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How to "Play the Game" of Good Service Management

We can learn a lot from our early days at recess, writes ITSM Watch guest columnist Michael Cardinal.
Dec 12, 2006

Michael Cardinal

How often have you been with a companion, some friends or family and decided to play a game for fun and relaxation? So you gather the people, grab a deck of cards, a board game or other equipment, divide into teams or sides and begin to play the game.

After a time, the fun and relaxation turns to stress and frustration. Cards or pieces are missing, or someone takes too many cards, or moves a piece too far or uses the equipment incorrectly (cheats). A disagreement or argument ensues and soon someone goes to the rulebook to clarify.

After wrangling and compromise, an agreement is reached. However, everyone may not be happy, and more bending of the rules or “cheating” may occur.

This same scenario may be exactly what is happening in your service management implementation. You decide to “play the game” and jump into service management or project management or any of the other “governance” processes you may be using or want to use. You soon find that “pieces” are missing or rules not being followed; different understandings or definitions have settled into place.

The “game” has gone from fun to frustrating. You may even decide to abandon the “game” altogether, never to be played again. So how do you stop this from happening, make “playing the game” fun and productive and get something out of your time and investment?

Where do you begin? Where do you end? What happens in between? The answer to these questions may be easier to arrive at than you may think. For this, we can take a lesson from the smallest and meekest among us—children.

Using the metaphor I invoked above, one can easily set a framework for making service management work. Learning to play happens to everyone around the world during our childhood development. It is not so much that we are taught the rules, rather we establish them intuitively. No, it is not a case of “do what feels right …” What I mean is when children begin to play a game, they begin by establishing rules.

John Dewey, a famous educational researcher and expert, in his book Democracy and Education, described how children, when they meet on a playground to play, quickly establish rules, boundaries and definitions for the game.

They ask questions of each other: What game are we playing? What is considered in-bounds and what are out-of bounds? What constitutes breaking the rules? It is only after these answers have been established do the children set up teams, choose sides, etc.

Once again this step is based on the answer to questions. Who will be “captains” (“leaders” or “managers” in the modern language of business)? Who will be on which team? What are their roles or positions? Only then are we close to “playing the game.”

Rules of the Game

It is in these rules of the game we find our first steps for establishing governance through service management. We must establish the rules, set the boundaries and establish common definitions.

For service management we are fortunate to have a set of rules: ITIL. That is what the library really does for us; it is the rules of the game, the processes we follow to make things work. Like rules on the playground or for cards, the rules do not cover every situation. But somehow we seem to have forgotten that as children we did not let that stop us from playing the games.

In our youth, we came to the playground with few if any assumptions and a blank slate ready to be filled. We dealt with situations as they arose and we interpreted the basic rules and boundaries to keep moving forward. We documented these interpretations or procedures in our collective memories for the next time we played.

As we got older we called upon our collective memories (documentation in business terms) for these interpretations and procedures for our own use and the use of our children. It is the same way with service management. The basic rules and boundaries are there, but it was never designed to provide the answers in all situations or for every question. We have to build collective memories of the interpretation of the rules to make them useful.

Let’s look at an example to help us understand this: You are working through establishing incident management. You buy the ITIL books, attend foundations training, ask consultants and experts how to “play the game” but none of it seems to answer your question: How do you make it work?

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