I was waiting in line at a restaurant recently when I overheard a father say to his son, “If you want to play soccer well, you have to watch soccer.” This got me thinking about the service management and support industry.
Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn” (and I would add, “Coach me and I grow”). I think Ben was onto something here. His words focus on the individual; the service management and support industry, however, requires collective responsibility and teamwork.
The State of IT-Business Alignment
A recent InformationWeek survey revealed the following statistics about IT (which my thirty years of experience in this industry tend to confirm):
- 80 percent of IT outages are caused by a failed change.
- 70 percent of support calls are “self-inflicted.”
- 90 percent of midmarket IT organizations use manual processes.
- Most IT organizations average six standalone IT software tools that do not interoperate.
- 30 percent of IT projects are canceled at significant loss.
- 55 percent of respondents view IT as “unnecessary.”
- 32 percent of respondents see IT as a “valued strategic partner.”
The purpose of highlighting these survey results is not to disparage the hard-working and dedicated staff that keep IT and support organizations up and running, nor is it to call into question funding decisions. However, there is a clear disconnect between business and IT alignment, whether that’s due to misunderstanding, miscommunication, or both. Furthermore, according to CAI’s Bruce Clarke, “nearly 20 percent of employees are looking for another job. This may be the same 20 percent that is creating 80 percent of the value in the organization. Poor performers are not usually looking for other employment.”
So, let’s consider both of these factors: IT is out of sync with the business, and IT is experiencing a retention problem. I would argue that our current approach to service delivery and customer support needs to be reframed. It’s time to recalibrate our compass.
Mission, Culture, and Collective Responsibility
What is your support organization’s primary mission? This question is often asked and frequently misstated, but the answer should be easy, clear, and concise: minimize the disruption to the end user while meeting the expectations of the customer. How do we define expectations? How do we measure them? In sports, there’s one score, one result, one team; the same is true of service providers: one result, one team, one set of collective, integrated goals. Teamwork is a choice. So, too, is business alignment.
More then half of the respondents to the InformationWeek survey stated that they feel IT isn’t a strategic partner, that is unnecessary. Why? Because IT has forgotten who its customer is. IT has two primary stakeholders: first, the customer who purchases a service; second, the user who consumes the service being delivered. Quite often, these stakeholders are the same, though not always (especially with the state of services today).
To some extent, siloing accounts for this disconnect. No organization would say it wants to increase silos, yet that’s what often happens. This compartmentalization by department or function is the antithesis of teamwork, no matter how loudly we preach the importance of working together across departments and functions. The only way for a department or function to deliver as a team is for everyone to be focused on the same goal, objective, and vision. Doing what we’ve always done won’t create the change we want to see. The solution is to establish collective responsibility, establishing one team, one goal, and a common set of performance metrics across the entire team, regardless of their individual areas of expertise or competence.
Gamification and Simulation
In today’s “there’s an app for that” world of instant gratification, gamification is one of the hottest buzzwords. I’m not a fan of the term, in part because spell check constantly offers to change it to “gasification” or “ramification” or even “gratification,” but also because most people don’t really know what it means. Anything that’s fun, fast, and easy falls under the heading of gamification, when, in reality, there’s a distinct difference between gamification and simulation through experiential learning.
Gamification involves applying gaming principles to nongame activities, and it’s most often used to make the ordinary, day-to-day activities more lively, understandable, and compelling. There’s typically some kind of reward system for achieving a desired level or accumulating a certain number of points. Although many organizations are using gamification to engage customers and employees, it’s actual value in terms of meeting customer expectations is limited. Going back to Ben, gamification focuses more on the internal and less on the external, which is where we should be concentrating our improvement activities (that is, in retaining and supporting our current customers while engaging new customers by understanding their preferences, perceptions, and expectations).
Simulations, by contrast, are real and collectively immersive “games” that offer an experiential educational experience. The simulation model is based on David Kolb’s theories and approach to experiential learning styles. As children, we learn through experience and experimentation; as adults, we abandon this these highly effective methods. Simulations bring us back to these tried-and-true techniques.
Simulation and Experiential Learning
Simulations bring key IT professionals and their business representatives together in a risk-free environment that supports their work structure while allowing them to be the active subjects of their own learning. Just as sports teams review game films, the simulation approach is designed to enable participants to observe and assess their own performance in a controlled setting.
