For most of last week I was attending and –
I hope – contributing to itSMF’s international publishing meeting. This was
held in Warsaw
in beautiful spring weather, while
was being blasted by wind and rain. That was nice but nowhere the most
important or most pleasurable thing that the week had to offer.
Now, first a little background, just in case
there is anyone who does not know what the itSMF is. The letters stand for IT
Service Management Forum – and that sums it up quite well: a place for those
interested in ITSM to talk, learn, teach, compare and discuss. Part of that communication
naturally involves publication – and our group focuses on that – from reviewing
others’ books through translation and dissemination to encouraging authoring
and publishing books. Crucial to its attitudes and success, itSMF is a
non-profit organisation, owned by its members.
OK, as you may imagine it is – as well as serious
working meeting – a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues of the ITSM
global village. And the active ITSM community really is like a village, except
that it spread across some 50 countries – we have all the relationships that
you would expect: friends, enemies and lots in between.
All of us have our day jobs, many of us
working for cut-throat competitors but that all gets set aside and we settle
back into our ‘all in this together’ mode. One of things that I came back from Warsaw thinking about was
that different set of attitudes we have while focused on itSMF business. Some
of that rests upon the different nature of not for profit organisations – at least
compared to the more usual owned by shareholder companies. It is hard sometimes
to make the switch, but a good lesson for anyone in the service management business
to realise the differences that do exist. Probably the best description I know
is this one: ‘Commercial companies need to do things to in order to make money;
not-for-profit organisations need to make money in order to do things’.
That makes the non-profit member owned
organisations a lot like government – and like governments today we are strapped
for cash. These are hard times and no-one has much in the way of spare money.
But we still strive to fight against what would be a sensible approach for an
organisation focused on shareholder value. We still need to deliver what the ‘right
things’. From our publishing perspective it would be tempting to look only at
safe books – rearranging established best practice into easier, shorter or
simpler reads. Instead though, everyone at our meeting sees that we need a
focus on innovation and stretching our industry.
Of course we need to be financially successful
with enough of our projects, and we have work to do on building a firm base to
take ourselves – and our industry – forwards. But I am proud that the books we
have already managed to publish contain real industry innovations and new
perspectives – both on service management as you would expect but also into wider
topics such as organisational change.
So, I came back feeling the need to write
down how much work people put in – for nothing – last week. I’m not claiming I did
that much, but lots of work was put in, and even more commitments made to keep
the momentum going and I felt that it was a few day’s work I was proud to have
been a part of and an effort worth recording
here. In some later blogs I might relate more about other aspects of the trip - like using budget airlines and the change in perspective of value that goes with that.
So – please go read about what we have
already managed (6 books published, quarterly magazine, whitepaper competition
etc.). You can find out about the books are – and read the magazines for free
by going to http://www.itsmfi.org/content/publications.
If that gets you interested in how you can get your ideas written up and out
there then get in touch. My portfolio responsibility is ‘Authoring’, so I would
love to hear from you. We are keen to find new authors, for whitepapers, books
or articles – and happy to offer any level of support you might need – from
final review through mentoring and even to co-authoring or ghost writing.
By my next blog, I will be back in successful
company mode, but it is good to remember that the commercial companies also
live in and benefit from the wider community. It is good to see that being
recognised through sponsorship and support. IBM sponsored the meeting last year - this time we had support from TSO and BTC. massive thanks to those companies. With more support next year we should have more people and achieve even more.
No trouble spotting the biggest news in
service management this week – with COBIT 5 available. I guess with both ITIL
and COBIT having released new versions over the last 12 months, that should
tell us something about the SM industry. Mostly, I think it tells us that as a
concept and topic to take seriously, service management is not going away any
But I suspect we might reading more in the
next few weeks of the ‘should I do ITIL or COBIT’ type of question. That’s a
shame, because it is still not a sensible question. Both ITIL and COBIT are
expanding their scope of course and that means more and more overlap, but I
can’t – admittedly after quick glance through only –see where any real
Of course COBIT is still a product of ISACA
and it builds upon a philosophy of control and governance. ITIL initially came from
a team set up to advise on approach rather than massive detail and that still
shows even in the 2011 version I think. And I do still believe any serious SM
profession would have both on their (electronic) bookshelf, the way a good cook
will have books by more than one cookery author on their kitchen bookshelf.
Analysing the content, requirements and
fine print can come later – and will open us up to all sorts of interpretation
and contextual adjustment. But some things hit you straight away. The core
COBIT product is available for free and takes up 685k of pdf file. The core
ITIL books cost around £300, weigh five kilos and/or take up 77.4MB of my hard
drive inside a fancy secure Adobe reader to make sure I don't pass them on to anyone
who hasn’t paid their £300. Now I know that there are lots more books around
the COBIT 5 core than give you more detail – and ISACA charges for those - but
still I must confess to liking the idea of free entry to the gig even if it
doesn’t get you that near the stage.
Putting a positive spin on the size
differential and the lack of real conflict, you can see that it shows how the
two products can be seen as complementary: COBIT’s distillation of what should
be done and structure with ITIL’s more wordy guidance.
And COBIT’s heritage shows through with several
pages on maturity assessment – great stuff for the ‘give me a number’ crew.
But maybe the most encouraging thing is the
differences that exist – the pretty clear realisation that frameworks aren’t competition
but different perspectives. Everyone in this business is really concentrating
on helping each other get better at delivering value to the customer. COBIT 5
will help so this is a good week.
Now all I need is a long flight somewhere to
give me peace and quiet to read it carefully.
I was driving back from Heathrow on a recent Saturday – having gone there to collect a visitor. On the overhead information signs on the motorway was an illuminated warning sign. I had never seen this sign before, but immediately clear that this was warning me that there was an accident ahead. This exploration of graphics rather than words seems a very sensible step for a country that welcomes foreign visitors – and more so in the run up to the impending Olympics.
