by Barclay Rae
Date Published - Last Updated February 26, 2016

Released in February 2014, The Lego Movie was a box-office smash. Featuring digitally rendered Lego cities and characters, the film is a brilliant, layered piece that satisfies kids and adults alike, providing excitement and action for children while also delivering wonderful send-ups of classic movies and cultural icons that sail right over their heads.

The film spoofs dystopian movies like Total Recall, Running Man, The Time Machine, and Zardoz. In these films, cowed populations are tightly controlled by authoritarian states that tell them what to do, how to live, what to watch, and which song (yes, just one song!) to sing. “Everything Is Awesome,” The Lego Movie’s maddeningly catchy theme, is actually a variation on the computer-generated “Hopeless Fancy” song from George Orwell’s classic novel 1984; designed to dumb down and placate, such songs are the ultimate brainwashing tool. Fortunately, though you may find yourself singing “Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team” for days after viewing The Lego Movie, this doesn’t mean you’re in thrall to Lord Business.

Overall, the key message from the film is simply this: we can’t succeed or thrive when we’re stuffed into boxes, our creativity and freedom stifled. We need to be free to think independently and express our individuality, love, and creativity. These are the pillars of a fulfilling life, not conformity and following instructions. (And, actually, this is quite a bold message from Lego, which has built its recent growth around selling themed Lego sets, featuring extensive, exhaustive instructions. When I was a kid, Lego was just blocks.)

How Does The Lego Movie Relate to ITSM?

To me, the lessons for ITSM are quite obvious, and they shone out from the beginning of the film. As the movie went (dragged) on, it occurred to me that there were two key takeaways for ITSM:

  • A parable about the evolution of ITIL and the ITSM industry
  • A clear message about how to succeed (and where we might be going wrong) at getting ITSM and organizational change to work

The story and the message are remarkably close to the way we think about ITSM and ITIL, particularly with regard to more recent consensus around the need to focus on people, culture, and relationships.

To me, the themed Lego sets are analogous to our thirst for silver-bullet solutions and the ways we’ve tried to implement service management. Lego’s boxed sets provide specific outcomes—they don’t actually teach children how to use the basic building blocks to create new models. In a similar fashion, the way the ITIL industry has evolved has created a misguided expectation that ITIL will deliver a kind of boxed set of change, success, value, improvement, etc. But, of course, the reality is that this doesn’t happen; organizations that expect ITIL to work “out of the box” will be disappointed, as it requires contextual application and organizational change management.

Sending people to ITIL training and buying tools that promise “out of the box” ITIL are no guarantee of success. Flexibility and creativity are required to make change happen across the organization. This, in turn, requires people to be ready and willing to change, and this won’t happen by forcing standard delivery models and work practices on them. Remember, ITSM is not a authoritarian state: we can’t impose conformity on people. To be rewarding, their work needs to involve more than simply following instructions.

Where Are Organizations Going Wrong?

On the one hand, the ITSM industry has created a bit of a monster, setting the wrong expectations for business and enterprises of all shapes and sizes; on the other hand, it’s also true that many organizations haven’t grasped the essential elements that are required to ensure a successful ITIL implementation. For many professionals and departments in IT, ITIL is a quick, easy, “packaged” option that they consume ravenously, expecting it to solve all of their problems without having to sort out difficult organizational or political issues.

To be fair, ITIL looks like a system and development model for technology—complete with its own language and acronyms, and its own internal processes that relate to IT—which is part of its attraction. However, in the rush to implementation, it’s become just another “IT thing,” rather than a means of improve the services provided to the businesses and the support provided to customers.

So, the ITSM industry created the IT opiate, and the practitioner industry lapped it up and got high on it. Meanwhile, customers look on in dismay...and then take their business elsewhere.

How Can We Succeed?

ITIL and ITSM are too often seen as panaceas for problems that will frankly never be solved by processes or technology alone. If we really want to deliver awesome service management, then, first and foremost, we need to have awesome people working together as an awesome team.

In The Lego Movie, the heroes—Emmet (The Special), Wyldstyle, Batman, Princess Unikitty, Metal Beard, and Benny the Spaceman—struggle with jealousy and ego, fighting amongst themselves; ultimately, they unite as a team—even winning over their enemy—and save their world. It’s the same in ITSM: We need to challenge ourselves and our colleagues to change the way things are done and make improvements. This rarely goes down well with people who are accustomed to doing things the way they’ve always been done. Facing these challenges head-on and overcoming them requires professionalism, transparency, great communications, and positivism.

