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Has Your ITSM Implementation Become a Zombie?

By | January 22, 2019 in ITSM


When it comes to ITSM at your company, are people just ‘going through’ the motions? Do your teams just do the minimum work that is required, and even then, not all that well?

Are people just taking actions, without planning, checking, or identifying improvement opportunities?

Does it seem like everyone is just mindlessly following the crowd, reacting to some event or outage, without knowing – or even thinking about – what needs to be done and why? Like it’s some mystical thing that someone once wanted to do?

Are people just taking actions, without planning, checking, or identifying improvement opportunities? Find out if your ITSM implementation has become a Zombie. Click To Tweet

How Did ITSM Become a Zombie?

What may have started with great promise, excitement, and expectation has now become “stalled.” Senior managers, who were so supportive initially, have either left the company or moved on to other things. The once ambitious plans for ITSM hit a wall when (if) there was an attempt to expand beyond the initial implementation.

The initial implementation of ITSM did address some of the operational issues as intended, but no further effort was expended to address the strategic and tactical aspects of service management.

As a result, there's been no discernable improvement in day-to-day IT activities, much less in regards to planning, coordination, collaboration, and execution. Disjointed efforts and “fire-fighting” are a way of life, as nights and weekends are consumed doing work just to keep IT’s “head above water.”

Now, too much investment has been made in ITSM, and it can’t just be “turned off.”

And, like zombies as depicted in the movies, ITSM isn’t quite dead, but it is far from being vibrant and thriving.

The Walking Dead Zombie GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

What Does Zombie ITSM Look Like?

When people are “doing” ITSM-like activities, but they don’t know why they’re doing those activities, that’s an indicator of what I call “Zombie ITSM.”

With Zombie ITSM, people somewhat mindlessly follow policies and procedures, but aren’t clear why those policies and procedures are used – or even needed. Or perhaps even worse, they don’t think about what needs to be done or the potential impact of their (non)actions – they just “do.” What does Zombie ITSM look like in real life? Here are a few representative scenarios:

  • A change owner provides just the minimum required information on a RfC form. Compounding the issue is that the RfC is often completed just before the CAB meetings to have their request considered.
  • An incident resolver adds only minimal notes to an incident record and closes it, without any confirmation from the consumer that the issue was resolved.
  • Senior management takes little to no action when ITSM processes are not followed or reports don’t provide any actionable or relevant information. Or worse – senior management isn’t made aware of ITSM activities at all.
  • CAB meetings are ritualized exercises, filled with attendees that have no idea what most change requests are about, much less even qualified to evaluate them.
  • IT teams take various approaches to following defined processes. Or they make up their own process to suit their perceived needs. There is no consistency across all teams.

Sound familiar? Wondering how you got there?

Symptoms of Zombie ITSM

Why do ITSM implementations become zombified? Here are a few reasons:

  • Lack of transparency.
    There is no clarity into the benefits (or consequences) of ITSM practices. Any reporting that is occurring is not being shared with the people that are doing the work.
  • Lack of communication.
    There is no communication regarding ITSM successes or improvement opportunities. Process performance reports, results from service review meetings, and the status of improvement efforts are not published or widely distributed.
  • Training only happened once.
    At the beginning of an ITSM journey, many organizations do invest time and resources into training and awareness… and do not do any further training. Often compounding the issue is that many of those that went through that training are no longer with the organization.
  • Process performance reviews are rare events…if they’ve ever occurred at all.
    The ability to implement improvements relies on (among other things) conducting regular process performance reviews that include process practitioners – those that do the work. Sadly, in many cases, process performance reviews are limited to a process owner or manager reviewing a few reports and (perhaps) making some changes.
  • Processes are either needlessly overdesigned, or horribly under designed.
    No one really thought about what needed to be done, rather, the effort was focused on doing whatever was needed to implement the ITSM tool. There was no discussion or thought given to how processes and services mapped to desired business outcomes and requirements.
  • Loss of support for ITSM outside of those using it.
    There’s no interest in expanding the use or adoption of ITSM beyond the group practicing it (often the IT operations organization).

These are just symptoms of Zombie ITSM.  But I believe there is a single root cause:

No one sees or feels the impact of ITSM – good or bad.

6 Tips to Wake Up Your ITSM Zombie

If this sounds like your organization, here are some easy things you can do to wake up your ITSM zombie.

  • Use a Kanban board as your change schedule.
    Using a Kanban improves communication and transparency regarding changes happening within the organization. Use a daily stand up meeting to formally review it every day. And most importantly, make it visible to everyone working within IT.
  • Post your process performance and trend reports throughout the IT organization.
    Include some commentary about those trends and actions being taken to correct negative trends. Don’t just invite but actively collect comments and feedback from all parts of the organization.
  • Schedule and conduct regular periodic process reviews.
    These reviews must include representation from all IT teams. Discuss what is working well, but just as importantly, what is not working as well as expected. Look for and remove unneeded activities or delays. Take demonstrable and measurable actions to address what isn’t working.
  • Schedule and conduct regular service reviews with ‘the business.’
    Not only does this help the organization understand and appreciate how IT contributes to business success, it’s also a great opportunity to talk about how IT can help going forward. What is going well? Where are there any concerns? What is coming down the pike from an organizational perspective (new initiatives, new lines of business, etc.)? To ensure that the rest of the IT organization has visibility into these discussions, publish the results from those reviews. This helps focus ITSM efforts on business needs.
  • Establish an improvement register and publicize its use.
    Identify and implement justifiable improvement suggestions – recognize those that contribute to the improvement register as well as those that work to successfully implement suggested improvements.
  • Ensure policies are defined, relevant, documented, and signed-off.
    When’s the last time you looked at your ITSM policies? Are those policies applicable to your current state organization? Do they provide guidance for moving toward the future state organization? Policies become a one-and-done activity with many ITSM implementations. Like processes, policies should be reviewed periodically, signed-off by senior management, and publicized.
6 Tips to Wake Up Your ITSM Zombie including: Use a Kanban board as your change schedule and many more, @dougtedder explains all. Click To Tweet

But don’t stop here. Perhaps the most important thing you must do to revitalize your Zombie ITSM implementation is get senior leaders re-engaged and actively supporting ITSM. Engage senior leaders to understand how ITSM must support business goals and objectives. Ensure that measures and reports are produced, which not only reflect the vital operational aspects of ITSM, but just as importantly, depict how ITSM supports those business goals and objectives.

Doug Tedder

About Doug Tedder

Doug is an ITSM and process improvement consultant, trainer, and accidental social media savant, enabling IT organizations to transform, sustain, and grow real business value. An active volunteer in the ITSM community, Doug is a frequent speaker and contributor to industry user group meetings, webinars, blogs, and national conventions.

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