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6 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started in IT Service Management

By | September 25, 2018 in ITSM

I’ve been working in IT service management (ITSM) for many years now, and I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way. So I thought it’d be nice to share some of the things that I’ve learned from my mistakes in the hope that they’ll help others avoid them.

Here are the top 6 things that I wish I’d known when I started in ITSM:

1. ITSM Is All About People

Before I was an IT service manager, I worked in technology. I started doing incident management and problem management because I was good at fixing hardware and software. As I embarked on this new ITSM career, I was told that ITSM was all about people, process, and technology but everywhere that I worked the “people” in that phrase was ignored.

Like many others with a technical background I found it easy to focus on processes. It was easy to grasp how important they were, and how they could help to create repeatable and reliable outcomes. The teams I worked with, and eventually led, understood the technology and developed great processes.

Obviously, there were people involved– after all, someone carried out the processes or made sure they were carried out or complained if they were not working correctly. But it took me a long time to recognize that if the people involved were not on board, even the most fabulous processes were never going to cut it. Because ITSM is more about people than about anything else.

I now spend a lot of time thinking about user experience, and customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction, and supplier relationships, because I have learned that if you get these things right then everything else will follow. The best processes and technology are of no value at all if you don’t get the people side right.

For more thoughts on this topic see the following blogs:

2. Always Be Guided by the Rules, but Know When to Break Them

One of the most important lessons of my early career was that sometimes following the process makes matters worse. If I had been taught to recognize this from the start, and had been empowered to act accordingly, I could have given my employers and their customers much better service.

Formal processes are great for delivering repeatable results in predictable circumstances, but nothing is 100% predictable. People need to be trained to recognize when the process is not appropriate, and they should be empowered to do what is needed to deliver the outcome that matters to the organization and their customers. I guess this comes back to my first point. If you focus on the people, rather than the process or the technology, then they will know what to do when the unexpected happens and the process isn’t working.

For more thoughts on this topic, see my blog Do You Know When to Break the Rules?

3. Be Responsible for Your Own Development

Our professional lives are constantly changing. Most jobs that our grandparents did no longer exist, and most jobs that I did as a young adult have gone too. If you want to have a long and prosperous career, then you constantly need to be thinking about what skills you’re going to develop next, and how you’re going to develop them.

The best thing I ever did for my own development was to find a good mentor. The second best was to offer to mentor others – I learned as much as they did. So, find someone you look up to, in your company or in your industry, and arrange to talk to them on a regular basis. Then offer to mentor other people.

For more thoughts on this topic, see my recent blog How to Level Up Your Skills to Stay Relevant in ITSM.

4. Measurements Drive Behaviour

I used to have a very simple view of metrics and measurement. If you understand what you’re trying to achieve, and you measure the outcome you want, then this will tell you how well you’re doing, and what the trends are. What I hadn’t allowed for is the fact that when we measure and report something, people will do whatever it takes to make sure the numbers look good.

Nowadays, the first thing I ask in regards to a proposed metric is “What behaviour will this prompt?”  It’s a simple question but changing the focus of metrics in this way can lead to significant improvements, because it enables us to devise metrics that drive the behaviour we want to see.

For more thoughts on this topic, see my blog What behaviour do your SLA targets encourage?

5. Prevention Is Better than Cure

I’ve enjoyed fixing incidents in my time, especially the really big, really tricky ones.

But while fixing incidents can be very satisfying, every time you have to do it you’ve actually let someone down. What I now know is that great ITSM isn’t about fixing incidents faster, it’s about preventing those incidents from impacting users in the first place. And the way to do that is to invest in problem management. Getting problem management right is a real win-win option. Reducing the number of incidents results in a better service for your customers and users, and in less work for your IT department.

For more thoughts on this topic, see my blog Hide and Seek with Problem Management, and read the PDF file 5 Tips to Help You Improve Problem Management.

6. Trust Your Eyes and Ears, Not the Data

This idea comes from the Lean concept ‘Go to the Gemba.’ (Gemba literally means “the actual place,” for example in a detective novel, the Gemba is the crime scene.) If you want to know what’s happening in the organization, don’t rely on reports and hearsay. Go to where the work is done and talk to the people who really know what’s going on.

If you want to know how the service desk works, then spend a day at the service desk. Listen to a few customer calls, review some recent incidents, talk to a few service desk agents, and most important of all, talk to some users about their experience of asking the service desk for help. I have done this for a number of organizations, and I always come away with insights that should have been obvious to my clients, if only they had known to go to the Gemba.


There is a lot of difference between 30 years’ experience, and one year’s experience repeated 30 times. Probably the most important tip I can give you is to make the time to reflect on your work. You can learn from experience by thinking about what you have done well, but also by making mistakes and thinking about how you could manage better next time. You can also learn from other people’s experience – the advice offered in these tips, for example, as well as other blogs and articles.  Above all, try to focus on creating real value for your customers. If the customers and users are happy, then you can’t go too far wrong.

As always, please let me know how well the ideas in this blog work for you.

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Stuart Rance

About Stuart Rance

Stuart is an ITSM and security consultant, trainer, and author who has worked with clients in many countries, helping them create business value for themselves and their customers. He was the author of the 2011 edition of ITIL® Service Transition and lead author of RESILIA™ Cyber Resilience best practice published in June 2015. Now that his children have all left home, he has plenty of time on his hands for contributing to our blog - lucky us!

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