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Chicken Soup for IT Service Management Soul

Remember, it's people – with all their failings and surprises – that are at the heart of any successful ITSM initiative, writes ITSMWatch columnist Eric Spiegel of Suntiva.
Dec 3, 2010

Eric Spiegel

Whether you embark with great enthusiasm on an IT Service Management (ITSM) improvement project using ITIL, CMMI or some other process improvement approach, there are other factors -- the so-called “soft factors” -- which have a very real impact on their success. These soft factors are really human-factors that everyone in IT (and the workplace in general), face every day: office politics, control issues, power issues, defense issues, you know them all. If you dismiss these and other human-factors as an irrelevant “touchy/feely” moniker, you run the real risk of unnecessarily endangering the success of the overall ITSM endeavor.

IT executives are beginning to recognize the importance of organization change management (OCM) practices in contributing to the success of ITSM process improvement projects. When handled correctly, applying OCM principles to ITSM assessments, implementations and the on-going improvement practices, will result in a smoother transition that actually heal the organization of unproductive processes. In the long run, changes will endure and have a positive impact well into the future. In effect, the OCM practices become the real “chicken soup” for ITSM projects.

How do we know this? IBM conducted a 2008 global study, Making Change Work, which revealed that nearly 60 percent of projects aimed at achieving business change did not fully meet their objectives. According to the study, the majority of the executives and project managers surveyed say changing mindsets and attitudes was the biggest challenge to implementing change in an enterprise, followed by corporate culture. These results aren’t necessarily surprising. The more profound insights comes buried further down in the study’s results.

The top 20 percent of respondents who were deeply experienced in change management reported an 80 percent project success rate -- nearly double the average. Further, the bottom 20 percent of the respondents who were novices in change management reported a dismal project success rate of only eight percent.

Better soft skills

Why, then, isn’t OCM part of every ITSM process improvement projects? Most IT managers are true technology experts in their specialty field within IT operations. Their promotions were based on their technical successes -- not managerial or communications strengths. Unfortunately, along their career path, many did not have an opportunity to participate in training sessions on topics such as interpersonal dynamics, non-verbal communications, organizational change management and other organizational behavior topics. While a great deal of time may have been devoted to production environment change management, too little time was focused on organizational matters to ensure that the people are ready and the concepts have been vetted.

The tide is finally changing because organizations are now examining why their ITSM improvement efforts are failing, especially after spending considerable sums on technology and consultants. Even the “bits and bytes” managers are coming to the realization that technology can’t solve this problem. What IT executives are realizing now is that OCM is a critical missing ingredient.

There are five key stages where OCM has the greatest impact on ITSM process improvement:

  • Gaining executive sponsorship and engaging the workforce;
  • Setting the stage for OCM;
  • Maturity assessment of existing process;
  • Implementation of recommendations; and
  • The success of on-going improvements, i.e., making all this hard work stick.

Gaining executive sponsorship and engaging the workforce - To be successful, start by identifying the eExecutive sSponsors. Using OCM techniques, work with them both individually and as a group to identify which leadership motivators and organizational factors to emphasize and which are critical to securing and maintaining the organization’s attention throughout the ITSM project.

Setting the stage for OCM acceptance - Next, promote the use OCM methods, such as coaching and team effectiveness programs, in service of securing executive alignment and the skills required to manage the change and engaging the workforce in the change effort and securing their inputas a major factor in the overall project’s risk management. Highlight how preventing downstream problems is less expensive and resource-intensive than fixing them as they arise in resource draining fire-fights.

Gain the trust of the people involved. This occurs by understanding and appreciating the current situation and understanding what will be required to get their hearts and minds properly aligned. OCM strategies that garner trust-building include facilitating critical conversations amongst stakeholders, gathering current state data through focus groups and conducting interviews to uncover individual and organizational concerns or interests.

Strong listening, facilitation, human dynamics, and coaching skills are the powerful tools at the heart of OCM techniques. Such data gathering and baseline-setting process actually starts the change process. Studies have shown that teams will buy into change when they are asked -- instead of told -- as part of the process improvement design.

Maturity assessment of existing process - The data gathering phase about current ITSM processes is an important component to the assessment yet can be misleading. This is because capturing reliable metrics is difficult when dealing with the very people involved in the processes that may be flawed in the first place. They have built-in biases, personal agendas and are part of the very systems to be diagnosed. Standalone surveys without an interactive data collection process (a key OCM tactic) often leads to inconclusive or even inaccurate results. Respondents may tend to tell you what you want to hear or what they think will make them look good.

By applying OCM techniques at this step, such as interactive probing for meaning behind the responses, the truth about the current processes comes to light. This facilitates the open exchange of information and perspectives that contribute to identifying issues and resistance, and also helps to build commitment to the effort as people see their concerns heard and acknowledged. This leads to the identification and resolution of critical pain points and conflicting positions.

OCM techniques focus at both the individual and team level, leveraging the full range of behavioral-science-based tools and approaches to establish rapport and trust with each stakeholder in order to build a “safe” environment for in-depth discussion and dialogue.

Implementation of recommendations - It’s one thing to make recommendations and another to have them actually implemented. Building support for implementing the recommended changes requires continued application of OCM techniques. Recommendations must be communicated to the entire team in a way that helps them understand the benefits, related to the initial motivators identified when sponsorship was gained.

Once approval is obtained,A a comprehensive communications strategy that ensures every individual in the organization truly understands the vision, roles and the value proposition of the changes will pave the way for a successful execution. Here, in particular, is where the previous work based on OCM best practices bears fruit because messages can be tailored using the knowledge that has been accumulated around the organization’s culture, stakeholders, processes and operating environment. For maximum impact, make the leadership team highly prominent and visible in the messaging, which will increase the likelihood of organizational support and participation.

A realistic implementation plan that aids in “unfreezing” current processes while introducing the new processes is essential. A rule of thumb for OCM is that an organization and its processes are a system. Typically, when changing a system, the natural tendency of the organization will be to revert to the old ways. Therefore, acceptance of the changes throughout the implementation must be monitored and the right incentives put in place for the organization to follow through and embrace the changes.

Sustainment activities, such as modifications to the human capital practices and tools (e.g., performance management system, compensation strategy, etc.) should be an integral focus in the formulation of the implementation and should be a major component of the communications content.

Again, the knowledge gained by implementation teams using OCM techniques can be leveraged to facilitate commitment and support for the sustainment of the changes. Simply put, OCM techniques help to identify and target the critical path that will provide the desired results.

Driving and sustaining ongoing improvement - The ultimate goal is to create a new culture of “ongoing improvement” that will be accepted and ingrained in the organization. This must be communicated and accepted not just in the IT organization, but throughout the entire organization (business units, finance, HR, etc.) and in some cases externally for customers and vendors.

Relationships created earlier by the implementation team can be leveraged to identify accurately how the change is being received and incorporated by the organization. Continued integration of many of the concepts and tools utilized to gain sponsorship, such as the OCM coaching and team effectiveness activities, can be applied across the organization to engage individuals and teams to identify opportunities and challenges with the “staying power” to sustain the otherwise elusive ongoing process of improvement.

The bottom line is this: Do not underestimate the power and influence of human-factors. If you do not apply OCM methods to your ITSM implementation and the on-going improvement, the changes will not likely last. And, you will have wasted valuable time and money on top of experiencing great frustration and aggravation.

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, Suntiva, soft skills, buy-in

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