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.
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!
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!
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 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?
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?.
It is only a week until the 2011 itSMF UK event in London (http://conference.itsmf.co.uk/agenda.html?event=1) where we are hoping to see and speak to many of our well known contacts and to take the opportunity to meet those of you attending that we have not yet had the opportunity to, be it on the IBM stand (F5) or in our session at 10.45 on Monday delivered by Ivor Macfarlane on "Can IT People be Service Managers?".
The event is always a great networking opportunity for those wanting to share their views with their peers and engage in lively debate over the current industry pain points, as well as hear from the industry experts on how they see the market shaping up in 2012 during some of the 40 sessions that are held over the two days.
This year’s session speakers include (but not limited to) experts from Tesco Bank, Deutsche Bank, Heineken, the Met Office, Barclays Bank, BT Global Services and Pepsico, not to mention keynote from Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson (Paralympics athlete with eleven gold medals and six wheelchair marathons) and Mark Hall (Deputy CIO at HM Revenue & Customs).
We encourage you to visit us on the IBM on our stand – F5, where we will be running a series of live integrated product demos, sharing our newest whitepapers and thought leadership papers. All delegates will be welcome to come and discuss with our technical experts where they think Service Management is heading and perhaps learn about new product offerings and the tools IBM has that can help organisations address the challenges they are facing.
Some ideas that we think will be the "hot topics" on our stand:
How ITUP (a free download for you!) can underpin your efforts in building ITIL processes - and how we are already ensuring it stays in line with ITIL now that the 2011 is here
How we have adapted our key SM software to cloud/SaaS. Come and see Tivoli Live!!
People are your major asset - we can help with getting your staff to 'get it' – with tools like simulator – both classroom and on-line versions
And - of course - the Smarter Planet concept - you've seen the adverts on TV, in magazines and elsewhere – now come and talk about what it really means to real people!
Throughout the two days you will also be able to Play IBM’s Watson supercomputer at Jeopardy!... can you beat it?IBM’s Watson is a real time, natural language processing
We will also be attending the annual Awards Dinner on the Monday evening, so would be more than happy to discuss things over a much needed glass (or more) of wine while listening to Lenny Henry's jokes!
Of course we hope to see you as many of you as possible at Ivor’s session on Monday; in case you have not seen the summary on the itSMF UK website, here is what he will be addressing this year:
“The need for ‘people, process and technology’ working together for successful service management is well accepted. Technology is ever more sophisticated and ITIL and COBIT ensure process is taken seriously, but the people aspect of SM does not get the attention it deserves. Successful services rely on more than creating IT applications and installing technology. Bridging the gap needs more than just adding a little extra learning – it needs a genuine change in culture, attitude and understanding.
The changes required involve focusing on every aspect of the service, how it is to be used and why – and how – it is important to the organization. Effectively, this means seeing it from the customer’s perspective. This talk will approach these issues and aims to illustrate some of the key concepts – using analogy and hopefully a little humour to explore the human elements:
• what’s involved
• what prevents it happening
• the key aspects we should build the new culture around”
Of course will be tweeting throughout the day - @servicemgmt - so make sure you follow us and join in the debate there too!
We will continue blogging after the event, so come back and read our take on the highlights from these two fun-filled days.
As may have been noticed from recent blogs I
spent most of the last month travelling. Actually thinking about it, most of my
last 33 years has been travelling for work. So while I might spend much of my
time talking about service with IT professionals; the services that most impact
my life tend to be related to the travel industry. Seems to me that service is
service, and many of the lessons learned in travelling – and watching people
while travelling – are very relevant in all aspects of service delivery, IT
related or not.
What has really impressed itself upon my
mind recently is how receiving services – of whatever kind – can so often make
you feel offended, insulted, slighted or just plain angry. Objective thought
makes it pretty obvious that the intention was actually to deliver good
service, but somehow it can be hard to believe that when you see some of the
symptoms of not thinking things through.
Let’s start with a fairly innocuous and
almost silly example from the Dubai
metro system. This metro is brand new, really impressive, fast, clean
comfortable – and cheap. I can forgive its rather early closing time (11pm) and
late start on the weekend as a necessary acknowledgement of how many taxis and
especially taxi drivers need to continue to make a living – and how much they
may have felt threatened by the new metro.
