technician disconnects a working router rather than a broken one. A typical investigation might conclude that human error was the cause and recommend better training or that technicians should take more care but neither of these is likely to prevent future occurrences. RCA assumes that mistakes do not just happen but that they have specific causes, and would ask ‘why?’ In the case of the poor network technician the RCA analyst might ask ‘was the router properly labelled?’, ‘was the technician told which router was faulty?’, ‘is there a recognised procedure for deciding whether a router is working or not?’, ‘did the technician know what it was?’

Root causes have four characteristics:
1. They are specific causes: ‘human error’, for example, is too general.
2. They are causes that can reasonably be identified: RCA must be cost beneficial so the analyst must know when to stop the investigation.
3. They are within the control of the management of the organisation. The analyst is looking for causes that can be addressed by the organisation. Although adverse weather conditions might very well have triggered the incident, we cannot do anything to affect the weather and so that is not an appropriate root cause. We can of course do something about how we are impacted by adverse weather and perhaps our root cause / resolution might lie there.
4. They can be addressed by specific solutions. A vague recommendation such as ‘ensure that technicians follow defined procedures’ is wholly inadequate and probably means that more thought needs to be given to identifying the specific cause.

RCA is a specific discipline. It follows four distinct phases:

• Data Collection
• Charting
• Root Cause Identification
• The Development of Recommendations

Carried out properly, Root Cause Analysis will ensure that an organisation learns all of the lessons from a major disruption to service and reduce the risk of future failures. It will help staff to identify ways not only of reducing the likelihood future disruption, but also of limiting the impact of any disruption that does occur.

http://www.sysop.co.uk

Formulating a Strategy, Setting Objectives

Lately, I’ve been involved with a committee that’s been developing a three year strategy. They’re not ITIL people. Many are not managers at all. Their stated objective was to develop a strategy that was “aspirational”. They argued that without aspirational objectives the strategy would not be challenging enough in today’s tough climate.

This set me thinking.

I agreed entirely with their sentiments but I was concerned they would fail because the objectives / goals they were setting were not SMART. By that I mean they needed to be:

• Specific
• Measurable
• Achievable (Attainable)
• Relevant
• Time Bound

Setting a challenging goal can sound quite specific (e.g. reduce expenditure by 75%, increase profits by 50%) but without any hint / outline of how this is to be achieved it fails the “Achievable” criterion. When the goal stretches beyond what is possible it fails the “attainable” criterion.

What we need to do is to take each of the goals we set ourselves and break them down into lower-level SMART objectives that, much more specifically, state what is to be done, by whom and by when and how this is to be achieved – the road map if you like.

A specific goal will usually answer the five “W” questions:

  • What: What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.
  • Who: Who is involved?
  • Where: Identify a location?
  • Which: Identify requirements and constraints.

The Achievability term stresses the importance of setting goals that are realistic and attainable. While an attainable goal may stretch a team in order to achieve it, the goal should not be extreme. That is, the goals are neither out of reach nor below standard performance, as these may be considered meaningless.

When you identify the goals that are the most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can make them come true. You develop the attitudes, abilities, skills, and financial capacity to reach them. Attainable goals encourage goal-setters to identify previously overlooked opportunities that will bring them closer to the achievement of their objectives.

Stuart Sawle               www.sysop.co.uk

Selling Change to the Team

Isn’t it amazing how we can use a simple phrase that would actually lead to our undoing – making it difficult, if not impossible, to actually achieve what we intend.

If your approach is to “sell” the idea of change to the team they will see right through you. The change becomes more about what you want; change is being imposed; those whose co-operation you seek will react with the smile that says “yes boss, no chance”. And that’s the best you can hope for – the more recalcitrant ones will actively work against you.
Change needs to be managed, people need to be understood and involved.

I well remember a reorganisation at Woolworth’s when a manager, I regarded as a fool, was appointed as my boss. He took the trouble to have a face to face chat with me. He allowed me to express my fears and concerns. He listened to me and sought to find ways in which we could work together. It worked. Not only did we develop a fruitful, purposeful relationship – we became firm friends and still are – some 30 years later. He even acted on some of my advice to downplay some of his traits that led people like me to dismiss him as fool!

If you think a change is needed quickly, take time out to assess whether the drivers are really that urgent. We can be so go-minded that we can overlook this simple check. Consider would a more relaxed time-frame still achieve your objectives? Would taking a little more time to consult and truly involve those affected make your decision more acceptable? Would the ideas and discussions allow you to improve the quality of the change?

As a senior manager you probably relish change and thrive on it. Be aware that the chief insecurity of most staff is change itself. Their first reaction will be to feel threatened.

Remember, like grief, there is a series of stages that people go through before they become accepting of change. From suspicion, through curiosity, to visualisation, acceptance and finally commitment, your team members need to be allowed the time, and your time, to explore, understand and respond.

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