Simulations require commitment and engagement from every level of the organization, and every level should be represented, from the CIO on down to the support analysts. By running through multiple interactive rounds of simulation, the participants come to appreciate the benefits of best practices and understand terminology and processes in the context of various stakeholders. They will learn to speak the same language, and they’ll come away with a holistic understanding of the organization’s real, tangible pain points.
Drawing on Kolb’s theory, effective simulations are generally played or facilitated over a number of rounds, with each round following a defined cycle of do, review, theory, and plan. However, each simulation should be customized, as no two organizations are the same. Once the roles and existing processes have been discussed, roles should then be assigned to individuals based on their current role, aligning them as closely as possible in preparation for the simulation.
Each round cycles over a set period of time, with defined transactions simulating the live business environment and driving the interaction between various stakeholders. The first round often highlights the immediate need for effective communication between the business, the service desk, and the resolver group or technical specialists. Chaos reigns when incidents are not tracked and promulgated at the service desk, but through this simulation, participants will be able to describe the value that’s delivered when all stakeholders have access to incident data and information. They’ll gain a deeper understanding of the impact on customers of the “first in, first out” of triage (versus accurate and effective priority levels), the value of service catalogs and accurate service mapping, and the effect of uncontrolled change (that is, the disruption of critical services and the impact on business performance). Once the first cycle (do) is complete, the review, theory, and plan cycles must be executed; all four cycles must be completed before the second round can begin.
Reflection and vulnerability are essential for experiential learning and teaming. The second round of the simulation, which is more complicated, is based on the lessons learned from the first round. By identifying and implementing improvement efforts, the participants find they’re better able to track and resolve incidents. This may, however, reveal that customers are frustrated with recurring incidents; that, in turn, may result in the implementation of problem management. In the review, theory, and plan cycles for the second round, the participants will come to see the value in having a known error database and a knowledge management system, and they may begin discussing service level management as it relates to incident resolution and escalations. Subsequent rounds increase in complexity, as they tend to simulate more complex operation environments and best practices, including asset and configuration management, capacity management, portfolio management, financial management, event management, and availability management.
There are several situations where simulations can be useful. At the very least, simulations can add value and provide context for the traditional training approach. More importantly, simulations can be used to gain buy-in for process improvement initiatives, or to create a shared understanding of and commitment to change initiatives, or to drive a maturity assessment of current methods. Above all, simulations drive more consistent and more responsible transformation and cultural change.
Working Out Loud
Have you ever wished for a crystal ball? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could predict the future, just for once?
I think we’ve all experienced the frustration of knowing we need to improve, but not knowing exactly how to make that happen or where to even start. When we look to frameworks, certifications, and methodologies for inspiration, we often come away more confused than when we started. Instead of a course of action, we get a laundry list of the many options for improvement. Improvement and alignment aren’t the result of reading a book, taking a class, or even hiring a consultant; they can only come from a deep understanding of your business’s expectations and requirements. Once you know that, you can map out a plan and execute the steps in the right order and at the right time. And, keep in mind that in many cases, less can be more. Taking on too many areas of improvement at one time, or not capitalizing on the big wins, can create more dissatisfaction. This is why it’s important to identify your priorities and focus your improvement activities on the desired business outcomes.
Finally, if you want everyone in the boat rowing at the same speed, you must get the first oar in the water, then the next, and so on until everyone is contributing to the boat’s forward momentum. This is the essence of collective responsibility. Simulations can provide you with the game film, practice, and reflection necessary to recalibrate your compass and get your boat moving in the right direction, heading toward business process alignment, increased customer satisfaction, and an improved customer experience.
You can’t plan your organization into being a more cohesive, integrated collective, but by using simulations, you can help them “get it.” By making a direct correlation between the simulation and the real world, we can make implement improvements that have direct benefits for our businesses, our employees, and our customers.
Scott Rose retired from IBM in 2010, after more than thirty years in the IT industry. In his last role, he was a delivery executive, but he has extensive experience in a range of disciplines, from hardware design and engineering to software development and IT services. During his years at IBM, Scott led many large and global IT outsourcing contracts, providing leadership in all aspects of service management. Scott is a certified ITIL v3 Expert and an accredited trainer for all ITIL certifications. He is also a graduate of The George Washington University’s Master’s certificate program in project management and a certified PMP.