I have been (thanks to my work) to many countries. Some (like Brasil and Egypt) I would not dare to drive in, some (like China) I am not even allowed to drive in – but in many
I have rented cars and driven without significant mishap. But always when driving I am grateful for intuitive signage – and also very appreciative of the standard road signs across Europe. In fact it wasn’t till I got to Quebec and saw my first ‘Arête’ sign that I fully realised how much I had taken for granted the standardisation in road signs across the language range of Europe. (For those not familiar with European road signs – they say ‘Stop’ in all the EU countries, even France.)
The places I find it hardest to drive around are the ones that rely on long wordy description to convey messages to drivers. Now when this happens somewhere like Poland, I have no chance and just have to guess – or more often follow they guy in front and hope that they know what they are doing. But even in the US, where they seem committed to this kind of thing, where the language is similar to English, I find it very difficult to get the message quickly without being distracted. By the time I have read all the words I have often missed the chance to do what it was telling me.
The need for intuitive communication has been around for a long while – a great example of somewhere that has seen the need and met it well for many years is Amsterdam airport, as a transfer hub, it is specifically targeted at delivering services to the widest range of languages. Their use of intuitive graphics has been impressive for over 20 years. And of course it has to be because people transferring planes at Schipol do not have the opportunity to attend a training course on how to navigate the airport.
Nowadays that luxury of training people in how to use things is getting rarer and rarer – we have to be able to use things we have never seen before, most notably things appearing on our PCs when we use services over the internet. But also those PCs themselves and the services we use at work – I don't know the figure but it sure feels like there is much less user training than there used to be.
So – great to see the UK government getting on board with intuitive communication; surely as service managers we all need to think of how to get messages across to our customers and our users quickly and reliably. Oh, and cheaply too, your CFO will love the reduced need for training – and pretty soon are likely to be questioning the need for expensive training for something that doesn’t deliver immediate intuition.
Just about my very first experience in IT –
brought onto a project as a customer ‘expert’ – was listening to the IT guys
debating how to make use of the data we already had on the old system. In my naivety
at the time I had thought computers used ‘computer language’. Quickly I
realised they were more like people than I had suspected – that there were lots
of computer languages, and each computer spoke only one of them, and could make
no sense of the others.
Now, in the interceding years (some 27 of
them L) great progress has been made – we expect computers to talk to each
other. This almost universal technological communication ability sometimes
blinds IT people to the fact that human communication has not evolved
Until we perfect direct thought
transference, all the communication we do, whether written or spoken, texted,
tweeted or painted on the walls, relies on a two stage process. First you put
your ideas into words (usually words and sometimes also gestures or pictures –
or a combination of all three). Then someone else has to take those words etc
and turn them into thoughts inside their head. There is always an ‘encrypt/decrypt’
section to human communication.
Now that can get messy, confusing and
create all sorts of mistakes in delivering the message. You probably wouldn’t
design it that way. In fact in a pure IT context we would be looking at ways to
deliver direct communication in a standard format from one system to the other.
But people don’t work that way; it is what we have and we need to work with it.
Communication isn’t just about being accurate;
I think it is better measured by whether it is useful. In IT, people still manage
to get the communication spectacularly wrong by not thinking about the whether
the customer (or client or user) is equipped to decrypt the message. As one
example, here is an error message I got on my screen the other day, apparently
intended to inform me why the software couldn’t do what I had asked it to do: “Unable to contact the target back-end forwarding host (proxy target)”. I presume that made perfect sense to the person who set the
software up to deliver that. They were maybe a great programmer, but evidently
not a human communications specialist.
It’s easy enough just to dismiss this as
one more version of ‘Computer says no’, but why is it no surprise? Maybe it’s because
we still seem to think it OK to throw our jargon at others who don’t share it.
Or maybe we forget they don't know what we do. Actually, to be fair this is not
only an IT thing – ask anyone who has been caught on a French train having
failed to quite understand the printed message exhorting them “composter votre
billet”. (And if you don't already know but intend to travel on a French train,
trust me, you need to find out what it means, but it isn’t a French word that
they usually teach you in basic language classes. A classic case of
encrypt/decrypt failure in a service management situation that has nothing to
do with IT.)
The technologists amongst us love the
challenge of integration, communication across platforms etc. but there is
recognition that this is expensive and should be unnecessary – an area where
standards and commonality help everyone. Why do we forget our most common
encrypt/decrypt situation – getting a message from one mind to another.
I hope that the irresistible tide of
universal cloud adoption and pervasive social media communication will solve
all these troubles – and allow us to concentrate on the people issues more. But
so far the social media snowball doesn’t seemed to have reduced jargon – quite
the opposite. Those of at a certain age are now totally incapable of
understanding what are children are saying, even when they give us access to
their on-line worlds.
Actually, this is fresh in my mind now
because it forms a little game we will play during my talk at Monday 5th
March at Pulse – our big SM event in Vegas next month. I plan to have people
encrypting and decrypting during that session. I am interested to see how they
get on, and hopefully to make them realise there are some simple tools we can
use to make things better. Nothing magic, and the same techniques we
demonstrate in the simulator. Mostly they rely on establishing common ground –
establishing communication channels and learning what will work, by finding
shared understandings, and by relying on more than words alone when it makes a
The best part about all that is that from
the outside it might look like gossip and drinking at the bar – but we realise
it is building business critical communicating platforms and channels. The message
that things can be both fun and relevant at the same time is also part of the
So, if you are at Pulse maybe you will be
able to come along at 6pm on Monday. If not I hope to get the chance to
encrypt/decrypt with you at another event this year. And thank you for your
efforts in decrypting this message, I hope it wasn’t too difficult – and I hope
it has some resemblance inside your head to the one that was in mine.
is the only truth you believe
That’s a paraphrase of many quotes – but
whichever famous quote peddler you choose, it is surely a mantra of sorts for
successful service management. To me it
neatly addresses two key points:
- It is no good meeting all the metrics that you set for yourself
if that only makes your performance look good to you – it’s the customers’
opinion that matters because they are the ones providing the money to make
it happen – and they may well stop doing that if they aren’t impressed
- What people perceive is based upon their situation and
knowledge as well as your facts.