What I couldn’t help but notice, and that
stuck in my mind more than anything else, were the local information maps displayed
– a good and helpful feature that shows important buildings near enough to walk
to from each station. They show where places are using colour-coded dots, for
example pink dots show hotels. At my local station there were three hotel dots
– so I which hotels were served by that metro stop. But it didn’t tell me which
hotels they were – just that they are
hotels – how much more effort would it have taken to write the names on? And
how much would that final piece of data been worth? I think that’s what bothers
me – when suppliers seem to do 90% of the work right but that missing 10%
destroys 90% of the value.
But OK, I am sure that will be remedied -
eventually. There is, however, a characteristic of physically delivered
services that I see so often – and bothers people so much – that I have tried
to give it a name. Best I have so far is VNS,
Non-Service. I am sure you have
seen it – travellers will see it at airline travel desks and immigration
counters, but all of us see it almost daily at banks, post offices and shops.
Let me set out a typical scenario - one I saw last week (and most times I
travel). There are 5 or 6 customer service desks; two of them have staff
serving the waiting line of customers, one by one. At another desk are two of
the airline or airport staff – every now and then a customer in a hurry goes up
to them, only to be turned away. These people are not attending to customers.
No, it might be that they are doing some critically important task, vital
filing, discussing long term business strategy etc. But why do they do it in
font of the customers? We can see only paid supplier staff NOT helping us, and
apparently not caring. Actually, I think banks are amongst the worse offenders,
frequently seating staff at customer facing positions to do non-customer facing
It seems to me that this is a failure to
think through how customers perceive things. Of course it might make perfect
sense to the planners and HR people – making best use of physical space, having
managers where they can see staff working etc. But – if you feel tempted to do
this, or anything else that customers will see - please think through how it
will look and feel to someone who was NOT there when you planned it.
In fact VNS and other ways to disregard customer
perception – once you think it through – have significant implication and
consequences: whether that is IT applications that decide to archive your
records when at times apparently selected to annoy you the most, scheduled
maintenance that seems to target your busy periods or supervisory staff walking
around apparently doing nothing helpful while customers wait in long lines. The
more complex our world gets, the easier it is to get things wrong. Like the maintenance
slot that is obviously good to the planner in New York but which hits the
obvious usage slot in Dubai (where Sunday is the first working day of the week,
and you want your administration services – like expense reporting – up and
running at the start of the week – which is when business travellers typically
do their expenses.
So if you are planning services that a
customer will see, please do me a favour: try and think how it will be seen and
perceived, putting aside how logical YOU already know it is. As the man said –
perception is reality, try to make your customers’ perception into your
Final story, about how it is possible to
get it right. Many years back, when I worked for the UK Forestry Commission, I
recall talking with our Recreation Planning Officer. He had just designed and
constructed some way-marked walks through a forest he personally knew very well.
Before he allowed them to be opened to the public, he brought his children in,
and walked behind them on the route – noting down everywhere they had trouble
seeing the right way – and then he corrected those faults. I believe that
nowadays this might be called ‘User Acceptance Testing’ – and what it needs is
users, not suppliers pretending they can see it from a user perspective.
I delivered an
SM simulation for a client in the middle of a tropical paradise in Brazil
last week. It is a hard life but I guess someone has to do it. The countryside
around was stunningly beautiful, and the views driving there even more so. I
was reminded of the great Frank Keating’s reporting from an English cricket
tour of the West Indies
for readers in a cold
and wet British winter; his opening line to his readers: “Another day
Frank, I was there to work, and work I did –another successful and fun game – I
always enjoy how much the delegates enjoy the experience; we should all have more
work that actually makes people happy.
We had a mix of
nationalities and cultures on the game – a real challenge but one that brings
its own extra flavours. I was thinking about those cultural variations on the drive
back to São Paulo
airport – and I realised there is much more to culture than the obvious things
My driver was a
very nice man – a pleasure to share a space with, just enough English to
converse, comfortable with silence and caring enough to return from a rest stop
with an unsolicited bottle of water for me; plus a cheerful insistence that I
try local specialties that I might not have seen before So, all-in-all, clearly
he is a man who wants me to be comfortable and survive the journey.
So, why did he
frighten the living daylights out of me at irregular intervals on the way?
