Understanding the difference between outputs and outcomes in ITSM

Understanding the difference between outputs and outcomes in ITSM

Understanding the difference

When looking at outputs and outcomes it is important that IT service management (ITSM) professionals understand the difference; all too often we focus only on our outputs and the processes rather than thinking about the outcome and what we are actually trying to achieve for the business.

To draw a parallel, if you were to open a hotel, likely outputs would include clean rooms, comfortable beds, a restaurant, and friendly staff. But if the outcome was that nobody visited the hotel, then the outputs don’t matter at all.

Phil Hearsum

How can we change?

When considering a change or incident management process we need to understand the outcomes the business wants. For example, having less disruption in the system and smoother changes should result in a well-run system. If the outcome you want would benefit from a more Agile/DevOps approach, then we may need to amend the process so we do it in a different way. It is important that we still have control but we might need to relinquish it in certain areas.

Outputs and outcomes in ITSM

Service management is no longer something we find relating only to IT; it now pervades the whole business. ITSM is only one part of the whole organization’s service management provision. It is however true to state that IT has become so integral to the running of organizations that if the organization is looking to do something - anything at all - IT is needed to support the business requirement. This highlights the need for integrated service management linking between all areas.

This means an increasing need for IT to be involved at the early stages of any changes to be able to understand the purpose of what the business wants to do. ITSM professionals need to have these discussions: for example, if the overall business outcome is to increase sales, an IT Output may be a web page that’s clear, easy and quick to use. The outcome is that customers use the website to buy goods and continue to use it because of their experience of the site.

IT departments focusing purely on outputs is indicative of an old-school IT approach. With the increasing involvement and importance of ITSM in an organization this ethos is changing and we are moving to understand business engagement better.

This is supported by ITIL® which shows ITSM professionals how to develop strategy and implement it through the lifecycle stages:

Good intentions and good ideas can work to a degree but this approach is not robust enough. That’s why best practice frameworks are so important; because senior management needs to understand what’s happening and ITIL helps to facilitate that.

Moving forward

The most important thing ITSM professionals need to understand is that if they are able to focus on and maintain a view of the outcome it’s possible to innovate as required, deploying such methods as agile sprints as long as the result is measured against the desired outcome and the original business case.

Effective project management methodologies, such as PRINCE2®, will insist on continuously reviewing the outputs to ensure they are still worthwhile and contributing towards the end goal. If they are not contributing, you should stop doing them!

Outcomes are fundamental. They are the thing that distinguishes genuine service management from old style IT. Now IT is all about what the business needs; working as an integral partner within the organization and continually questioning why they are doing something and how that affects the business needs and required outcomes.

  • Strategy - what are the outcomes?
  • Design - what kind of IT solutions can we do to fit in with strategy?
  • Project delivery
  • Transition - where the project goes live
  • Operation - running the service on a day to day basis.
  • Continuous service improvement - is it producing the outcomes we want and how can we improve them?

Good intentions and good ideas can work to a degree but this approach is not robust enough. That’s why best practice frameworks are so important; because senior management needs to understand what’s happening and ITIL helps to facilitate that.

Moving forward

The most important thing ITSM professionals need to understand is that if they are able to focus on and maintain a view of the outcome it’s possible to innovate as required, deploying such methods as agile sprints as long as the result is measured against the desired outcome and the original business case.

Effective project management methodologies, such as PRINCE2, will insist on continuously reviewing the outputs to ensure they are still worthwhile and contributing towards the end goal. If they are not contributing, you should stop doing them!

Outcomes are fundamental. They are the thing that distinguishes genuine service management from old style IT. Now IT is all about what the business needs; working as an integral partner within the organization and continually questioning why they are doing something and how that affects the business needs and required outcomes.

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