I had some first-hand instruction on this
recently that helped my understanding. Both were a little funny at the time but
maybe with some serious messages.
Firstly two different perceptions of what
must have looked very similar situations to a detached observer – driving last
year down a fast dual-carriageway road.
Both times I was on my way to my father.
- First time an ordinary sunny day. I am driving at ‘about’ the
speed limit of 70 miles per hour – and a car comes hurtling up behind me
and sits a few metres behind me with the driver clearly impatient that I
am holding him up. I ventured an opinion as to his personality –
considering him less than sensible, some pushy-salesman type, and
certainly not deserving of my moving quickly out of his way
- Two months later I am driving down the same road – only this
time I have been summoned to my father’s hospital bedside by medical staff
with the line ‘I think you should get here as soon as you can’. Now I am
doing a lot more than 70mph, and find myself slowing down to 75 and
hanging on other cars’ back bumpers amazed at why people can’t simply get
out of the way – surely they can see I have to go quicker than that.
So – good guy or bad guy? Depends on what
you know, and that depends on what you are and what has happened somewhere
The other one, I feel the need to share all
hinges around those daily gifts we get form our dogs. Each day I take our dog
for a walk in the field behind the house. The field is just the other side of
the fence and hedge around the back garden, but to get there you have to go out
the front, down the road through the alley and back – about 300 metres or so.
Now dogs, being dogs, use the daily walk for relieving themselves and people,
being only people, are left to pick it up in plastic bags and carry it. But
since our walk takes us back down the other side of that garden fence, rather
than carry the little bags round the field, I toss them over the fence and into
our garden, to pick up and dispose of when I get back. So, I am doing this when
I realise I am being watched, by another man out walking his dog. Thinking
about it afterwards he just sees someone flinging doggy doo over a fence into someone’s
garden. He did not speak, but did manage a look that clearly had me well below
pond-scum in any kind of social acceptability league table.
OK, so some examples of skewed judgement
based on incomplete knowledge, we all have lots of them – and please feel free
to send in any good ones that have happened to you.
Very few of these matter in everyday life –
we shrug and move on and usually never see the misunderstanding or
misunderstood person again. But when it matters we need to establish
communication to get some idea of the events that drive perceptions of those
who we will interact with long term. This is why we know things about those we
live with and care about – their favourite colours, the foods they like and
dislike, which football teams they support and lots more. That is worth doing
because these people matter to us, and because this makes both their life and
ours more pleasant.
So apply this to work, how much more
pleasant – and easier – will your life be if your customers are happy with you,
if they understand what you are doing and you understand what they care about.
That simple idea is at the core of a lot of my work these days – in the
simulation games and the presentation at events. It certainly underpins the
talks I am slated to do at IBM’s Pulse and itSMF Norway in March.
If I go back to the first set of two
bullets I wrote at the start of this piece, they are trying to say that you
need to know how your customers – and maybe other stakeholders – are feeling today. This will drive how you address
things. So customer perceptions influence prioritisation – standard best
practice stuff. What I was trying to point out in my driving example was that
those perceptions and attitudes are anything but fixed. Just because you know
what mattered yesterday, doesn’t mean you know what will matter today or
tomorrow. There are clues and signs you can look for – find out what things
affect your customers attitude and monitor those yourself. Again that is
something we can do fine at home – we are aware of some of the influences that
change attitudes and perceptions on our loved ones – be that exams the next
day, football on the TV tonight, or a fight with a friend.
Maybe what we need is more formalised
gossip at work – because it is often the conversations that don't seem to be
about work that tell us most about how our customers will react – and more
importantly how they want us to react. One thing the 21st century
has brought us – big time – is new ways to gossip, or should that be freely and
rapidly exchange more information than we ever dreamed was possible. So, maybe
this is just one more business benefit of social media, one that delivers its
success by not being so obvious?
Actually, I don't care how you gather more
understanding of your customers concerns and perception influencers use every
means you can. You could do worse than simply going to visit them, talking and
listening. Set yourself a target perhaps – name one thing that would change
your customer’s priorities, and then ask them if you are right.
We live – more and more – in a world where everything that matters can be done on line, where we see and hear better on screen than for real.
You can now take an active part in the world – and potentially run a successful business - without ever leaving your home, possibly without getting out of bed.
And even when we do turn up for real we spend a lot of our time watching things on a screen – be that the presenter or performer in a large hall or the action reply on the giant screens at a football match
You will have seen in the promotions and advertising, that the key presentations from IBM’s show-piece service management event – Pulse – running on 4-7 March in Las Vegas will be streamed live on the web to the warm and cosy comfort of your home.
Despite how easy and good the virtual feed of sessions, chat and information were, 7000 people did get out of their beds in 2011 to travel to Las Vegas and actually be at Pulse, just as thousands turn out weekly to watch football at the stadium when they might have had a better view of the action by staying at home. And even formula one motor racing gets sold out attendance when you can never hope to see much of the race in person compared to what the TV coverage offers.
It seems that there are still good reasons to actually be there – not to put down the value of connecting to the live web streams, but even in the 21st century, people learn from people. Pulse is a big and excellent example, but throughout our community we see conferences still being successful and drawing people together to share experiences in surroundings that the virtual world can’t quite match yet. As well as the formal sessions at conferences and events, the networking opportunities of being with others in similar circumstances delivers real benefits – comparing notes with our peers from across the world.
Technology is good – and joining conferences on line is way better than missing it altogether, but people-to-people still has a lot going for it. I’m looking forward to the combination – the atmosphere of really being there and mixing with everyone in the exhibition areas – and over a sociable beer or two at dinner. And of course the added value that streamed interviews and 'watch again on demand' that is available over the web.
This amalgam of real and virtual seems set to be the conference norm for a good few years still – 7000 people at pulse thought so last year, and thousands went to itSMF conferences around the world in 2011 too.
