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5 Steps To Achieving a Successful ITIL Assessment

You can use these steps to either get started with ITIL or improve your existing practices, writes ITSMWatch columnist Eric Spiegel of Suntiva.
Sep 9, 2010

Eric Spiegel

Let’s assume your IT department has the green light to pursue ITIL in order to streamline IT service processes, cut costs, improve customer satisfaction, etc. Or maybe you have ITIL practices in place but need to squeeze more productivity out of your IT processes.

Now what is the best way to go about this substantial undertaking without impacting your IT staff’s already daunting workload? Where do you start?

The most important place to start is with an assessment. Whether you are implementing ITIL for the first time or optimizing an existing ITIL implementation an assessment will be crucial to your success. But how can you be assured that the assessment will be accurate, cost effective and not just forgotten when the next firefight comes up?

Here are the five steps to achieving a successful ITIL assessment:

1. Decide and get internal agreement on your goals first, then go for executive sponsorship. Before you can decide how to get from here to there, you have to define what the “there” is. Don’t worry about the “here” yet, that’s the purpose of the assessment. Define the tangible and intangible benefits that can be attained by performing an assessment in order to gain executive sponsorship, not to mention eventual buy-in from the IT staff.

Start by defining what can be improved that will have a significant impact such as squeezing more productivity out of IT service processes, improving customer satisfaction, or simply cutting costs. Your primary goal should be to identify a few areas where your process maturity is weak yet have a high level of importance to meeting your business objectives. This way, impactful results are more attainable.

You can always go back for more resources to tackle additional improvements once you have a success under your belt.

Once all your goals are defined, sell a receptive executive sponsor on the assessment’s benefit to the organization. Build your case based on the hot buttons of the organization. If you know IT staff cuts are under consideration, then focus on how improved productivity may allow you to redeploy valuable resources.

2. Build or find an assessment survey methodology that involves two-way interaction. To identify the “here”, you will need to collect data. Many organizations make the mistake of simply giving the IT staff a survey to complete. This hands-off, one-way approach will not provide a true picture of your current IT processes because surveys are open to interpretation by the individual and can easily fall prey to myopic, personal agendas. Instead, to gain the maximum insight into process improvement targets with the biggest bang for the buck, use an approach that involves someone serving as a facilitator to gain insight, commentary and real feedback.

This collaborative approach to the assessment process can also be used to obtain additional “color” around the real state of the organization and the process (e.g. “Management thinks the process is great, but everybody else hates it.” or “The process is so convoluted, everyone circumvents it and goes to their personal contact in IT to get things done.”).

Properly conducted assessment interviews not only collect information but, more importantly, they will reinvigorate the organization and create enthusiasm and buy-in for process improvement.

Consider pairing a professional facilitator with a seasoned, ITIL certified team member (either external or internal) who can work together to produce more meaningful and useful results. If you do choose a facilitator, they should have real credentials as an organization performance expert and experience working with IT teams.

As part of a comprehensive, structured approach to defining ITIL processes and sub-processes, a solid assessment team using a two-way process will capture nuances in your organization that a one-way survey would miss.

3. Gain commitment for scheduled meeting sessions to collect feedback and critiques. No pulling punches here: getting people to commit time is a challenge. This is where an executive sponsorship helps, just in case you receive push back on time commitments. From a total project standpoint, a full assessment of your existing IT processes can be completed in about a six to eight weeks for an organization new to ITIL, and two to four weeks for an organization already broadly familiar with ITIL or an assessment of your existing ITIL implementation.

For individual time commitments, plan for each session to last up to three hours, with four to eight people in attendance. You should consider a few separate sessions representing a few operational domains within your IT organization (e.g., Service Desk, Change Management, Operations, Infrastructure, etc.)

Simply put, these sessions must be mandatory. If someone has a fire to fight, then reschedule. Your best bet is to schedule sessions in the very early morning or in evenings, or even consider doing an offsite.

4. Don’t ignore the human-factors part of the feedback gathering session. In the interactive sessions, people may clam up or not be completely honest for a variety of reasons. When someone tries to gloss over an answer, a skilled facilitator can dig deeper allowing them to clearly assess the current state of affairs and commitment in your organization.

With immunity to political pressures and no desire to please or speak only to the positives, a facilitator with organizational performance expertise will only be focused on discovering the truth -- good or bad. The result will be a clear view of what is important to your staff and end-users, determining where they are feeling real pain.

A sometimes overlooked part of analyzing IT processes is the importance of understanding an organization’s human capital -- how people work together, how people are motivated, skill sets, level of trust, camaraderie, strength of leadership, etc. -- all impact how the organization gets work done. This approach will have the added benefit of identifying the skill sets and capabilities missing from your organization to help you proactively address gaps that could derail ongoing performance improvement.

5. Effectively process assessment results to achieve actual value. It’s one thing to deliver a great, useful assessment. But how do you ensure long-term, repeatable success?

First, you must disseminate the results, identifying areas for improvement that will provide enough "trust-capital" to keep returning to the budget well for more service management improvement funding.

Without effective communication, all your work will be wasted.

It is important to consider each team’s role in the organization and how incentives are aligned when communicating what changes need to take place. Not everyone needs to see all the results and different groups will view them through their own filter of roles, responsibilities, and incentives. The end result comes from the evolution of collecting data, turning it into information, disseminating the knowledge and ultimately building wisdom throughout the organization.

Second, there should be a playbook for implementing improvements, but not ignoring the importance of ongoing benchmarking and monitoring processes for continuous improvement. If you use a consultant for the assessment, knowledge transfer must be built into all interactions where the vendor breaks down your process and defines your desired target state. The compilation of collected, analyzed and contrasted data that reveals strengths, opportunities, disparities, alignment, etc., will be a foundation your team can build upon.

Finally, don’t forget about education! Ongoing education is essential to stay informed about industry trends and new ITIL versions or best practices. Ensure all your staff is at least certified in ITIL foundations and understands the basic framework to be successful. Then build in budget for continuous education and attendance of conferences related to IT service management.

By taking these steps into consideration, you will deliver a structured, facilitated, and interactive assessment and gain consensus at all levels of the organization. This will result in a well constructed foundation for honest analysis resulting in ongoing improvement driven by an empowered staff. With wisdom in the right hands, great things are possible.

Eric Spiegel is a senior consultant with Suntiva Consulting, a federal acquisition, program management, IT governance, and organizational performance, and ITSM consultancy based in Falls Church, VA.

ITIL, ITSM, IT value, Suntiva, Assessments

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