Brother, could you spare some CHANGE? (Managing Cultural Change)

In light of the current economic conditions, many IT Organizations are looking to IT Service Management initiatives as a way to increase organizational effectiveness, better understand and manage IT Costs, and scale to meet rapidly changing business needs.

As these organizations begin to tackle their various initiatives, many will be faced with a challenge that other organizations that tread this path before them found in some cases to be insurmountable.

The challenge I am referring to is not necessarily unique to IT or the IT Service Management space, but it has come to represent one of the biggest reasons why many ITSM initiatives fail before they even get a chance to begin. That challenge is an organization’s inherent cultural resistance to change.

Cultural change is one of the hardest aspects to manage in any ITSM inititative for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the culture of the organization typically took many years to form.

An organization’s culture is a lot like a community garden, in that many hands contributed to it over the years to make it what it is today and if not properly cultivated and managed can quickly become unruly.

The reason why Cultural Change is so important to manage as part of an ITSM initiative is that it can be either a huge obstacle to success, or an amazing catalyst that can accelerate the adoption and realized benefits of you efforts.

To be successful in changing the culture we must focus on creating an environment that inherently encourages the desired behaviors from most of the individuals who are critical to the success of the ITSM effort. Typically, the most effective method of approaching cultural change is a well thought out Communications and Training plan that addresses the needs and concerns of the various constituent groups of individuals impacted by the change.

Additionally focus can be placed upon two key individual types that tend to have a broad influence within an organization:

Key Influencers – Key Influencers are natural leaders within the organization who tend to sway opinions of others towards their point of view. They tend to have an extensive social network in the workplace and are typically plugged into the “goings on” that are occurring in the workplace. They are typically positive in nature and are comfortable sharing thoughts and information with others, and as a result other typically share thoughts and information with them.

Key Detractors – Key Detractors are typically very vocal and resistant to change, and typically voice their Fears, Uncertainty and Doubt in any forum public or private. And while they do not typically have the extensive social network that a Key Influencer might have, by the sheer volume of negative communication they do, they tend to amplify any fears and uncertainty others may have as a result.

By bringing the Key Influencers onto your side early in the process and including them in your efforts, you can benefit extensively from their influence on others.

For key detractors, the strategy is to neutralize as much of their influence as early on as possible so as to minimize the effect they may have on others opinions. You can do this by approaching them early on and allowing them to understand what you are doing then talking to them about what concerns they may have with your effort and approach. Once you understand their concerns you can attempt to overcome them where they may be valid. In many cases, you may not be able to overcome their concerns not matter what you do and in that case you are best served by understanding them and ensuring that your communications with others addresses them as best as possible so that in the event they do come into contact with a Key Detractor, they are not overtly influenced by the Detractors opinions before they have had a chance to form their own.

Personal Heroics and Tribal Knowledge (Heroes or Villains?)

In the course of IT Evolution, many IT organizations at one time or another find themselves entrenched in a cycle where crisis seems the norm and tactical firefighting takes precedence over strategic planning.

These periods are usually preceded by an increase in organizational and technical change that is typically driven by increased demand from the business for new or modified IT Services and Business Applications.

Many times this period of change stresses processes (documented or assumed) and causes the organization to break from their standard practices and resort to a reliance on Personal Heroics and Tribal Knowledge. For a period of time, these behaviors can be successful and in many cases are viewed by both IT and the Business as a suitable practice:

  • IT sweeps in during crisis and solves Incidents that have highly visible business impact
  • The Business swoons and rewards the heroes with praise and sometimes cookies

Let’s face it, we all love to feel like the hero and in many cases enjoy the dynamics that are at play during a crisis. Adrenaline flows, pressure builds, people are panicking, phone calls and emails are flying, and in the middle of the maelstrom we are doing what we do best and all eyes are on us. Then when we finally find the solution and the problem is resolved, the Business stands in awe of the Voodoo that we do.