And Pulse is in Las Vegas of course – where could be more appropriate for the combination of real physical existence with technologically driven enhancement - a bit like Red Dwarf's famous 'better than life' game. J
Do you think virtuality will one day totally replace human gatherings? I guess eventually it might, but for now I intend to enjoy both at once and count myself lucky to be alive at the right time to do that.
You can find out all about Pulse – physical and virtual offerings at www.ibm.com/pulse.
See you there – for real, on line, facebook, twitter and more!
As I wrote last week, I am looking forward to delivering more simulations over the next weeks and months, I always enjoy the buzz of working with people rather than sitting in a lonely room hitting keys and listening to the dog snore.
I went through my technologically savvy period some years ago (back in the horse-drawn computer age). For years now I’ve felt that the biggest scope for improvement in service management is through the people part of the famous trilogy of people, process and technology.
It’s important though to be sure that we don't forget it is a trilogy – in a recent presentation I used a picture of a milking stool to make the point: three legs, if you have problems in any one of them you will fall on the floor, spill the milk and fail to do your job.
So the emphasis on people is not because we don't need the technology – it’s because there have always been plenty of people selling the technology hard in our business. And it sometimes seems to me that there are people even keener and more excited to buy it – each one as much a fashion victim as the lady horrified she’ll be spotted in last year’s shoes. But – for sure – we do need good technology. Of course, I work for a software and technology company so I would say that, but that doesn’t make it wrong.
And process is still vital – that is the first level of learning that comes from our simulation games – not knowing what needs to be done usually means you don’t do what needs doing. I remember getting excited by process when I first understood how to see and then improve them. I remember also how much better ITIL V2 was than V1 when we went ‘process focused’ – and how modern and nifty we thought we were.
But again – there is no shortage of process champions, so forgive me if I keep harping on about the people. There are more of us than there used to be pushing the importance of people. Paul Wilksinson, of course, has been – and still is – a trailblazer, although he is still obliged to play the prophet because the vast majority of our industry still needs to be converted to the simple reality; that no matter how cool your IT gadgets and software and no matter how carefully researched your process, if you don't keep the third leg – people – strong and secure then things simply won’t work.
Successful politics is called ‘The art of the possible” and I am aware we – those who believe that people factors are the biggest stumbling block to successful service management – need to play that game too. No point (yet) trying to make everyone totally people focused – our efforts through the simulators and suchlike are to at least get IT managers to realise that the quality of the services they deliver does depend on people aspects. It’s simple stuff really, like people talking to each other, finding out what things matter to them.
Strangely enough, this is the kind of thing we do well and automatically outside work, but somehow it becomes so much harder when it gets all business related – maybe we like to take sides at work, or think the office is too important a place to act human in. What is about being in the office (or Datacentre or shop floor or whatever your work looks like) that strips us of some basic level of humanity? We seem able to talk to our colleagues at work about non-work things – last nights TV or football, fashions, music etc – but not about their work wants and needs.
Of course there are exceptions – we need to capture and promote these to help us get the message across. My favourite is a reversal of the norm I just described. It is from a UKgovernment department where a cricket match between IT and Finance was being played out one evening. Due to Finance’s excellent bowling there was a hiatus since the batsmen were being dismissed faster than the next one could get the equipment on. During this pause the non-striking batsmen (from IT) was chatting about work and they solved a issue that had turned into a long running fight between managers. The managers had stood on principles and formality instead of talking about what was actually wanted. The issue was solved by these real workers getting a mutual understanding through the revolutionary approach of talking and listening to each other.
That’s what we shall be trying to do with the delegates to our simulation sessions – and in other ‘take the people seriously’ initiatives. Do you have some good stories about how much difference it makes when your people are able to understand each other’s perspectives? Be great to hear them. Be even better to catch up at one of the forthcoming simulations, or to see you at Pulse in March and we can talk – and listen - over a beer. J
Well, we are well into 2012 now and we have just about got though the ‘my predictions for 2012’ phase and in to ordinary routines again. Whatever the predictions, like with most years I predict that 2012 will look a lot like an older version of 2011.
There is still talk of recession, companies that struggled for funding in 2011 are no richer, Cloud is still talked about by a lot more people than understand it.
On a personal level 2012 has already delivered some of the improvements planned in 2011 – and I hope the same will happen workwise. Next major thing on my work horizon is IBM’s big service management show – Pulse. Back again at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas we are promised it will be bigger and better than ever. I understand that bigger is important in as Vegas but I am usually even keener on better. Actually though, to be fair I am delighted that ‘my bit’ at Pulse looks like being bigger this year – with not one but two chances to deliver the cloud-readiness simulator on the weekend before the show itself starts. In fact there will be a strong focus on simulator this year with our team being on the exhibition floor to explain what, why and how they can help you.
Of course – like I implied above – this isn’t exactly new, but it is proven. Of course there will be lots of new stuff available – geeks welcomed and catered for. The technologists will – of course – be well catered for with lots of ‘future possibles’ and indeed a vision of some possible futures too. But service management’s primary focus is not on what might happen next year; it has always been about delivering value this year. In fact one of my favourite aspects of service management is how it rests on widely applicable principles, even though how they are applied might alter. For example, while change management processes in a cloud environment might need different considerations to make them most effective –the basics remain. I was working in service management long before I ever touched a computer. I remain constantly delighted to discover that lessons learned 30 years ago in supply and transport are still relevant to the 21stcentury IT based services we manage today.
So, if you are going to be at Pulse come along and tell me whether you agree that old-fashioned service concepts are still valuable – or come and explain why dinosaurs like me should be swept away by the meteor strike that is cloud. Either way – at Pulse or elsewhere – I look forward to good, informed and enjoyable debates. Good to think of the new year building on the successes of the old – at home and at work.
Over the recent Christmas break, I found
myself at lunch with an Enterprise Architect and the
conversation turned – as it does - to the future of the IT industry.
we agreed on the
topic of what IT jobs and attitudes should be over the next 10 years – others at the table disagreed with us – but that’s a topic for another blog
Now I live in a Service Management space, and so clearly I
know that everything – at least everything about creating and delivering IT
services – is wholly contained within a complete picture of service management: because
everything flows from the need for the service – in terms of value conceived,
engineered and then delivered to the customer.
