Questioning Service Management

Getting people to think differently about service management sometimes feels like you are pushing a very large rock uphill

An Interview with Charles Betz

One of the Keynote speakers at the itSMF Norway ‘ITSM with Superheroes of the World’ conference, being held in Oslo, April 12-14 is Charles Betz. Having spoken with Charlie on many occasions and having had the pleasure of co-hosting a number of AllThingsITSM Global Podcast recordings with him, I knew I was in for a treat when I arranged an interview to chat about his keynote address and workshop. Charlie will ask some questions about Service Management that make make some in the audience a little uncomfortable!

A Call to Arms

Charlie will be covering a number of areas in his sessions, with a particular focus on Agile and related topics.

“We will dig into IT4IT particularly in the context of agile, looking at concerns like feedback, flow and queuing theory, systems theory applied to IT delivery”.

Charlie sees his keynote presentation as somewhat of a ‘call to arms’.

“We need to question a lot of the received wisdom that we currently still see in the frameworks we use”, explains Charlie. “We need to question the idea that we can solve problems by instituting processes.

“The mistake is in seeking efficiency as a primary objective and believing we are able to deliver value by optimizing specific capabilities, and that we deliver optimization of a system by optimizing its parts”.

Charlie has seen these subject areas starting to take off as topics of conversation.

Service Experience and Service Systems

“The idea that certain creative R&D activities (like service development) can be reduced to deterministic scriptable processes and procedures is an idea that is now clearly fading. Given this, what should service management professionals be aiming at – what is the key thing that is most valuable right now?”

In Charlie’s view, the most valuable concept for service management right now is to think in terms of service experiences and service systems.

“Service management is NOT process management, but so much of the ITSM conversation revolves around process. Yet there is a whole discipline called Business Process Management, and they are doing their thing.

“This is where it gets hard – there are 26 processes or thereabouts in ITIL, the processes that were chosen seem to me to be somewhat arbitrary, I feel the same way when I look at COBIT, I certainly feel the same way when I look at the CMM/CMMI.

It’s all Folk Wisdom!

When you question that, people get very uncomfortable. They say ‘there was great thinking there’.

Charlie is not disagreeing with that “There were good people involved in all of it, and I include the IT4IT standard in this, but it is all what I like to call ‘folk wisdom’. These might be fighting words to some people, but folk wisdom is the best that we have.

“As any discipline emerges, it starts with understandings that are narrow, context bound, domain specific, and specific to the time, place and circumstance. My stepsister, who is an MD and tenured research faculty in the University of Minnesota Medical School, calls it “senior clinicians’ opinion.” If you can, and are able to think about it correctly and apply the right research, you can start to arrive at more generalizable, reproducible insights. When you start to go down that road you are heading towards something that we can possibly call science”.

Show us the evidence

Rob England raised the question around 10 years ago in his blog “Where is the evidence for ITIL?”

“There has been some survey research, but that is the lowest hanging fruit, it is often not framed in any critical way and then you get into case studies, and the problem with these is ‘hey, where’s the control?’ Just because this company is successful and this company uses ITIL does not provide evidence – correlation is not causation!

Charlie likes to see evidence! “There are people working in the Agile space who are primarily looking at it from a scientific perspective. They are saying ‘We don’t know what we don’t know and if we try to get overly prescriptive we may miss some things’. It is more about encouraging people in a process of discovery and not getting wedded to icons or totems like specific processes. Dr. Nicole Forsgren is an example of one of these new generation researchers; she does the annual Puppet Labs “State of DevOps” survey. She (for example) bluntly states that:

“The data shows that throughput and stability metrics move in tandem – effectively not supporting ITIL claims that tradeoffs should be made in throughput in order to get stability. The pattern of needing to trade throughput for stability simply doesn’t appear in the data.”

What is a Process?

“In a different vein, I’ll pick a bit on capacity management as a formalized process. Now, as a set of concerns, we certainly need it – you might even need some specialized practices or specialized understanding. But it breaks down for me when you have capacity management (or availability management, or service level management, or a number of others) as a formalized process, with KPIs, process owner, perhaps even its own queues & workflow– all that overhead. That is where I say, ‘where is the evidence for that?’ How do we start to assess whether this is a good way of elevating these concerns and practices within an IT delivery system?

“The trouble, dating right back to ITIL V1, is the confusion between process and function. The word ‘process’ went through its own transition in the mid 80s when people like Michael Hammer and Geary Rummler came up with the idea that processes cross functions. Before that there was less of a rigorous understanding that you could have a process and the process was different from the function. People had muddled these two terms together.

“For better or for worse, that is where ITIL stayed. There were some attempts in the Service Strategy book to shed light on this, but the reality is that it was talked about there, but these ideas were not followed in the rest of the IP. COBIT has some similar issues, they use the word ‘manage’ a lot.

Pushing a rock uphill

“In my view, and the view of the wider business process management community, the process has to be countable and therefore capacity and availability management are not processes. However, it is like pushing a rather big rock up hill to get this accepted by the ITIL community, this is one of the ongoing debates in the industry.

“Ultimately, I think the way forward for the service management community is to de-emphasize the process question, and start to make common cause with the people focusing on designing and operating effective service experiences. The Lean UX community has, I think, tremendous synergies with service management. I’ll recommend Jeff Sussna’s new book Designing Delivery as a good place to start.“

From this brief insight into Charlie’s thoughts around Agile and ITIL, I think you can see that his keynote address will pull no punches. I expect a lot of discussion to ensue!

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Kirstie Magowan

Kirstie Magowan

Kirstie Magowan is the managing editor of IT Chronicles. Kirstie is an experienced journalist and publisher who has been working in the IT Service Management industry since 1999. Kirstie is a regular speaker at industry conferences globally.