Simply by behaving normally for his culture: using road verges to pass trucks
at high speed on the wrong side, overtaking in the middle of road works, driving
at high speed within inches of other vehicles. While this seemed reckless to my
culture, it is everyday for Brasil. It made me realise that as well as the
social variations, culture extends to acceptable risk – what would just result
in a late arrival in western Europe is met with a calculated risk to get past the slow moving
obstacles, a culture that values speed over safety perhaps? Or more likely just
the inevitable reaction to the extreme traffic volumes and conditions there. I
didn’t see it as a better nor a worse attitude, just a different one – and
there being differences left in the world is something I, for one, feel is an
unmitigatedly good thing.
many Brasilian taxi drivers before, so I was not surprised, but what did amaze
me was how quickly and unnoticed that culture got into my thinking and
unconscious actions. Back in the UK, driving home from the airport I
found myself changing lanes MUCH more than I usually would. Not too recklessly
I hope, but it took a while before I was back to my normal UK driving
So if we copy
cultural elements so quickly after so short a visit – and that copying spills
over into our next situation, do we do that with our customers too? Do we bring
the needs of the previous customer we worked with to our next, even if it isn’t
the right culture for them? Maybe this is just one more thing for us to watch
out for in our business relationships?
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
I set out do this blog as a pretty
shameless advert for my article in the latest issue of the itSMF International
magazine. So let’s get that bit out of the way first – it is here
– read it soon!
But actually thinking about the itSMF magazine leads naturally
on to talk about the itSMF International publishing and the recent success
stories – and success stories should be talked about, so I’ll do that now. It has been a while since the international
publishing committee of itSMF (IPESC) faded out – but while IPESC may be
dead, I felt its spirit, innovation and enthusiasm resurrected at our recent
chapter publishing meeting. IPESC was always full of good intentions, but the
difference now is the ability to take ideas forward to our itSMF’s own
publications – and to produce good things.
The magazine is one of those things. It may
not be exactly War and Peace – but it is the kind of things that professional
service managers might read, enjoy and then look for the next issue coming out
– exactly the positive reinforcement cycle we need to create a tipping point. Actually,
the meeting itself was another great thing. So far as we can tell this was the most
chapters ever represented at any kind of itSMF meeting – including all previous
IBM – along with TSO – sponsored the
meeting, and we also hosted it at the IBM Amsterdam office. That sponsorship
gave me the right (and from my management’s perspective, the obligation) to a
10 minute agenda item to address the meeting. Now, those of you who know me
will realise I don’t usually need the justification of an agenda item to talk.
But, given the nature of my audience, I wondered what to talk about in that
formal situation. The obligatory ‘IBM has something you might be interested in
seeing’ bit was easy – a quick demo of our new G2G3 developed virtual
simulators – plenty about those in other blogs on this site so go read them I won’t
repeat it here.
My main message – and one I feel strong
enough about that I want to repeat it here – was how important sponsorship like
itSMF is (also rightly) proud of its ‘owned
by the members’ and ‘not for profit’ nature – and so it shapes the community more
than any other organisation – or more accurately it helps its members shape and
develop that community. But being not for profit doesn’t stop there being bills.
We all share in this service management
community, and it seems to me both right and necessary that the key players in the
industry take seriously the need to also be key supporters of that community.
For many sponsorship is seen as a way to
keep conference prices low, or just about advertising leverage. The sponsorship
of meetings like the publications gathering in Amsterdam makes a real difference to itSMF
being able to work on initiatives (in this case publications initiatives) that
push the boundaries and develop our community – things that can take us all
forwards. That kind of innovation – like ITIL itself 22 years ago – cannot be proprietary.
Like ITIL though the proprietary players stand to benefit from the evolution
and development of the non-proprietary guidance.
So what I spoke about in Amsterdam, and what seems important enough
for me to say again, is that the community needs its big players to put enough
back in. IBM sponsored that event, I hope IBM will sponsor again – but I would
like it even more if we have serious competition from some other big names to
get the good sponsorship.
itSMFI is producing important parts of our professional future, and
there is the chance for all players in this community to support - big companies with big sponsorship through
to individuals getting involved and active. So get on board - please.
Next week, I'll be attending my first Pulse conference, and I have a full slate of activities planned:
- On Sunday afternoon, I will be participating in our ISM Simulator Workshop session. The workshop facilitator will be our own ITIL 'rock star', Ivor MacFarlane, and the audience will be made up of IBM customers and business partners. The workshop participants are in for a terrific one-of-a-kind interactive learning session that will confuse, frustrate and challenge them. Ultimately, they will come away with a better understanding of how to significantly bring IT services into better alignment with their business goals and strategies. And they'll also come to realize that those goals can be much more easily pursued via enhanced visibility, control, and automation—the overarching themes of the modular approach IBM takes with service management.