So, imagine my surprise when the enterprise
architect (let’s call him Kevin J) came out
with the phrase – introduced as though it were universally accepted knowledge –
that everything is contained within the concept of enterprise architecture and all other things fit inside that. Well, you would think that one of us has
to be wrong – but maybe not?
Seriously though, I do realise that each
of us has a coloured view of the world. But even when you know you might be, if not actually biased, at least running along familiar tracks rather than striving for
objectivity, it can still be a surprise when you run into what seems a different
Of course – in this instance it isn’t
really a different perspective at all. Human Beings to tend to fit external
matters into handy pigeon holes – and those pigeon holes are inside our own
pigeon house – service for me, EA for Kevin.
Maybe we just need to get all these
different perspectives in one room and get them to agree on which view is
right? I suspect, however, that this has been tried – and failed. Because it
isn’t conflicting theories we are dealing with here. Instead it is that
familiar old chaos machine – people and perceptions. They are all right (and
all wrong too of course, but this early in a new year let’s try and be
Trying to look at the situation
simplistically, it seems to me that we have had lots of good idea over the last
20 years or so that have been helpful – but we live in a complex interrelated world and each
successful approach brings you to an edge or interface where you are dependent
for further success on the neighbours. Human nature makes us jump to the
conclusion that if the neighbours used my approach then they would do better.
Maybe it’s true but maybe it’s not – maybe we have as much to learn from the
neighbours as they have from us?
Let’s analogise that to real neighbourhoods. Is there anyone who doesn’t think things would be better if their neighbours
behaved more like them and adopted their processes,and practices – especially
things like where it is OK to park and when it is OK to be loud? But actually
they have slightly different needs (maybe because of things we don’t have like kids and dogs or a job that requires shift working)
and so they do need to do things differently. But still there is much to learn from
each other; simple stuff like where did you get your fence fixed etc and more
strategic stuff like comparing mortgage plans or discussing the best school
Within our IT/services/architecture kind of
world we have
the same chance to benefit from discussions with our neighbours. And just like
with our domestic neighbours, the best way to get along and help each other is
by accepting others’ perspectives as equally valid. It is good to see
initiatives like devops starting
to encourage this. My major familiarity over the past 20 years has been service
management but I can see both lots to learn from our neighbours like EA and
development and also lots we can help with too.
Have you spoke to your neighbours recently?
And if so was it with a predisposition to teach or to learn?
I recently had some first hand experience –
from the receiving end – how much of an effect genuinely good customer service
can have. The experience started in dismay but was recovered well beyond
Anyway, to start at the beginning ….
I had to go and ‘swear an affidavit’ –
which for those of you not into the jargon of jurisprudence means to formally
promise what you are saying on a form is true. In England you can either pay a
solicitor for this service, or you can get it for free at the county court. So,
of course, I went off to the County Court.
Now, it started, I admit, with me failing in my responsibility to be a proactive customer. I did not think
through what I knew. County Courts in England are where the most
serious crimes are tried, so it is where the most dangerous criminals would be.
A moment’s thought, therefore, would make it obvious that there will be fairly
impressive security. But of course I was just thinking about delivering a form
so the metal scanner and request to empty my pockets took me by surprise. And
my producing my Swiss Army penknife from my pocket sent the security man into
action. The knife was confiscated – suggestions that I wasn’t even in the
building yet and could just go back, leave offending items in the car and start
again, were not allowed to be considered. I was told that I could not get my
knife back when I left but instead I needed to write in to the court manager
asking for it to be returned by post.
So, I had a perfect example of a ‘Moment of
Truth’; putting me instantly, and very extremely, ‘anti’ the staff and the
processes. It seemed obviously the staff are required to leave common-sense at
home and not bring it to work with them.
And thus, in a bad mood I reached the court
officer with whom I was to sign and swear that my forms told the truth. She
spots my mood, finds out why and explains that the rules are for protection and
cannot be altered – causing no improvement in my mood. She then looks at my
forms and points out that I have not brought all the right documents – and then
throws in for good measure that my solicitor has supplied my with the wrong set
So … it is now clear to me that I have
driven into town, paid for my car parking, lost my knife for the duration and
all for nothing because my paperwork is wrong. But fear not – after this it
gets better. I had been expecting a businesslike word or two of sympathy and if
I allowed myself a glimmer of optimism then maybe even an explanation of what I
needed to go back and fetch, so that it would work when I came back.
Instead the lady reacted very differently.
She pointed out that the forms I have forgotten are copies of documents they
already have lodged with them, and that they have blank forms of the right
kind. She fetches the missing forms, lends me a pen and helps me understand
what is needed on the right form, checks it through, makes corrections and then
duly witnesses it and formally logs it in the system as sworn and correct. As she
put it “Well the purpose is to get your stuff recorded, if I can make that
happen then why wouldn’t I help?”
Of course she was perfectly right, her job
is to help get these things done, and so thinking for herself and helping
people get there is an obviously correct attitude. Isn’t that exactly how
everyone in service delivery sees it?
Well, of course we all know that it isn’t –
not yet! The sad aspect of this kind of story
is how surprised we all are by them – that they are worthy or repeating
because this quality of service is still unusual.’
The key aspect of this story – with its two
different approaches to dealing with the customers - is how much good service
experience depends on customer facing staff that are knowledgeable of the
customer’s context and goals. But more than that even, the management trusted
and empowered (at least some of) their staff to use common sense and do what
was right – maybe even if it didn’t follow exact procedures.
Are the customer-facing staff in your
organisation trusted and empowered? If not, is it because they can’t be
trusted, or because they have been given the knowledge? Or is it just that
no-one has ever thought it would be a good idea to trust and empower them? What
happens in your organisation – do you get good service or do you a strict
process delivered, whether or not it is appropriate?