Unfortunately, this support model is seldom sustainable in the long term. Businesses are fickle and cheers quickly turn to jeers when the same issues continue to occur week after week. IT employees go from loving the spotlight to hating it and any semblance of a successful IT Organization is quickly overwhelmed by the perception that IT is not doing enough to keep things running smoothly. This is the point at which the line between Hero and Villain blurs and the behaviors that were once admired are now despised.

Additionally, most often the knowledge needed to effectively manage the crisis is locked away in the heads of individuals and can only be used if those individuals are available or are directly involved in the crisis. When those individuals are removed from the situation (either temporarily or permanently), the ability to respond to the crisis and recover from that loss of knowledge can take some time.   Ready and ongoing access to that knowledge is vital to ensure the most effective and efficient enablement of your key processes

The dynamics that drive these cycles are seldom simple, and many times the business can shoulder as much blame as IT in the ultimate root causes (Unrealistic expectations, too much change in a given period of time, unclear goals, etc). At times when an organization is smack dab in the middle of one of these cycles it is difficult to see ways to break the cycle or to avoid it in the future.

There are however a few things that you can do to insulate your organization from the effects of these cycles or at the very least provide a basis for quickly adapting to the changing needs of the business.

How to be a Real ITSM Hero:


  • Reserve “Personal Heroics” for true emergencies
    • When every incident is treated like an emergency, you dilute the value of both your process and it’s participants. Save your “Hero” responses for incidents that truly have the highest business impact
    • Being a “Hero” does not mean you need to abandon your processes. Your processes should be defined in such a way as to allow the process participants to act “Heroically” while still executing the process and ensuring that the outcomes of the process are being achieved
  • Training and Communications
    • Train all of the processes participants on their roles and responsibilities and the expected outcomes of the processes
    • Communicate to process participants about the benefits, goals, expectations, Critical Success Factors (CSFs), Major Activities, and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).


  • Processes should be well defined and readily understood
    • It seems like such a simple concept, but if the processes are not documented there is too much room for interpretation by the participants and no way to enforce conformance
    • Well documented processes allow you to “Normalize” the expectations of all process participants regarding their roles and responsibilities
    • It further allows you to set expectations for your customers regarding your ability to deliver the expected results in a consistent manner
    • Additionally a well documented process provides a basis for Continual Service Improvement.
  • Process documentation should be easily accessible by all process participants
    • Process documents should be current and be easily accessed (either via a website, sharepoint, file shares, etc) by the process participants in the event they need to understand key process details
    • Process documents should link to other appropriate process artifacts where possible to more easily facilitate understanding and usability of the process during it’s execution


  • Technology should enable the process rather than define it
    • Whatever tools you employ should truly enable your process rather than constrain it
    • Tools should also effectively support Business Rules defined by the process and assist users in executing the process wherever possible
  • Technology should provide sufficient data for measurement of KPIs
    • Tools should be set up in such a way as to allow easy measurement of process performance relative to defined Key Performance Indicators
    • These measure will provide further basis for your Continual Service Improvement efforts


  • Knowledge should be documented and readily accessible
    • Knowledge is powerful, only if effectively managed and made available to those who need it
    • Knowledge should be transferred from the minds of the possessors and placed in a common repository whenever possible
    • Standards for documenting and distributing different types of knowledge should be defined and employed
    • Knowledge should be easy to find and access by those that need it in the moments where it will provide the most value

These things in and of themselves will not necessarily prevent the cycles that typically drive a breakdown in process structure, but when employed as part of a larger and organized Service Management program can go a long way in providing a stable foundation for the discipline required to more effectively manage and minimize the impact that these cycles can have on an IT organization.

For a good idea of what a set of well documented processes look like, check out the Pepperweed Process Model.

For a look at some of the best of Hollywood’s greatest heroes and villains of all time, go here (I know, in no way is it related to IT Service Management, but it is fun!).