- On Monday and Tuesday from 11am to noon, I will be attending the Integrated Service Management Simulator Overview breakout session. In this session, you can get a preview of how the simulator highlights the challenges and business value of implementing Service Management best practices, and learn how your organization might benefit from your own team-building and thought-provoking simulator session.
- Finally, I will be working at the ISM Virtual Simulator ped in the Best Practices Zone. In this cutting edge video game, you can experience issues affecting service management and corporate profitability in a simulated organization. You will be given the opportunity to run your own business, and will gain a better understanding of challenges facing different people in a company, the value of processes and tools, and how various parts of the company positively and negatively affect the hypothetical company’s performance.
We look forward to seeing you at our breakout session!...and be sure to stop by our ped and get your game on! And if you are not one of the lucky ones attending the workshop, fear not - - we can also conduct a private Simulator Workshop session for your employees, at your site. If you are interested in your own session, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
I am writing this on a plane back to England from Madrid, at the end of a pretty hectic few weeks that involved speaking at five itSMF events in five different countries – from Finland to Spain. There has to be a good joke somewhere in a run of 5 events that started with the Finnish – but I’ll let you work that that one out for yourselves.
Anyway, I already wrote about how good the Finnish conference had been, and the Spanish one matched it with all the simple things done really well: good venue, lots of people (all friendly). As well as getting the basics dead right there were one or two minor excursions into the unusual, with a plate spinning performer on the opening morning, (who was upstaged as a professional juggler by the itSMF chair) and a conference dinner in a restaurant with opera singing waiters (all of which somehow felt quite normal).
Attending a range of events in a row like this really brings to mind how there is a common thread throughout them all – clearly the main one is our common focus on service management. Also, many of the same people are at each event including several representatives of our little mutual admiration society of regular speakers at such things Perhaps because of that common theme though, there is an appreciation of the differences – still quite noticeable across so small a place as Western Europe.
That hits you immediately on arrival at a new conference when you run until a long term acquaintance of the opposite sex and prepare yourself for the welcoming hug and kiss on the cheek. As the travelers among you likely already know, you have to perform a quick mental calculation based on where your fellow hugger and kisser is from, and then make an assumption as to whether they will follow their national rules or be adapting to the local ones. It can be an embarrassing moment when your Dutch friend goes to offer that third kiss to the cheek of a man who is in Spanish greetings mode and has turned away after two. Many of the experienced Southern Europeans seem to have little concern over simply asking the lady beforehand how many are expected. But the more staid British and American folks can find themselves out of synchrony and not sure why - helping them find out that European Union, Schengen open borders and pervasive English notwithstanding, there are still many cultures packed into a small space and the variation between (and even within) countries is so much more than between US or Australian states.
None of this is serious stuff of course – all part of life’s rich pattern and a source of fun and laughter when accompanied by a glass of wine. But the conversation it generated turned quickly into broader cultural differences – a subject I was interested in since it formed an element of my talk at most of these events. How many times do we say the wrong thing to our customers or fail to understand what they really mean because we fail to establish common understanding and expectations? Some cultures are reluctant to complain about bad service – be that in a restaurant or in the work environment, while others believe they should always comment with an aspect that could be improved, even when the service is very good. Fail to understand what kind of customer you are dealing with and you can be unnecessarily worried or totally surprised when a contract is not renewed.
For many multinational companies this is everyday business and they put significant effort into understanding and training their people to see through cultural variations. But as mobility and the intermingling of cultures accelerates so rapidly, with even small companies using offshored supply and almost everyone receiving service from other cultures it is something perhaps we all need to focus more effort on.
The consequences of not doing might well be more serious than a failed kiss on an unexpectedly absent cheek.