Last week the IBM attended the UKI itSM Forum and what a
great event it was! Some really thought provoking and motivating sessions, as
well as some truly interesting conversations with our clients and
Below are a few of the highlights from the sessions attended
- would be great to hear anyone else’s thoughts on what their key take-home
messages were from the event.
Session 1 – Introduction by Barry Coreless – Chairman of the
Barry talked about how he sees the future of ITSM – the
growing automated and ever more complex tool sets, and an ever increasing
bewildering array of devices. The main
take home message for me was that he believed that organisations that linked
best practices and industry disciplines are the ones that will truly succeed.
Session 2 – Keynote from Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson DBE
A fantastic motivational speech from Tanni – including memorial
statements like “if you are going to spend time thinking... then think BIG!” She spoke about why it is important to think
about how you can be the best you can be and how individual success if not
always about the individuals themselves, but about the team they have around
them. Tough times call for tough
choices, she continued, and it is how you deal with these, improve and move on
that is what will make you successful.
Session 3 – our own Ivor Macfarlane – Can IT people be
Ivor was introduced as a man whose middle name was “ITIL”
and clearly his reputation preceded him, as we had a full house with over 60 of
the 300 delegates in the room. Ivor spoke
about how Service Managers generally have a low profile, and are orientated to
achieving another person’s hopes and desires.
He carried on the debate by saying that the best attribute a Service
Manager can have is to be invisible! Continuing
that if management don’t empower you as a Service Manager then your stuffed! A final take key message was then given, “Go
to the board – change the change process!”
Session 4 – An interactive panel session hosted by Don Page
Some really interesting stats came up in this session to the
questions asked to the delegate audience my favourite 3 below:
1. 1. Cloud Computing is here to stay – what effect
will it have on ITSM?
Major – 43%, A
bit – 36%, A little – 17%, No Opinion – 4%
2. 2. Your business now understands and is taking
seriously the importance of ITSM as an essential business enabler?
Very Seriously – 12%, Lip Service
– 42%, We don’t talk to them and they don’t take us seriously -20%, Don’t Know–
9%, Don’t Care – 17%
3. 3. Should organisations encourage Social Media to
facilitate communication between IT and end users?
Actively encourage and support –
45%, Natural Course – 37%, No -13%, Don’t Know – 2%, No Opinion – 4%
Session 5 – Stephan Mann – Forrester Research - “Anyone
questioning your value?”
One of my favourite sessions from the event, very
interesting to hear an analysts point of view. He started by stating that
Service Managers can’t deal with the value because we don’t understand the
cost, there is little transparency IT costs and the value it brings. He continued saying that costs are
continually being cut, whilst the demand for IT continues to grow. He told
delegates to take an honest look at their ITSM capabilities and short comings,
in context of what business needs, then link IT services to business
outcomes. Final message for me was “Cost
is important but value is more important... if we could demonstrate the value
they would be encouraging us to spend more”.
Session 6 – Martin Neville – Flattening the Curve
In the last session of the day, Martin discussed what companies
should be looking for from their tool providers, and that the best tool providers
are proactive not reactive. He set out ground rules for both sides – be honest
from the start, early efforts pay interest in the long term, perception is reality – stats do not lie, the
time to innovate is at the start – not when things are looking desperate, short term contractual wrangling will damage
the relationship long term and most importantly KEEP talking!
Session 1- Nigel Mear –Solid Air Consulting - Answers on a postcode
Nigel spoke about how vision is our most valuable asset and leadership
is an act, rather than a position. We
need to show up and engage! It needs to be a progressive improvement, baby
steps are ok, and it needs to be realistic, achievable and practical – don’t
aim for perfection, do something practical.
His take home message for me really was for success, we have to
acknowledge the reality of uncertainty.
Session 2 – Christian F Nissen – CRN People, Denmark –
Acquisition and Implementation of ITSM Tools
Another really interesting session, starting with the
question should organisations use a SM suite of tools from one vendor, or best
of breed tools from various vendors and attempt to integrate them. The answer is not as simple as it seems! He
emphasised the importance of running a Proof of Concept before ever fully
implementing a new tool. Organisations
need to ask themselves, is this vendor that is sleeping or evolving and
Session 3 – Dennis Shields - The 2010 Machine
My final session of the day, Dennis opened the session by
explaining people like direction, but believe their managers are out of touch. Bad
management however means the unit will not function properly. People need to be
given clear and fair directives, otherwise efficiency plummets and costs
escalates, we need to take a long term perspective if the company and its
infrastructure is going to be successful.
In summary, fantastic event, and can’t wait till next year!
Just a few kilometres from where I live
there is a great spot for walking – with or without a dog. It is quiet and
traffic free, with spectacular view across the countryside. The grand
perspective across surrounding countryside was likely more appreciated in
earlier days; it is the site of a 2500 year old hill fort with the
earthworks still very obvious and impressive despite being worn down by the
One of the things I love most about the
site is how very little we really know for sure about it, the people who built
it and how people actually lived there. There is a goodly amount that can be
inferred from what is left, but when walking around it you do feel that we can
only know a little, presume a bit more, guess a good chunk and – importantly –
accept that there is much we do not know and will never know.
It seems to me that this acceptance of what
we do not know, and more importantly what we cannot know, is a hard thing to do,
and one we as a society are getting rapidly worse and worse at. Maybe we expect
too much? Certainly if we were to take too seriously some of the criminal
investigation TV programmes we see we would believe we can know everything –
where a small nick in a 10 year old bone can lead to complete diagnosis, arrest
and conviction in a single 45 minute episode.
Of course, real life is rarely like TV, but
there does seem an increasing belief that we can know everything, which I
doubt is justified by any kind of objective assessment of our own lives. It is
almost as if we believe that we can find out anything we want – or that we can
ask an expert who will simply tell us what we need to know. In fact there are –
even now –many things we do not know, and will never know. That is true in most
aspects of life – from what our children get up to through to configuration
management – the trick perhaps is to accept that and make the best use of what
we can know. That includes realising that what we do think we know may not be
100% accurate – but that is it still useful all the same.
