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ITSM – It’s All About Balance

Getting the balance right is critical to the success of your ITSM initiatives

Think Outcomes, not Frameworks and Methodologies

When I see discussions on social media like “Will <framework A> work with <methodology B>?” I have to admit that it drives me a little bonkers. The answer is always “yes it will”. What the real question should be “how can I achieve the best outcomes from the use of <framework A> with <methodology B>?”

The answer is “it’s all about balance”. ITSM is about understanding the needs of the business and ensuring that IT is meeting those needs. It’s about putting enough framework, process, methodology, and governance around the use of IT so that we can use sound judgment to make good decisions. It’s not as much about implementation, it’s more about context and use.

I’ve encountered examples of imbalance in the use of frameworks, process, methodology, and governance. See if you recognize any of these:

Don’t take it so literally

There are those who take a very literal interpretation of frameworks like ITIL®[1] only to become frustrated. Make no mistake – I firmly believe you need defined processes. Without processes, you will go completely out of control. Defined processes help us “screw it in” without “screwing it up”. But over engineer a process, and you’ll “screw it right into the ground”, and nothing gets done.

There are some who have become frustrated with process frameworks and attempt to implement a more Agile or Lean approach. So they turn to something like DevOps – which makes a lot of sense in many situations – in an attempt to reduce the time from development to implementation. But in the quest to avoid the “old process way of doing things”, some have taken an approach to DevOps that results in “all Dev and No Ops” – and it doesn’t deliver the improvements that the business needs. Or they take a Lean approach to becoming more efficient and reduce waste – great idea! But Lean doesn’t mean taking shortcuts or doing without—doing without is called “starvation”.

Enterprise Governance, not IT Governance

Enterprise governance is another great concept that would help many organizations. Notice that I said “enterprise governance” and not “IT governance”. IT must be governed as part of, and not separately, from the enterprise. As the enterprise moves, so should IT. Projects must no longer be thought of as “IT projects” or “business projects”, but as IT-enabled business initiatives. To me, this makes a lot of sense on multiple levels. But governance can be over engineered to a degree that results in gridlock, not in outcomes and value needed by the enterprise.

So I’m advocating for balance. We in IT have to have balance in the things that we do, whether that be process or methodology or governance. IT has to understand the needs of the enterprise, and recognize that what the people within the enterprise want isn’t necessarily what the enterprise needs. Our business partners have great intentions, but sometimes can’t quite articulate “why” and need our help in formulating solutions.   Our job is to apply the right balance of process, framework, methodology and governance in order to deliver the solutions, value and outcomes needed by the business.

And whether it’s said or not, the business expects IT to be balanced. Business needs IT to be consistent, repeatable, reliable, and provide meaningful, measurable contributions to business success. Business needs IT to be innovative without taking undue risks. Business needs IT to be transformational without being radical. Business needs IT to be a bit skeptical without being a roadblock or obstacle. Business needs IT to be logical and thorough without getting into “analysis-paralysis”. Business needs IT to take a balanced approach.

Achieving Balance

IT must engage the business. It’s not “IT’s for IT’s sake”. It’s not about buying the latest and greatest tools, technologies, and applications, but doing the things that enable business solutions, outcomes, and value. IT must take an approach to process, framework, methodology and governance that is balanced with the needs of the business.

We need to build (or fix existing) relationships. IT has to quit acting as if it’s on an island, and business must stop referring to IT as “those guys”.   To achieve balance, we need strong relationships between business and IT. So, business partners, please bring in IT early to the discussion as you’re starting to think about new initiatives. IT, start conversations with the business by seeking to understand by asking “why”. Yes, start with “why” and not “how”. Work together to translate the “why” to “how”. By doing so, IT will continues to improve its understanding of the business it serves, and business begins to trust and build confidence in its IT organization.

IT must understand the world in which we live. We must look out, not look in. We cannot be so inwardly focused on our processes and frameworks that we miss opportunities for improvement or competitive gain. At the same time, we must be able to execute and deliver on the things that keep the business running. It’s like being the quarterback of a football team looking over the defense before the ball is snapped. If the defense looks favorable, then the quarterback runs the play as planned. But if the defense is lined-up differently, then the quarterback must be able to audible to another play that may work better. Keep in mind that, just as in football, we in IT must have already prepared and practiced for those “audibles”, by designing the right balance within process, methodology, framework and governance. We have to apply the right balance. So IT, when you see opportunities for improvement or competitive gain, bring it to the attention of the business; in the meantime, run the “plays” that keep the business running.

We have to be able to think globally, but act locally. We need to understand the business of the business and work in a way that meets the needs of the business. If we understand the business of the business, we can make better decisions and apply processes, frameworks, methodology, and governance in a balanced way. For example, if your business is a highly-regulated entity, there is a level of rigor that IT must demonstrate in order to enable business to comply with laws and regulation. Does that mean that all changes must be handled with that same level of rigor? Perhaps so. Or perhaps not. In order to apply the balance that we need, we first need to understand the business of the business. Then we can apply the right balance of process, methodology, frameworks and governance to each situation. In other words, “good enough is good enough”.

It’s not about whether this framework work with that methodology. It’s not about what governance structure is best for what process. It’s all about balance.

[1] ITIL® is a Registered Trademark of AXELOS Limited.

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