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What 3 factors go into a winning service management strategy?

Service management is not a one-off project. In this Ask the Expert, ITSM guru Charlie Miles explicates the three ingredients that separate success from failure.

I work a lot with IT organizations that are either starting on or are struggling to implement a service management strategy. Whether they are focusing on ITIL, IT asset management, Agile, DevOps or Lean, clients want to know about the common mistakes other organizations make on their service management journeys. They do not want to take the same wrong turns, but rather learn from the missteps of others -- and this is a great approach.

Looking back over the years and considering the IT organizations that have succeeded and failed in their IT service management (ITSM) journeys, I have seen three factors that differentiate a successful service management strategy from one that is bound to fail:

  1. IT leadership
  2. Organizational commitment and participation
  3. Realization that service management is not a project but a lifestyle choice

There are many other contributing factors to the failure or success of any ITSM project, but when I consider these other factors -- for example, a lack of knowledge of the process framework, process and technology gaps, lack of intentional improvement after deployment, lack of momentum … and the list can go on -- they all really are just related symptoms of the three critical factors listed above.

1. IT leadership vs. IT management

ITIL, as well as the other frameworks, often get their start as a grassroots effort -- ITIL and Lean in operations, IT asset management in operations or procurement, and Agile and DevOps in development. However, each of these will die on the vine without the care and feeding of leadership (and, yes, I am using the term leadership intentionally instead of management because there is a difference here).

Service management is the business of effectively managing IT to deliver value through services, regardless of which of these frameworks are employed and hopefully integrated. The stated potential benefits and value of each framework should be focused on the entire organization, not just one small part of it. Yet, these process frameworks generally live only in portions of the organization.

Service management is not a box to check. This is not something that is done in six months or a discrete timeframe; rather it is an ongoing effort, like raising and nurturing a healthy family.

Leadership must establish common goals and objectives for IT that support the vision, mission, goals and objectives of the business. These common IT/business goals and objectives must drive the goals and objectives of each of the service management frameworks, which, in turn, must work together to ensure -- through critical success factors and key performance indicators -- that they are supporting those goals and objectives or driving meaningful improvements toward that end. And these same goals and objectives must align the IT functions and roles working toward those goals through the organization's integrated frameworks and technologies.

Effective leadership is paramount to this. What drives individual IT departments and managers to align their goals with the goals of the organization? Leadership must establish the vision, must actively lead the IT organization toward this vision, enabling and empowering everyone to do so by eliminating or addressing the roadblocks and challenges.

Service management programs that succeed or are succeeding (which does not mean they are without struggles and challenges), have this level of leadership commitment and visibility. Those organizations that fail in their journey do not. Instead, leaders, or senior managers, in those organizations are simply checking boxes, or, more likely, have given direction to their subordinates and have gone onto other things without the necessary follow-up, due diligence and, dare I say, actual leadership.

2. Organizational commitment means breaking down silos

This is closely related to leadership and cannot be achieved without it. But, even with effective leadership, organizational commitment does not always exist. This second key element of a successful service management strategy is about effective management and tactical delivery of leadership's vision.

There is a tendency to extend the organization's technical or functional silos into these frameworks. Yet, each of these frameworks is much more successful when these silo walls are broken down. For example, when you work on service management projects to improve incident management, problem management or change management, do you include development as part of these projects? If you are attempting to utilize Agile development, do you include anyone from your change or release processes? If you are implementing a DevOps program, are you really including anyone from operations? Is Lean strictly an operational concern? These barriers are broken down in organizations with successful service management strategies and they include in some meaningful fashion -- through effective stakeholder management -- all parts of the organization, including customer representation.

Aside from participation, are people really committed to service management, especially, for example, those developers involved in improving incident or problem management, or those operations folks involved in DevOps? Education, establishing expectations and holding people accountable to those expectations go a long way to ensure this, but leadership, again, must be visible in identifying and addressing all sources of the lack of commitment. This can be aided by effective organizational change management models and techniques.

3. Service management is a lifestyle choice

Often, I see well-intended efforts at service management executed as a project -- at the end of which, nothing happens. These efforts at achieving a service management strategy may or may not have even been completed on time and on budget. But they were deemed successful because they produced expected deliverables, be it process documentation, an improvement or a new tool set to perform some process function. In the end, no real value was ever attained, because there was no effort to manage the service management effort after the project was implemented or to effectively transition from project to lifecycle delivery and management.

Effective organizations plan and build into their service management projects meaningful deployment and transition plans that are managed well, and early life support is intentionally managed through critical success factors until critical momentum is achieved.

CIO takeaway

Based on my observations and opinion, I believe that if organizations focus on these three areas -- IT leadership, organizational commitment, making service management a lifestyle -- they will be more likely to implement a successful service management strategy. That doesn't mean there won't be struggles and challenges. Service management is not a box to check. This is not something that is done in six months or a discrete timeframe; rather it is an ongoing effort, like raising and nurturing a healthy family.

I am interested to hear your opinions and thoughts on this and have conversations and discussions. Contrary to the title of 'Ask the Expert,' I am always about learning and growing.

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