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Workshop as a Blog: How to Mature a Service Management Process

By | March 31, 2015 in ITIL

.itSMF Conference workshop

I recently attended itSMF Norway 15 Conference. What an incredible experience with some of the most dedicated people in IT service management!

I had the privilege of being one of the Service Bazaar workshop leaders. My session was How to Mature a Basic Change Management Process. The format was groups of up to 8 attendees in each of three 90-minute workshops.

Each group had industry leaders (including ITIL book authors) and beginner practitioners side-by-side. The sessions were lively to say the least, and everyone learned something. Me? I got a triple dose, and learned the most.

This blog isn’t a traditional How-To, but rather a summary of some gems that came out of my three workshop sessions. Note that while the sessions focused on maturing Change Management, what we learned applies to any process.

Start With Why

Leadership expert, Simon Sinek, gave a TED talk entitled Start With Why. He explains how the human brain is wired to need a why before accepting what or how. One of the challenges we face in IT service management (ITSM) is our tendency to focus more on the process, and less (often much less) on the desired outcomes and business value they create. In other words, we jump directly to what and how, and bypass why entirely.

If we (and the business we serve) aren't in agreement and completely clear on the business outcomes that the proposed process maturity will achieve, we've already lost the battle.

So, before we set out to mature an ITSM process, let's pause and ask a tough question:  why do you want to mature the process?

And, as you may have guessed, all three groups I worked with came up with some good and some not so good reasons why.

Let's get some of the not-so-good ones out of the way first:

  • The ITIL book says so
  • The ITSM consultant/expert said so
  • Process assessment rated the process low maturity
  • We need to be more like...

Better reasons why:

  • Reduce post-implementation incidents and business impact
  • More rapid implementation of beneficial changes
  • More responsive to business needs
  • Regulatory compliance

Don't worry if you struggle with the question itself, or find yourself drawn to some of the first answers. I’ve been there myself. Big part of why I'm so passionate about this is because starting with the wrong why will cause nothing but heartache and be an uphill battle.

Remember that the goal of ITSM is to enhance business performance and remove barriers. It's all about business value and the results the business is able to achieve as a direct result of improvements in IT services.

You need to start with an easy to understand, business-value WHY.

Keep in mind that it's possible the current maturity level of a process is sufficient, and maturing it further will not increase business value.

What Are the Obstacles?

After we finished with the whys, each group then came up with a list of obstacles they face in maturing their Change Management capability. The list was lengthy and sadly all too familiar:

  • Too focused on technology
  • Too focused on processes
  • Insufficient senior leadership support/involvement
  • Insufficient resources (staff/funding)
  • Not a business enabler
  • Too bureaucratic
    • Too many forms
    • Process bottleneck
  • Lack of shared vision
  • Inconsistent understanding (terms, scope, goal)

Quite a list of obstacles, wouldn't you say? Where do we even start?

Circles of Influence

It's very tempting to focus on things that really should be in place. Things that are out of our control.  For instance, senior management really ought to be committed (bonus points if you get the double meaning!)

When faced with such a daunting list, I find it helpful to label each along these lines: Can I control it directly? Can I influence it? Stephen Covey described this in his timeless Circle of Influence.

Stephen Covey's Circle of Influence

In short, there are things in your direct control, things you can influence, and beyond that—things over which you have no control, i.e. "gravity issues".

If you want to make real progress, focus most of your energy on things you can control, and some on things you can influence. But those outside of that, don’t waste your energy.

Good Old ABC's

Next we took a look at the good old ABCs (Attitudes, Behaviors, and Culture.) If you're not familiar with ABC of ICT™, take a moment to check out the phenomenal work of Paul Wilkinson and team.

The short of it is:

Attitude - What we think and feel.

Behaviors - How we act based on our attitudes.

Culture - The collection of accepted behaviors within a group.

In one session at itSMF Norway, we labeled each obstacle as A, B, C, or other. Guess what? More than 80% of them were ABC issues. In other words, non-technical, non-process, non-ITSM issues that relate to people.

Of the three, you're more likely to change behaviors than attitudes or culture. It's been said that you change the culture one behavior at a time.

You’ll never overcome ABC issues with process and technical solutions. For instance, if your Change policy states that all changes must come to a Change Advisory Board (CAB), leadership must consistently address those who do not. It’s not a process issue, it’s a people issue! If the behaviors are not dealt with, the culture, in fact, accepts unmanaged changes. But change the behavior, and eventually it becomes a cultural expectation.

Start Small and Mature in Phases

One challenge with any service management process implementation is trying to adopt a fully-mature process. Many times these efforts fail because it's too big of a leap for the organization. Fully-mature processes are also dependant on other processes that may not be in place yet.

In the workgroup, I talked about a multi-phased approach to introduce a very basic process, with clear checkpoints to incrementally mature.

The approach is basic Continual Service Improvement, and it works. Stuart Rance wrote The Help You Need to Adopt Continual Service Improvement, which includes a handy downloadable whitepaper.

Getting It Done

The Service Bazaar was an overwhelming success. The sessions were filled with engaged, passionate service management professionals. The collective knowledge was incredible, and the energy was off the charts.

We boiled process maturity down to some key elements:

  • Start with why
  • Focus your energy on what's in your control
  • Change the culture one behavior at a time
  • Start small, and plan for incremental improvements

Join the conversation. What have you found helpful in maturing IT service management processes?

Photo credit: Simone Jo Moore

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Greg Sanker

About Greg Sanker

Greg is an IT Service Management blogger, speaker, and practitioner with decades of global IT experience ranging from Fortune 10 tech giant to public sector. He lives in the Pacific Northwest (USA), where stunning natural beauty and high tech form a unique lifestyle. In his spare time, Greg hikes, bikes, and plays a bit of blues guitar. He blogs about Excellence in IT Service Management at

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