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The problem of ITSM anti-practices: Part 1

Three IT service managers sat at laptops in desk in office as another colleague highlights an ITSM anti-practice on the screen of one of the workers

What are ITSM anti-practices? They are the bad practices that have become prevalent as organizations try to tackle service management challenges.

Akshay Anand, AXELOS’ Product Ambassador for ITIL®, has referred to “Watermelon SLAs”, check-box ITIL implementation and endless maturity improvement initiatives as some of the most prominent anti-practices. This list could be easily extended with such anti-practices as audit-oriented management, over-focusing on the customer and relying too much on workarounds.

However, what is it that causes anti-practices to recur over and over again in almost all organizations, what is their impact on ITSM and how should best practice be used to address these issues?

People still believe in magic and look for silver bullets

Hard implementation projects are the destiny of every best practice or popular framework because people perceive “best practices” in the wrong way:

Best practices are the sources of ideas and concepts, not the implementation guidance. Equally, best practices can easily move the focal point from “purpose and goals” to the tools and methods used to achieve them.

This gives the illusion that it’s unnecessary to set goals and define objectives relevant to the specific organizational context, especially if solutions for the most common problems are already in place. So, when an organization “imports” best practice, the managers’ attention and intentions quickly switch to the question of how to implement it instead of “what and why?”

Instead of solving specific problems in a specific context using ITIL, COBIT, etc., we only see meaningless initiatives such as “Join-the-dots ITIL”, or Join-the-dots COBIT. Maturity improvements, with objectives usually defined as “to increase process maturity to a specific level”, happen for the same reasons.

The questions that need asking are: what is the vision? Where are we now, where do we want to be and how do we get there?

The wrong level of bureaucracy

A management system produces a lot of documents and records. Paperwork drowns people easily and they start to think that plans, policies, regulations, protocols and reports are the outcomes of their work. Process managers replace process documentation and record management with process management. Service managers believe that reports and dashboards are the most trusted sources of information about service quality.

It moves the focal point from achieving business outcomes to working for management products used in the process of achieving outcomes.

Also, along with anti-practice of “Watermelon SLAs”, we can see the same pattern in audit-oriented management. This anti-practice is especially dangerous, because it not only shifts the focus from achieving outcomes to ensuring compliance, but also encourages the join-the-dots mindset.

Digitalization and constant business pressure

Most IT organizations are permanently overloaded today due to increasing business demand. When working under pressure and receiving the next high-priority request, IT people can end up doing less change planning, less controlling and less testing to fast-track the request and make the business happy. What’s worse, if IT fails, business adds insult to injury by introducing more pressure and even blame, which leads to more emergency changes.

Such anti-practices, while shortening change processing time in the short term, have destructive long-term consequences, such as the necessity to rework or do bug and errors recovery.

Furthermore, when emergency and unplanned work happens all the time, managers experience issues with planning and coordination, which means less effective use of allocated resources.

Read the second and final post in this series, The problem of ITSM anti-practices - Part 2.

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13 Mar 2019 Allen Ureta
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I believe that 'best practices' - as a concept and a term - do provide the guidance in the use of techniques that individual or organizational peers in an industry have generally accepted. Focal point shifts do occur, but the tools and methods leveraged would not be at fault. The tools and methods should enable a knowledgeable practitioner to accomplish the purpose intended. If leveraging only one or two of the four P's (i.e., People, Process, Product and Partners), then criteria for complete and holistic success are missing.

The article contains the answer in the Continual Service Improvement approach (as well as in COBIT's Implementation Life Cycle); after all, it is in strategic planning that managers can proactively avoid asking these questions ex post facto. ITIL 4 also brings some further guidance in resolving the challenges noted.

Adopting ITIL 4 helps enhance the value experience desired by converting the 4 P's into the four dimensions critical in facilitating an eco-system for value and success. In leveraging these perspectives, a practitioner would be able to address the issues noted in implementation, valuable and business-aligned outcomes, and the ability to handle opportunities and demand.
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