I recently booked
my travel for a business trip to the US
at the end of February. I will
be talking at several itSMF USA Local Interest Groups and – of course
– be attending IBM’s big
service management spectacular – Pulse in Las
February. I’m looking
forward to the trip, and not just to escape the British winter weather. I am
delivering our simulation ‘game’ on the Sunday at Pulse and Atlanta
in March - they are always fun, especially
our new one with added cloud features. But the best part is getting to meet
people, customers and suppliers, both at Pulse and in the itSMF meetings. There
really is no substitute for meetings with grassroots practitioners to keep up
to date. And always fun too, you do still meet such nice people in this
If there is
anyone out there actually reading this stuff, and is in Vegas for Pulse, or at
the LIG is San Francisco, Fort
Lauderdale or Atlanta
– do come and say hello. And if you would like to be part of our
cloud-flavoured SM simulation at Pulse please visit our landing page, and
then RSVP to email@example.com
But – not
unusually – I have distracted myself a little from where I thought I was going
when I started writing this. So … I booked some flights: from London
to Las Vegas and back to Europe from Atlanta about two weeks
later. As we all know, we live in the information age so immediately I started
to receive information. And I do admit it was information –I had booked a
flight to the US
and I got information about the situation in the country I was going to.
Let me divert
again a little bit and remind you – because you are all experts and know this
stuff – about a basic knowledge management concept; the spectrum that runs
data->information->knowledge->wisdom. At the beginning data is
extensive but not too helpful. If it ever reaches wisdom
it actually helps you survive and thrive.
But back to that
travel information I was getting. Remember I had booked a flight in late
February to the Nevada desert; what I received
by email was warning me about traffic disruption in downtown Washington DC
in late January. I have subsequently been advised of snow problems in New York. Now this has good conversational value,
allowing me to sound knowledgeable and sympathetic on calls with New Yorkers,
but I suspect that was not the intention.
I interpret it
–this may be grossly unfair of me, but I am the customer and customer
perception is what matters – like this: travel advice is being planned and
delivered by someone who goes to the same desk in the same office everyday, and
rarely puts foot on an airplane. Of course the real culprit behind this is ease
of programming – data is cheap and plentiful, applying some basic ideas to turn
that into information is quite fun, sounds good and means you can despatch all
sorts of travel notice updates to people who will be travelling sometime in the
future. But it is – sorry but it really is – just using data because you have
it. Maybe they bill on the number of messages? Maybe they really think I want
to know? The real consequence is that I delete these emails unread now – so if
they were by some miracle to send me something useful, I would miss it
last year this system showed the kind of silo thinking that comes from not
knowing the customer’s environment – the kind you often see in service
management reporting. I spoke for itSMF Sweden
in Malmo, getting to Malmo is really easy – you fly to the nearest
airport and take the train direct from airport to town centre. But two factors
combined to deliver me information even less useful then usual. One, the system
thinks only in terms of flights and rental cars – I think it rather looks down
on train travel as a bit common. Those of us who use trains mostly have to buy
the ticket when we get to the station. Second factor is that the nearest
airport to Malmo is Copenhagen
– a lovely and convenient airport with great direct train services – but it
just happens to be in Denmark.
So, yes you guessed it, I got lots of travel advice about visiting Denmark, there could have been civil
insurrection and rioting in the streets in Malmo and they wouldn’t have told me – why
that’s a whole different country!
Now of course Sweden doesn’t
do insurrection, I travelled easily and had a good time at an excellent event
without any issues. But all this useless information I get seems symptomatic to
me of measuring the wrong things – probably something we are all guilty of,
because – as I have said before in these blogs – measuring the right things is
harder, but if we can manage it then it drives us into doing the right things.
Maybe at the real heart of this though is the simple statement, if you don’t
know what you are aiming at, you are unlikely to hit it.
I suppose if
somebody were to ask me what I want notifications about, I would be happy to
work with them, and set up delivering something that goes beyond information,
starts delivering knowledge and gets me the wisdom I need to make the right
But if that is actually
ever to happen then those of us receiving all this useless information need to
realise it is – mostly – our fault. I could have responded offering to help
them improve, I could proactively tell them what I need – I could offer some of
my time as an investment in my own future knowledge and wisdom deliverables. But
It is easier (and more fun?) to carp and whinge – so maybe my New Year’s
resolution should have been around practising what I preach – doing what I
talked about in my itSMF conference presentations last year – and to start
being a good, committed constructive customer because it won’t get better
OK – I’m off to
find the ‘help us improve our service’ button on the web site. See you at Pulse?
a final reminder – For simulation information go to our landing page- for info
on LIG presentations go to http://www.itsmfusa.org/local-interest-groups