Way back last century, I studied Physics at
University. Well, I was supposed to
be studying Physics, I certainly recall making TV programmes and being in the
bar – somehow my memory can’t have stored all the time I spent studying.
But one thing I do recall was that in the
lab work the answer ALWAYS had to be expressed in terms of the uncertainly –
the temperature of the liquid under examination was not 23 degrees – it was
something like 23 º
± 2º. Being realistic about your accuracy was seen as a critical aspect of
And rightly so. It
is of critical importance, because if we just think that everything we know is an
absolute black and white fact – then we will make bad choices. Being aware of
the accuracy does – or certainly should – affect our decisions. If you want a
common example of where we get it wrong then think about some of the customer
satisfaction surveys you may have seen in your time. Even a good customer
survey will show only a good indication of opinion, attitude and desires. It
will never be totally accurate but it can be useful – especially in terms of
availability is about averages, happenstance and luck – so a 99% availability
does not necessarily mean 99% customer service delivery – because you don't
know when that bad 1% will happen – and so don’t know what affect it might
have. Is it going to be peak period or quiet time? But it can help us decide how
to build and manage systems – and lead us into sensible risk/benefit decisions.
In fact getting on and using the data you do have might be a good mantra? All
too often we seem to seek data for its own sake rather than because we see a
need for it.
Those people who built that hill fort 2500
years ago certainly knew a lot less facts and data than we do. But they knew
what they needed to know to do a good job and made great use of what they did
know. Hopefully we can use the knowledge and data that we have without being
distracted by trying to get even more? And then maybe our constructions will
also still look good in 2500 years.
Maybe you can spot some places where you
are spending time, money and worry tying to get ever more precise data that you
don’t really expect to use. Or more likely you can see where – or your
management – take as absolute data that you know is actually just an estimate
within a significant range of values?
I am just back from a week working in Tokyo
. For someone who
writes as much as I do about the need to understand customer culture and how
that affects expectations, it is always a good lesson to visit Japan, where the
culture is about as different (from where I normally work) as you get within
the service management world. (Of course culture does get even more different in,
say, certain Amazonian tribes or a primary school playground, but with little
formal ITIL adoption there as yet, Tokyo
is my extreme of difference.)
Although the shadow of the tsunami and very
real loss to the community endures, the human spirit carries on and people
still laugh and enjoy life. One of the pleasant surprises is how universal
humour can be. It is also easy to forget how quickly people’s behaviour adapts
and copies from those around them. You really only notice the extent to which
you adapt when you get back home. For example it took me a while to stop bowing
to people and also to stop smiling at people in the street, restaurants etc –
or certainly to stop expecting them to smile back.
I also got used to things that I would
expect not to cope with easily. Specifically after the first day or so I was no
longer bothered by how much my room on the 16th floor shook when one
of the steady stream of aftershocks wobbled Tokyo. That reminded me of how worryingly
quickly I had got used to seeing young men with machine gums patrolling the
streets while working in Belfast
in 1992. Seems we absorb new technology just as quickly, and it takes very
little time for what seemed new and so different to become everyday life.
People as old as me can remember life without a mobile phone, but already I
find it hard to recall how it felt to be out of contact whenever out of the house or office, let alone that it didn’t bother me to be unreachable.
But coping without things you have got used
to does happen – and it is clear there are some very direct lessons for service
management in Tokyo
today. Obviously in the light of their unfortunate experience and need for disaster
recovery and business continuity they are well placed to be the source of most
of the case studies for the next few years. It may well be a long time before
even the immediate effects stop being so visible – there is an obligation for a
15% reduction in electricity consumption that looks set to last a long while.
That kind of thing has so many knock-on effects you quickly realise how
dependent we are on technology. Not only because it is a shock to go back to
old ways – and waving a fan may be an ancient Japanese tradition but it much less
effective than air conditioning; but because we depend on so much that cannot
function without the technological infrastructure. The power reduction of 15%
has to applied carefully, because so many things – like data centre power –
must be maintained. So the power for things that drive mere comfort is hit very
hard – very little cooling in offices and, for example, my hotel had turned off
That made me think of just how complex our
everyday infrastructures have become, with so much more than electricity on our
critical list. It perhaps should be a compulsory occasional exercise to think through just how many things we
presume will be available – not just the obvious (utilities, access, people etc).
I am sure we would all be surprised at some of the things we tacitly depend on –
and equally sure there are good stories to be told about some of them – any offers?.
After my last blog – asking what devops was
– the idea of collaboration across the whole life of service has been in the
forefront of my mind. From that wider perspective I was musing around one of my
frequent topics – how we fail to get the service right because we don't
understand how it is being used, or what the customer really cares about.
Actually the simple picture of supplier and
customer doesn’t really describe the world most of us have to live in. If we go
with the ITIL concept of a customer (someone who has financial influence or
authority) then we also need to worry about what our users think. In other
frameworks you might hear a more general concern about taking the whole range
of stakeholders into consideration. Doesn’t matter which recipe you follow –
does matter that you see the complexity.
Some of the problems come from being so
close to how things are done (rather than why they are being done), and by
being so close to what you think matters that you don't spot what matters to
those receiving the service. Sometime it is the silliest things that make the
customers and users unhappy and reject a service. Maybe that is an example of the
‘One Bad Apple’ syndrome – something firmly embedded in the human condition
seems to be our ability to allow one bad aspect to overbalance a dozen good
I had my own version this week, when I
found myself refusing to continue with an online application for a new bank
account because the software insisted on spelling my name incorrectly. (For
reasons I cannot fathom, it seems to have decided that any name starting with
‘Mac’ must have a capital afterwards – so it turns ‘Macfarlane’ to ‘MacFarlane’
without giving me the chance to turn it back.) I didn’t stay around to see what
else the service offered, I just closed the web page and got my new account
somewhere else that will let me spell my name properly.
