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Back to ITSM Basics: Start Where You Are

By | January 3, 2017 in ITSM

ITSM: Start where you are

If you’re involved in ITSM improvements, and especially if you’re fairly new to the field, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. One thing that can really help you to focus is to follow the principle “Start Where You Are”.

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Of course you should start where you are. After all, where else could you possibly start? But this principle captures some very important ideas in a really simple phrase, and by following it, you can avoid many of the mistakes that can cause IT service management projects to fail.

What “Start Where You Are” really means is don’t throw away everything you already do and start again from zero. If you try to impose a completely new way of working, without building on what’s already in place, you will inevitably waste time, money, and effort. AND you will alienate the very people you need to have on your side. When you tear up everything that people are doing and tell them to start working differently, you’re bound to stir up opposition – and sometimes outright resistance. If you do this, then it can become really difficult to integrate the changes you need into your organization and culture.

It’s much better to start by looking at how people currently work and talking to them about it.  If you can engage them, then you can actively involve them in thinking about how to build on what they do now so they can deliver better outcomes in the future. And this means you can focus all your efforts on putting the changes you need into effect, rather than into managing reluctant, resistant, or even hostile staff.

How to Carry Out an ITSM Assessment

I’ve carried out IT service management assessments for many different organizations over the years. These ITSM assessments have usually been a first step in a program to improve how the organization delivers value to its customers. As you can probably guess, I’ve rarely been welcomed with open arms. After all, nobody likes an outside consultant to come in and tell them all the things they’re doing wrong. And yet, this is what people (and organizations) expect consultants to do. My clients expected me to come in and look for the things they were doing wrong, and to write a report listing these things and saying what needs to be changed. But if I did that, I knew that my assessments would be of limited value. They would probably be resisted and might even be ignored, no matter how much the organization had paid for them.

Fortunately, I discovered that there was a much better way to approach assessments. I could begin by identifying the things that were being done WELL. Things that are being done well in one part of an organization are great opportunities for improvement across the organization – they can usually be replicated without meeting much resistance. After all, people are copying best practice from their peers, rather than listening to some external consultant. What’s more, when people know that their strengths have been recognized and validated, they are more likely to accept suggestions for improvements in areas where there are weaknesses.

Ask People What Needs Improving

The other thing I discovered was this. If you want to know what isn’t working properly and how to fix it, ask the people doing the job. It’s amazing how many people in an organization know exactly what needs fixing, if only someone would listen to them.

I learned that if I took all the ideas from staff working in an organization and combined them with my independent assessment, I could come up with a plan to help deliver better outcomes for customers. AND it was a plan that started where my customer was.

So if you’re planning an IT service management improvement project, please don’t throw away all the good things you’re doing. Look to see what you do well and think about how you can start where you are.

Best of luck to anyone who’s listening, and if you are planning improvements, drop me a line to let me know how it goes! You can find me on Twitter as @StuartRance.

(This blog was originally published as a podcast by Stuart Rance, as part of SysAid’s "Back to ITSM Basics" program.)


Stuart Rance

About Stuart Rance

Stuart is an ITSM and security consultant, working with clients all round the world. He is one of the authors of ITIL 4, as well as an author of ITIL Practitioner, ITIL Service Transition, and Resilia: Cyber Resilience Best Practice. He is also a trainer, teaching standard and custom courses in ITSM and information security management, and an examiner helping to create ITIL and other exams. Now that his children have all left home, he has plenty of time on his hands for contributing to our blog - lucky us!

4 thoughts on “Back to ITSM Basics: Start Where You Are”

  1. Avatar Bill

    Stuart, another excellent article, it seems like common sense and it is, but how many costly IT projects have failed because the exact opposite of your advice was followed. A brand new system is developed at huge expense which fails to deliver because there was resistance all the way through development and finally when the system is delivered, if it is even delivered, it is rejected as being flawed. Your advice promotes a much more holistic approach to change and should be shouted from the rooftops. Your message is clear ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water’


    1. Stuart Rance Stuart Rance


      Thank you for your comment. Much of what we do in IT service management should be just plain common sense. It always amazes me that people make things too complicated and then wonder why they have problems.


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