The State of the ITSM Union

A great group of people got together to discuss the state of ITSM at the itSMF Norway conference

Superheroes discussing IT Service Management

People often surprise themselves when they are given a task and put under a bit of pressure. Such as in the roundtable discussion at itSMF Norway’s annual conference in April 2016 – “ITSM with Superheroes of the World”.

Fifteen people joined forces to think about the state of affairs in IT Service Management (ITSM). The participants were a good mix of conference speakers and consultants, and ITSM practitioners. Their task was to come up with an analysis of role of bodies of knowledge, and what else is needed to fulfil a valuable function in enterprises. They were given a challenging time-box of just one hour.

Elina and Mark
Facilitators Elina Pirjanti and Mark Smalley

The discussion was primed with the premise that progress in ITSM is threatened by zombies: framework fundamentalists who dogmatically follow the one-and-only ‘truth’ as perceived in the hallowed bodies of knowledge. Other parts of the premise were that movements such as Agile, Lean and DevOps are part of the cure, but that real-life perceptions and expectations must also be understood and acted upon. This premise was contributed by Andrea Kis, Senior Consultant at the Information Services Group, who had proposed the roundtable but was unable to facilitate it. Elina Pirjanti, Senior Manager at Cognizant Technology Solutions, and Mark Smalley, The IT Paradigmologist at the ASL BiSL Foundation, took on the task of running the workshop. Elina and Mark had structured the discussion in ‘nice questions’ and ‘nasty questions’, as explained below.

Nice questions

These questions were about recognizing the value of frameworks and movements, and identifying other components. The participants were split up into three groups, and each group discussed the same topic for 15 minutes, after which they shared their findings, which are summarized as follows.

“Frameworks help us to ask the right questions”

Frameworks were seen to be natural and inevitable products of communities of practice; they give practitioners stability and security; they impact practitioners’ careers and the communities’ ways of thinking, communicating, decision-making and behaving; they can evolve into legal/governing standards. They are often too insular and would benefit from insights from communities outside ITSM. A final point was the need to measure the end-end value chain as these frameworks and best practices by themselves do not articulate that easily to the business.

“Movements question the norm and stir things up – they change the way we work”

The participants saw movements as the engines within the frameworks. One of their functions is to challenge the norm when the landscape (for instance the digital enterprise) evolves, but also to contribute to evolving the landscape. As such, they often require brave movers and shakers. Movements can evolve into, or generate, frameworks. Movements are based on principles and can be the glue between disciplines that connects the silos.

So what instrumental improvement guidance did the participants come up with?

  • Find a more rigorous way of evaluating the results of improvement initiatives
  • Gather scientific proof that a ‘best practice’ is what it says
  • Take small steps
  • Provide guidance (vision) and room for self-organization
  • Get feedback as fast as possible
  • Be aware of the relationships between disciplines and frameworks
  • Focus on value harvesting/realization
  • Create tools such as templates for practitioners
  • Discuss with other disciplines outside ITSM
  • Let the business fulfil its powerful role
  • Stay real and relevant, and in the moment

Nasty questions

Moving on to the final questions, the participants addressed the concern that we have had these kinds of discussions at conferences for time immemorial, but that little seem to happen with the well-intentioned resolutions when people get back to work. The main question, posed to the plenary group, was about identifying the impediments and suggesting remedies.

The participants mentioned various impediments:

  • unacceptably slow return on investment (ROI) in ITSM improvements
  • inability to articulate the value to executive management (too much ‘tribal’ techno-babble)
  • size of changes: smaller investments with a shorter ROI are preferable
  • dealing with long budget cycles
  • incorrect expectations of desired outcomes
  • lack of executive support

“What do we mean by ‘ITSM initiative failure’? What exactly fails?”

Other impediments pertained to the quality of the solutions:

  • lack of creative problem-solving capabilities
  • poor use of sandboxing techniques
  • jumping to the wrong solution – for instance by assuming that we need more processes

A final and non-trivial concern was addressed briefly in the session and explored in more depth afterwards. There is a significant gap between on the one hand ITSM people (consultants and practitioners) who come to conferences, write/read blogs, etc., and the other hand the other 90% of the ITSM community who don’t attend conferences. The question is how to reach the unheard majority, and harvest their knowledge and experience in adopting and adapting frameworks and movements in their daily work.

Practitioners also experience a dysfunctional gap between themselves and consultants. Practitioners come to conferences and while they are often inspired by the gurus’ thoughts, these are often too abstract to act upon when the practitioners get back to work. Practitioners want a better understanding how to apply the available guidance (this need for ‘meta-guidance’ was raised in the previous year’s panel discussion). Concrete examples would help: for instance a service catalogue – not just an empty template but one filled with content. But you have to be aware of the danger of adopting the example as infallible best practices rather than recognizing them as possible good practices and adapting them to the specifics of the organization in question.

Stepping stones

So where has this brought us? Are we finally at the milestone that marks the end of the dark ages of IT and marks the beginning of the age of IT enlightenment? To be frank, no. To be realistic, there is no milestone. There are only stepping stones. And we have crossed a few more. In the right direction.

We hope that you can use these outcomes to critically assess your ITSM initiatives and recognize some of the pitfalls. Dare to ask the nasty questions!