Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Is Service Strategy the Place to Start?

I just finished listening to ITSM Weekly The Podcast - Episode 50.  As usual, Chris and the Matts have a great discussion about things that really matter in the world of ITSM. This week's cast included an interview with Sharon Taylor, Chief Architect of ITIL v3. I encourage you to go back and listen if you haven't already. Whether or not you agree with everything Taylor has to say, it certainly provides new insights into her world and the philosophies behind ITIL v3 and the subsequent updates.

After a discussion around the usefullness of the Service Strategy book, and the concern that it may be "dumbed down" with the various refreshes going forward, Matt Hooper related a story about selling ITIL within his company. He commented about selling the Director of Client Services on ITIL, saying that, after getting ITIL training, the Director was so fired up he was ready to get jump with both feet into Service Strategy. Hooper stopped him, saying it was more appropriate to start with other areas first. That story resonated with me. I agree that, even with all the enthusiasm the Director had, Service Strategy may not be the best place to start ITSM efforts. Where I differ from Hooper, however, is the idea that Service Strategy can't be the right place to start. I'd argue that it could be, depending on a lot of factors.

The reality is that, much like the rest of ITIL, all companies already do Service Strategy, whether they know it or not. We all have services, Change Management, Problem Management, etc; but until we start looking at these things through the lens of a framework, they likely aren't very useful or providing much value to the business. The same is true of Service Strategy. It's just that, for many of us, our strategy is to fly by the seat of our pants. The lack of a defined strategy is in itself a strategy. It's a bad strategy, but it's still a strategy.

So when we look for a place to start with ITIL or ITSM, the first thing we need to do is an assessment of where all ITSM processes currently stand. Depending on what you find, there are many choices. You could attack the area causing the greatest pain. You could focus on the area where improvement would generate the greatest value. You could look for the quick win. Etc, etc...

My guess is that Matt had already done this sort of assessment, either formally or informally, and determined that the greatest benefit to his organization was not through better defined Service Strategy. They probably had a decent Service Strategy before ever defining it around ITIL terms. The Client Services Director, though, may not have looked at it that way, and just assumed that the place to start is the strategy.

We're IT people. We like step-by-step instructions (If for no other reason so that we can brag about ignoring the instructions later). This is one of the fundamental struggles many of us have with ITSM. It's supposed to be a project with a clear start and a clean end. But that's not where the benefits come from. Benefits come from fundamental changes in the way we do business. Well, that seems to imply starting with Service Strategy, right?

Maybe.

Have you tried getting your IT team excited about IT strategy? Maybe your group is ready for that, but most probably are not. Besides, as I said above, you already have a services strategy, and it probably serves your company reasonably well. Not optimal, but perfectly OK. Chances are you have one or more greater pain points.

So we're likely not going to see the fundamental change in doing business that will provide the greatest benefits, at least at first. It just reiterates the point that this is not a defined start-and-end project. It is a culture change, and that requires time, focus, and follow through.

Can you start with Service Strategy? It's possible that is the ideal place to start, but probably not. The number one rule for where to start is this: what will give you the most visible win within the shortest period of time? The key at the beginning is to foster a sense that a new way of thinking is do-able, and that its not really all that "new" after all. Make it easy, make it tangible, make it personal to your IT team. That's nowhere to be found, as far as I know, in the five books. But without your IT team on board as early as possible, the best strategy in the world will be dead on arrival.