Developing a good improvement strategy can be hard, so we've compiled a list of best practice principles to give your support organization a leg up.

Date Published January 26, 2024 - Last Updated March 15, 2024

Shouldn’t Principles Underpin Everything We Do?

Integrity requires principles. Every part of an organization needs integrity, to work cohesively well. So, it occurs to me that everything an organization does should be based on principles.

Larger enterprises tend to have universal ones – company values communicated as being The Company Way. Employees might be expected to know what they are, and they are often woven into performance appraisals.

Principles being our compass, I find it surprising that the initiative tends to stop there.

It must surely be a thing in some organizations, but I’ve never come across it, of a “principle of principles” whereby all divisions must have their own. Even more striking perhaps is that in IT support, I’ve never encountered The Division Way, even on award-winning service desks.

Organization-level principles are very broad: non-specific and devoid of guidance needed to shape attitudes and behavior in everyday work, which of course is where things matter the most.

Divisions that dive straight into standard operating procedures are skipping a vital organizational component, and those that have neither principles nor standard procedures probably find themselves quite lost.

Divisions that do continue the initiative by designating their own principles will be wise to adopt at least some from best practice frameworks like ITIL, together with some of the framework’s practices and processes.

Principles for IT Support

I’ve previously shared my view that IT support needs its own framework and methodology. Search online and it’ll confirm that support does not yet have an established set of good practice principles. ITIL has only its guiding principles, which have no bearing on day-to-day support.

It’s a stark shortcoming but one that has had no attention. IT support has many universal good practice principles that apply only to it and to other enterprise services including customer services. There are many corresponding practices that no existing framework covers either, practices that are important if support is to be managed well.

Start Where You Are: The Importance of a Good IT Support Improvement Project

To discover principles most suited to an enterprise division or specific function, the division must undergo a rigorous improvement project.

New software tools are the extent of most improvement projects, but this quick-and-dirty approach is not a good one. This is especially so when it comes to replacing your ITSM tool because generic practices provided “out-of-the-box,” taking into consideration differentiating features that individual tools might offer, will not reform your operational success. It is necessary to think and work holistically. In my view, this is the most important ITIL guiding principle.

For a holistic approach to service improvement, the starting point is to thoroughly baseline where you are. All operational issues, constraints, and associated challenges must be identified. In IT support, there are lots of them (21, to be precise).

Then, a strategy and design to overcome the issues and constraints is required (i.e., where you want to be), involving everyone in the team so to collaborate and promote visibility. From there, identify incremental steps to take moving forward, keeping it simple and practical while maximizing opportunities for automation (modernization) and value realization. All seven ITIL4 guiding principles are followed in this approach.

It’s Not Easy

Executives like to say things like, “Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions and results”.

Overcoming IT support’s weak service symptoms (unmanaged backlog and chased tickets) isn’t easy though. Nor is removing deep-rooted operational issues like unseen and ignored customer updates. Without a detailed, methodical best practice framework to follow, holistic support service improvement is fraught with project challenges. Serious support from governance is needed, a proper project is required, and very experienced contributors are essential.

As touched on in an earlier article, IT support has many “ins and outs” that comprise its complexity. Realizing, mapping, and organizing them all isn’t easy.

Spotting strategy options (i.e., practices for improved ways of working that overcome the identified issues) and to establishing priority based on the difference they will make, before designing the simplest implementation for maximum gain, isn’t easy either.

No wonder the simple approach of acquiring new tools, perhaps predicated by market position, hype, and a few “shiny new things” (as Paul Wilkinson would say), is far more common.

When I ran through the exercise for the “human-centric” dimension of IT support (nothing to do with AI, self-service, CMDB, and such like), it took me years across several managerial positions preceded by a dozen years of observing directly as a technician and followed by over a year prototyping solutions in a flexible ITSM tool before I was able to conclude what all the issues were. By 2020, I’d identified thirteen common operational issue; since then, after working on it more intensively, I’ve identified eight more.

All this considered, I don’t think anyone could disagree that a framework of methodology dedicated to overcoming IT support’s common operational issues is needed. With it, effective approaches can be chosen and adopted “off-the-shelf."

A Good Start on Best Practice Principles for IT Support

I’ve concluded that there are twenty good practice principles for IT support. The principles put in context new practices that fill gaps not covered by ITIL. In this and future articles, I’ll identify and explore all twenty.

Three of the principles are operational necessities that group the others. The first is the need to be attentive. The second is to focus on flow, and the third is to work together closely and collectively as a team.

They might sound obvious, but in honesty, do these qualities feature across your support tiers? Do they feature in your service desk operating procedure manual (if you have one)? Probably not.

Three other principles include:

  1. Don’t neglect service tickets that are placed on hold.
  2. Journal everything. Thorough journaling is important for many reasons. I’m sure it’s fair to say that IT organizations generally do not do enough to ensure good journaling, hindered because it is not measured. Only the eventual output – tickets closed – is measured, but it is all the work put in, reflected in journals and other activity, that makes all the difference to the quality of service and how it is experienced.
  3. Maintain user (service recipient) expectations as well as possible. Key to this is in journaling everything, with journals being visible to the requester whenever appropriate. The simple basis of activity prioritization, which enhances the ticket-based method of standard practice, provides the means to introduce pinpoint expectations management every step of the way to a service ticket’s completion, and it helps to ensure thorough journaling, too.

Importantly, there is a breakthrough combination here. Attentiveness, through enhanced prioritization, plus accurate time-based expectations communicated on a service portal, removes the need for requesters to chase a response.

Tag(s): supportworld, ITSM, service management, ITIL, process management, process-improvement, practices and processes, framework and methodologies, continual service improvement


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