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Intelligent disobedience in service management White Paper

White Paper

Intelligent disobedience in service management White Paper

White Paper

  • White Paper
  • Behaviour
  • Benefits realization
  • Business solutions
  • IT Services
  • Service catalogue
  • ITIL

Author  Ivor MacFarlane

February 28, 2019 |

 8 min read

  • White Paper
  • Behaviour
  • Benefits realization
  • Business solutions
  • IT Services
  • Service catalogue
  • ITIL

Intelligent disobedience is the act of ‘breaking the rules to do the right thing’. The term comes from guide dog training, where the best guide dogs, using the advantages of perception they have over their masters, will not obey an instruction if they feel it might be dangerous. For instance, if a dog sees cars driving through red lights, or construction work in walkways, it will then, correctly, refuse to proceed if told to by its owner. In terms of ITSM (and human) perception, advantages typically include factors such as familiarity or direct involvement with a service, or awareness of a user or customer’s actual needs. This knowledge is valuable and beneficial; and very much worth harnessing.

The ‘rules’ of ITSM can be defined as the range of defined expectations for a service, from legal requirements, policies and procedures through to informal custom and practice. As with most concepts that are useful to ITSM, intelligent disobedience is simple and common in our everyday lives. We regularly appreciate minor displays of intelligent disobedience that make our lives easier, such as a shop manager who keeps the shop open for 15 minutes after closing time to let late customers finish their shopping.

More and more ITSM activities are being automated and handled through the ever-increasing degrees of AI that are available, yet there will always be unexpected issues to deal with, where existing rules do not fit a certain situation. In these cases the quality of service presented depends on staff who interact with customers correctly assessing whether the rules should be followed, or suspended in favour of innovation. This means that, in order to maximize the value delivered to customers, service providers should:
  • recognize that the rules in place will not always be appropriate to the situation;
  • encourage and equip staff with the knowledge and skills to identify legitimate customer requirements, and to perceive and fulfil those requirements;
  • create an environment in which staff feel confident to act outside the rules when dictated by the circumstances ensure that actions are documented to improve rules and future understanding.

The intelligent disobedience approach is a valuable tool for the ‘exception condition’ in which the rules are inappropriate. However, it should always be seen as the exception, and the default response to any given situation remains ‘follow the rules’. When a situation requires intelligent disobedience, the actions that are taken should be documented, both to allow audit and control of what happened but, just as importantly, so that the rules can be adapted for the future if necessary. Intelligent disobedience can actually be a source of future rules and guidance, as the need to work around existing rules will help to shape them into broader and better rules for the future. Of course, allowing staff to break rules is not without risk. There is no guarantee that innovative action will deliver better service than following rules would, even when those rules feel wrong to the front line staff. However, if implemented correctly, the amount of negative impact will be outweighed by positive benefits.

In every service there are some typical factors that do prevent staff innovation, and to produce the best possible benefits, these need to be addressed. These include:

  • Blame culture. If staff are blamed for negative outcomes, they will stick to the rules regardless of their relevance to the situation. A no-blame culture facilitates the use of intelligent disobedience and the associated benefits.
  • The lack of an accurate and up-to-date understanding of business needs among front line staff.
  • Staff not being provided with training and skill development in innovation and knowledge capture.

The biggest suppressor of intelligent disobedience is an over reliance from middle-management on rules and convention. The biggest enabler is trust and practice in safe environments such as simulations and experiential learning.

About the Author

In 23 years working for the UK government, Ivor Macfarlane moved from forestry to ITSM via prison, stores and training. He has worked as a service management trainer, consultant and a writer since 1999 and then after a seven year spell with IBM he is now independent again working through MacfPartners to deliver training and consultancy to customers. He was an author for ITIL (versions 1,2,&3), IS020000 and ITSM library and an ITIL examiner since 1991. He is well known at ITSM events having presented at many around the world (39 countries so far) and is an active influencer to social media.

Author Ivor Macfarlane