By the time this article reaches you, you’ll probably already be past your yearly routine of Spring cleaning the house. While some may make it more formal than others, the promise of longer lasting sunlight and nicer weather has always made it more inviting to tidy up after a long winter. Why not take the same fervor for dusting off furniture, donating old clothes, and organizing your home-space to checking in on your ITSM department? In fact, think about taking it further than just straightening up your stockroom (but do that as well). Use this momentum as a way to re-evaluate your service management offerings, categories, and knowledge base. Using techniques borrowed from Lean principles, you can (re)set your service desk up for bountiful success.
Before we get into what you should be cleaning and why you should be cleaning it, a common question could be, “Why now?” As in, why during this time of the year vs. any other (or at all)? Well for one thing, “Spring is in the air.” It’s kind of accepted that others will be doing this in various facets of their personal lives, so why not push that over to professional lives as well? Another reason is that IT budgets are usually very volatile in Q4 and Q1. This is when you’re either finalizing budgets for the new year, releasing that money to be allocated, or spending what’s leftover. This means that by Springtime you’re probably into a steady swing of projects and processes, so the volatility of unknown priorities and budgets has usually leveled off. What’s also interesting is that according to a recent report, the top drivers for IT budget spend are either end of life or upgrades/refresh cycles, and so you may be gearing up for like-minded projects anyway. I would also argue that now is a good time because usually by late Q4 people are checking out. Couple that with ramp up periods in Q1, and any process changes or waste elimination run the risk of either not taking or not being noticed, decreasing the chances of good feedback on their effects. So, Spring seems as good a time—better in fact—than any.
Now that we know the “when” let’s move on to the “why?” For this, I borrowed some key principles from Lean software development/management systems, namely the 7 Wastes. Taiichi Ohno, who was responsible for developing what came to be known as the Toyota Production System (TPS), which heavily influenced Lean, identified seven key areas of waste—any activity that does not add value—that should be reviewed and eliminated:
- Delay (waiting or time spent in a queue with no value being added)
- Producing more than you need.
- Over processing or undertaking non-value-added activity
- Transportation (movement of materials that does not correspond to value-adding processes)
- Motion (overcomplicated or difficult movements)
- Defects in the product
Any activity that does not add value should be reviewed and eliminated.
Think about that list for a moment. Now think about your ITSM department. Where could waste seep in? Are there categories or metrics that are old and underutilized in your ITSM applications? Are there overcomplicated forms or paperwork that are not adding value? Do you find yourself overstocked with inventory? Are there cases where you’re constantly waiting on others before work can be finished (sure, it may be beyond your control to fix someone else’s WIP intake, but you can control your ability to be just waiting). I bet with even a cursory inventory of your processes and offerings compared against the 7 Wastes you’ll find numerous items that can be adjusted for efficiency or eliminated completely.
Now we know the when, and the why, but before we get to the “how” we need to think about “what” to change. You need some way of deciding what will have the most impact compared against the likelihood of adoption or, put another way, how hard any initiative will be to accomplish. One way of evaluating what to do first, second, or third is to use the matrix below. To be fair, I borrowed from a co-worker of mine and edited it for these specific examples (so I can’t take complete credit), but it serves as a nice visual indicator:
The matrix should give you a good idea of what needs to be looked at. In general, low hanging fruit/quick wins aside (bottom right), you want to start in the top right corner and work diagonally backwards. Another helpful layer you could add is to color code entries by people, processes, and technology (applications and hardware). This would not only show you how to tackle your issues and subdivide resources, but it would also give you a visual indication of what areas you struggle with the most. That alone could be a valuable benefit of doing this kind of analysis.
After you’ve decided what areas to tackle, how do you actually go about doing that? Every business will have different processes and cultures so there’s no one size fits all. But consider some general best practices:
Be transparent and communicative about your initiatives. Barring some internal housekeeping items, many of these changes will require stakeholder approvals, communications, etc. Whether Spring cleaning has become a routine at your work or is just starting, it’s good to let everyone know.
Document everything. You need a way to know what’s changed and why in some cases you need to fall back. However, don’t overdo this one—making waste to eliminate waste is a net zero improvement—but do make sure you can track and prove out what you’re doing.
Make it measurable. Whether you’re getting rid of old hardware, cleaning up stale categories, or actually increasing efficiency, you need a way to show hard and soft numbers for what you did.
Time-box your Spring cleaning. It’s called “Spring cleaning”, not “we’re taking on a new project and keeping it until the end of the year.” Have a dedicated timeframe and tackle things that can be accomplished within that timeframe.
Get leadership buy in. This will be a project like any other, but the ROI might be a softer number. As such, it’s good to have stakeholders in your corner helping to justify the work needed vs. other projects that may have more visible hard returns.
Don’t do everything. Again, don’t make work just to do work. Just as you can’t tackle everything every Spring at your house, likewise you can’t fix everything in a single season at your work. Pick some low hanging fruit and set yourself up for success. But don’t change your job title.
With a little creativity and a little elbow grease, you can make your ITSM services and processes just as squeaky clean as that garage you (hopefully) also tackled. Remember the Lean principles for eliminating the (7) kinds of waste, and use the matrix provided as an outline for how to decide what to tackle. Over time, this will become routine, as it should. Figuring out ways to give your ITSM processes and technologies a routine dusting will set you up for a great summer and even better customer experience. So, get cleaning.
Adam Rauh has been working in IT since 2005. Currently in the business intelligence and analytics space at Tableau, he spent over a decade working in IT operations focusing on ITSM, leadership, and infrastructure support. He is passionate about data analytics, security, and process frameworks and methodologies. He has spoken at, contributed to, or authored articles for a number of conferences, seminars, and user-groups across the US on a variety of subjects related to IT, data analytics, and public policy. He currently lives in Georgia. Connect with Adam on LinkedIn.