But there is also the positive face of the
same coin – the power of ‘cool’. Imagine you have found the perfect shoes for
your child – scientifically designed to protect their feet while supporting
their bones and they are even waterproof. As a caring parent these are the only
pair of shoes you want your child to be running about in (see IKB later in this
blog). As it happens your dreams have come true because your child loves them.
Is it because they are good for them, and will help their feet develop properly
– no, they agree to wear them because the heels light up with each step. They
will wear them – and save their feet – but only because they are ‘cool’ –
according to rules you will never understand. By the way, don’t think the
illogical ‘cool’ factor only applies to children, it is there in just about
every service you deliver or use – at work or at home. If you look for it then
you will see it. I don’t want to make this posting too long or I could list
dozens – but just imagine trying to sell powerful and effective software
products against others with less relevant features at higher cost – but with a
fancy graphical interface – sound familiar to anyone?
If you think about these two situations –
where apparently less important elements disproportionately affect decisions -
I am sure you will find many examples of the two extremes; like the fast-food restaurant
that you still avoid because of one bad burger or one element of bad service,
hundreds of miles away and several years back.
Those issues tend to come from how the
service is delivered, yet the same problem can easily come from how it is built
(like my name issue). But one of the differences is getting the message back to where it might make a difference,
because at best the complaints go to the operations side of the house, and this
does not get fed back, maybe because it is dismissed as trivial – because it
doesn’t seem important to whoever received the message.
It isn’t just about hiding complaints
though, we also have the ability not to pass the cool factors back. Do we
always find out why people really like something? It seems to me that we don’t often
ask the right people the right questions. And it also seems there are simple
reasons why we do that:
- We presume that what is important to us is what is important to
our customers, users or others that matter. Is this a common manifestation
of IKB (the ‘I know better’ syndrome)? Most of suffer this from our parents,
then grow up and do it other people.
- We don’t know who to ask – and we don't know what to ask them.
Both of these situations are understandable
– after all, we are human so of course we see things first and best from our own perspective, and without being forced out into another’s environment then why
should we have the ability to understand people we have never met? The second
is also inevitable in the complicated amalgams of customers, users, services
and suppliers we exist within. Never mind the neat little service chain
pictures you get in the books – it doesn’t really look that simple, it looks
complicated, and mostly because it is complicated.
We can do something about these
difficulties – but they require addressing the way we – and our colleagues –
think, and that takes time and effort.
There are other causes and factors – and
maybe there is one we could do something about, and it is something that would
magnify the beneficial effects when you finally get around to addressing the two points I
listed above: when we do find things out we don’t tell the people who could do
something about it. And the very best way to get that wrong is to build silos
within your supplier organisation and stop people sharing ideas and
After that last blog on devops, I was
thinking about that particular kind of communication issue. There is something deep
rooted in the human psyche that needs to dismantle their immediate environment
into teams (or
groups, or departments or silos or tribes – call them what you will). IT
organisations are perfect examples – with high level internal teams always
emerging once they gets past a certain size. And if you separate into teams that feel the need to compete, then helpful messages will not be fed across between them. So what was built wrong and delivers the wrong thing stays there and will be wrong in the next version too. That is
the inertial element of behaviour that initiatives like devops and whole
service lifecycle approaches have to contend with. We shouldn’t think it can be
as easy as just telling people to collaborate and communicate. Like all
challenges we need to recognise what we are fighting – and to fight back.
So – what are good ways to start? Perhaps
as simply as recognising that while we might bond comfortably into (say) a
‘development’ team or an ‘operations’ team (or any one of a dozen more) – that
doesn’t make the other team the opposition – I think that would be a good first
step, if we can finally realise that – by and large – what benefits one team
also benefits the other.
I was teaching an ITIL course last week –
with the managers’ bridge route to the ITIL expert about to close, there was a
sudden need for a trainer and I got the
chance to pick up a training gig in Dublin
. Well, on the edge
actually – in Blanchardstown. Turns out that is place to make you question your
presumptions about a country – the view from the hotel window (as you can see)
could at first glance have been most any mall in any US
town. And after being used to
seeing an Irish Bar in every town I go, this time I spent 4 days without even
seeing a pub! So, not your typical Irish trip, but both pleasant and useful
For all its economic challenges it is good
to see Ireland
still as friendly as ever – a modern multi-cultural EU country now, certainly
more expensive than ever before, but still they understand the craic. It is nice
to be in one of those towns where you are expected to sit in the front seat of
the taxi and talk about life and its meaning and pleasures – and even though my
drivers were from Hong Kong, Africa and Ulster
rather than Dublin,
still it all felt very Irish and human sized.
But I had a great time work wise too, a
rare opportunity to focus again on the ITIL material, a reminder of some parts
I had all but forgotten – including some it seems I wrote myself. Most
important though was the chance to talk with the others on the course, getting
an insight again into how this stuff works in the real world – the delegates
all being part of our managed service accounts and delivering real service
management to real customers on a day-to-day basis.
I guess I need that reminder now and again:
writing, talking – even thinking – about things is good and important stuff,
but if we lose sight and touch with actually doing the things we talk about
then inevitably we will get that writing and thinking and planning wrong. I was
lucky enough to visit some real service management workers the week before
also. That was in Abu Dhabi – a different
culture from Ireland
for sure but mostly the same issues that people in our industry face like
resistance to change and even more resistance to change management; where to
start, how to measure, the need to derive pragmatism and realism from the
theory in the best practice books.
So - a couple of weeks of good lessons for
me, and I hope for my students also. I had a good reminder of the need to keep
real, to encourage reality above ideals. I learned not to presume how a place
will be, nor to be too concerned if it looks a little different to begin with. Despite
appearances, service management issues have more in common than you might think
– across counties, cultures and industries – which gives us all a large
community of colleagues to discuss matters with and to exchange ideas and
conversation. I guess that is what we look to organisations like itSMF to
facilitate in the widest sense: service management craic.
Anyway – I am looking forward to keeping in
touch with service management reality – through talking to and working with
people in real service management jobs, be that through training, conference
discussion or more directly. We all need that good mix of ideas and