The ultimate objective should be to set unifying goals that meet the needs of the customer and the business first. Again, this can be difficult to do in an entrenched organization, but one thing is certain: it won’t work with a “one size fits all” approach. You can’t change people, but what you can do is change the environment so that people see the need for change and want to change themselves.

Teamwork and shared goals are essential, as you will need the skills, knowledge, and cooperation of people across your service organization and supply chain. In order to get this level of shared commitment, it’s vital to get people on board with the real issues the organization is facing and the potential benefits of solving them. So, get them involved. Let them be creative and flexible.

In the film, Emmet doesn’t question the status quo—he sings “Everything Is Awesome” and he follows the instructions—until he encounters the Piece of Resistance and the Master Builders, realizes there’s a dark side to his society, and falls in love. Like Emmet, people need to be aware of an issue before they can motivate themselves to change. We have to find ways to shine a light on issues and their impacts in order to motivate our people to change (e.g., a technical team may not see the need to make changes that speed up the resolution of some incidents, yet this might be adversely affecting business performance). Experiential sessions, like simulations, role playing, and, of course, customer exchanges, all help here—much more than simply “sheep dipping” staff through process training, which may not inspire the same level of engagement.

To engage our staffs, we also need to change our perspective on the relationship between service level agreements and success. As an industry, we’ve obsessed with SLAs. Rather than focusing on the wider business and service relationship, we’ve come to see the fulfillment of an SLA as the measure of success. SLAs are useful for establishing a framework, but to deliver really awesome service and the best possible service experience, our analysts and technicians have to be able to go above and beyond our SLAs.

It’s worth remembering that there is no such thing as the perfect SLA (i.e., the appropriate response for every possible situation). So, just as kids can use a sports car Lego set to make a spaceship, let your staff use your SLAs as guides, modifying and improving them as needed to meet your customers’ needs.

If we want to deliver awesome service management, we have to get our priorities straight. To get the best from people, we need to give them the freedom to use their initiative and take responsibility, not simply follow the instructions (which may not be correct in the first place). If we make them want to deliver their best effort, they’ll go the extra mile.

How Can We Deliver Awesome Service Management?

To deliver awesome service management, you need five things: leadership, principles, culture, communication, and collaboration.

  • Leadership: Everyone needs to show commitment and take responsibility for what they do. Leaders also need to demonstrate understanding and a clear focus on customer experience.
  • Principles: More important than processes, principles allow an organization to establish a framework within which its people can operate flexibly. So, for example, an SLA may govern a process, but people are held to a higher principle (i.e., delivering the best possible customer experience), which may bypass the SLA.
  • Culture: Your culture must be positive, supportive, transparent, collaborative, self-aware, and engaged in constant self-improvement. If management sets the tone, everyone will follow.
  • Communication: Real communication happens when people are engaged emotionally, not just intellectually, so use storytelling, graphics, and other simple devices to get the right message across.
  • Collaboration (think H2H, not B2C): Ultimately, we’re all humans (not Lego figures!) and we need to remember and recognize that good work is best done when people interact as human beings and not as cogs in a machine. Use personal communication wherever possible in order to build trust and confidence across people and teams.

Can Everything Be Awesome?

Once you have the right culture in place, then ITSM processes and tools can be much better employed to support doing the right thing and delivering awesome service. This is as opposed to expecting turnkey ITIL processes and technologies to deliver awesome service for you. It’s an important distinction.

The Lego Movie shows us that we can’t force people to be automatons and expect value or quality. In order to be awesome as a team, we need to be individuals, too. That’s how the Master Builders save Bricksburg, and that’s how your organizations will deliver awesome service management.


Barclay Rae is an experienced ITSM leader who has worked on approximately 500 ITSM projects over the last twenty-five years and is well known as a strategic consultant, mentor, and commentator on all things ITSM. Barclay works closely with ITSMReview, reviewing market products and vendors, and delivering media content, including a podcast and TV interviews. He is a regular speaker at conferences around the world, including itSMF, SDI, Pink Elephant, and FUSION. To learn more about Barclay’s “ITSMGoodness,” a set of practical steps and guidelines for success, visit, follow him @barclayrae, and join the conversation at #ITSMGoodness.

Tag(s): ITSM, supportworld


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