Once upon a time, there was an IT organization adapting to changing market conditions, ways of working (and ways of living). The urge to digitize had never been this high, and everyone was scrambling to speed up a full IT transformation. It was decided the entire IT organization must work according to the agile methodology, because that was working so well in the software development teams. Everyone at the service desk sighed; some felt excitement, while others felt an overwhelming feeling of anxiety for the change that was about to come. Either way, all heard the mysterious voice calling to go into the unknown.
Let us pause here for a moment. To me, it is very important that a tale has a happy ending, but from the way this one started, it will surely be doomed to anything but that. No 10 or 20 or even 100 “how-tos” can fix this outcome. Let me explain.
Almost every organization is either going through a digital transformation or planning to do so, and they need IT to do this. Because of this, we see IT organizations grow and take a much more important role within companies. However, we should not forget that IT is and will always be there to support the business. No matter how crucial IT is to achieving business outcomes, the business is always the priority as they are the ones that are generating money and thus are the reason for the company to exist.
We should not forget that IT is and will always be there to support the business.
Our tale only talks about the IT organization as such and clearly misses the link to the business. This means that the only goal or outcome of a transformation in this scenario is a cost reduction, which most likely brings anxiety to employees who think their jobs are on the line. When we take a more holistic approach in which IT understands the desired business outcomes and what impact they have on those, they become a more valued business partner and the goal of a transformation becomes increased revenue.
Focus on Value
For IT to evolve from being functional to outcome driven, they must know what brings value and revenue to the business. Defining operational value streams will show the needs that must be satisfied to achieve that value. That is the starting point to create the vision and strategy of IT, together with key performance indicators (KPIs) and objectives and key results (OKRs) to keep IT on track. Initiatives such as performance reviews where both IT and business leadership are involved help a great deal. While defining value will be different for every organization, for the service desk we usually see that in the areas of business-loss mitigation (productivity), employee satisfaction/engagement, onboarding, and the impact on continual service improvement.
There is a caveat with focusing solely, and too stringently, on customer needs. First, the vast majority of unhappy customers do not complain. How sure are you that you are getting the entire picture of customer needs? Especially if you are just starting to improve the business-IT relationship, be aware of this.
Second, when listening to customer needs, do not just take orders of what they want; also know why they want it and what they want to achieve. If Henry Ford would have asked people what they wanted, they would have said they wanted faster horses. When he listened to what they wanted to achieve (faster transportation), he came up with a totally different solution. The same goes for IT; knowing the reason behind the question opens up the path to innovation.
The Risk of Agile
As in our tale, every change brings a level of anxiety or fear. The biggest hesitance for service management professionals to work more according to the agile methodology comes from a fear of reintroducing risk. They have worked hard on getting processes, procedures, agreements, and metrics in place to make their work reliable and consistent. It is no surprise that any notion of paring down processes makes one think twice. However, nowhere does the agile methodology talk about getting rid of processes. Agile says individuals and interactions over processes and tools. So, instead of throwing out your processes and procedures, take a critical look and create minimum viable products (MVPs) of them. You want to have the fewest processes and procedures in place that will still provide enough value for people to use and pay for, while mitigating risk.
As in our tale, I too often see companies go all-in implementing a specific framework/methodology/mindset, or however you want to name it, and when they do not achieve the desired outcome, at least they have a villain to blame. (Because every tale needs a villain, right?) I will tell you that finding that one specific solution that works the same way in all situations in all organizations is like going on a wild goose chase. Instead, take the best of different worlds and apply it to your situation. Start by knowing where you are and look at where it is you want to go. Here are some examples from various sources to consider:
Keeping Lean in mind, which is all about eliminating waste, look at which steps or gates are slowing you down, such as serial-based activity or approval flows. Also limit work in progress; make it visible and focus on the requests that affect value the most. A great way to make this visible could be by using a Kanban board. Or, use Scrum in your problem management processes by handling problems as user stories.
With ITIL® 4, you see that shift towards blending various frameworks and methodologies together. You will surely recognize their guiding principles in or from some other sources as well: start where you are, focus on value, progress iteratively with feedback, collaborate and promote visibility, think and work holistically, keep it simple and practical, and optimize and automate.
Hero of the Story
Where a tale usually involves one hero to beat the villain and save the day, a transformation can only succeed when it is a team effort with strong leadership. It all starts with communication; actively solicit feedback at every step to keep the process going. Then, introduce more transparency, because when you give the right amount of information to the right people, they tend to make the right decisions and, as a result, feel empowered and more engaged. Decentralizing decisions does not mean delegating everything. A transformation needs a holistic approach where leadership is closely involved and behind the process. It makes employees feel supported, which again makes them more engaged.
A Tale with a Happy Ending
Now, let us restart our tale. Once upon a time, there was an organization adapting to the changing market conditions, ways of working (and ways of living). The urge to digitize had never been this high, and to improve their competitive advantage, the business was working with IT on the transformation. Parts of the agile methodology, together with parts of various frameworks, were used with the desired outcome of increasing revenue and employee engagement. The holistic approach with high transparency meant employees were engaged and informed and knew what to expect at every step. Instead of following a mysterious voice into the unknown, they were on their path to success.
Nancy Van Elsacker Louisnord is an entrepreneurial, analytical strategist and leader with a passion for employee engagement and customer service excellence. She has served as a managing director in a service management software company for many years, both in North America and in Europe. This international experience, together with her extensive HR experience, give her a unique view on the importance of culture in any organizational change. Her down-to-earth attitude and ability to deliver abstract and complicated content in a recognizable way by changing the context, make her a sought-after presenter at conferences and contributor to several leading industry publications. Follow Nancy on Twitter @nancyvelsacker.