I look forward to the next chance to share with you.


Keeping “IT” Real!

In certain circles the phrase “Keeping it real” loosely translates to being true to your roots and not pretending to be something you are not (for additional and more colorful interpretations see the Urban Dictionary definitions).

In launching this blog titled “ITSM for the Real World” I am borrowing from that phrase to focus on how to “Keep IT Real”.

My intent herein is to move away from the trend I am seeing in our Industry towards more and more of an academic or theoretical approach to solving problems. I wish rather to focus on practical solutions that can deliver results and be realistically implemented by the average IT organization.

So much energy and resources in our industry have gone towards creating reams of white papers, documents, frameworks, revised frameworks, new and improved frameworks (you get the picture), etc.., but in speaking to real practitioners and average IT folk who are being asked to implement ITIL or a version of an ITSM program, the feeling I get is that although people are a lot more knowledgeable about what ITIL is, many are no more clear on how to go about accomplishing these great things than we were 6-8 years ago in this industry.

I was presenting at a conference a few weeks back and was amazed by the hunger that many of the people there had for good usable information. Not just any information, but real practical guidance on what can and should work in an organization.

I fear that in our desire to create a picture of what an IDEAL IT organization looks like in our Industry, we have forgotten how to lead people to that place where they can learn from the examples of others and gain benefit from the lessons those others learned not necessarily in just what they did right, but also in the sharing of their experiences of how they came to the place that they are.

The ITIL books are a great place to start to create the thirst for knowledge that will lead people to answers, but they do not necessarily contain those answers themselves. Too much of our focus in our ITIL oriented conferences and interest groups focus so much on these IDEAL states spelled out in books and white papers sponsored by folks interested in selling products and services. We need to get back to a place where we foster the sharing of information in the IT industry about what can work, what has worked, and what should continue to work in the future.

I for one would like to see more conferences like the HDI Service Management conference that was held in Miami this past October. As a presenter, this conference was like none other I have been a part of in the past. Rather than the standard ITSM based Conference of 1 hour lectures sandwiched between frenzied keynotes, the entire conference was a series of 3 hour workshops which were intended to be interactive.

As a presenter who thrives on interaction I was both excited and frightened by the concept. On one hand, it would allow for the ability to dig much deeper than a one hour lecture allows, allow real practitioners to share their collective experiences with the subject matter, and force people to interact with their peers rather than just sit next to them. On the other hand, if the group did not want to interact, or the presentation did not resonate well with the audience, 3 hours could have felt like an eternity.

I was truly pleased with the results, not only did people participate, they enjoyed the format and said as much when asked. The 3 hours flew by and the conversations in the rooms created a level of value that I have never seen at a conference. I know I walked away from the experience with more knowledge and a healthy enthusiasm for the sharing of information that is encouraged in that format.

In terms of “Keeping IT Real”, we need to have more forums like that in our industry where it is not just presenters lecturing for an hour then walking away after answering a few questions. We need to encourage an environment that values the sharing of knowledge and understanding that by giving freely of this knowledge we as an Industry will be better because of it. Put the information out there about how people are approaching things and what is really working. Then relating that back to the “Academic” information in a way that allows people to understand not only the “What” but also the “How”. This will benefit not only the individual IT teams out there, but it will also benefit the software companies selling ITSM Suites, the consultants selling ITSM process services, and others who benefit from this industry by providing training, education, and related services.

I am encouraged to see a greater desire to share information recently in this industry. The number of ITSM related groups on professional networking sites like have grown exponentially over the last 6 months. A few of those groups are even focused on creating a more open sharing of ITSM related information (see the Open ITSM Solutions Alliance for instance). Additionally some companies are beginning to freely share information about ITSM related process that most consulting companies typically charge a premium for. See the Pepperweed Process Model for an example (in the interest of full disclosure I must tell you that I am an employee of Pepperweed and an author of some of the content in the model. That said, were I not, I would still be impressed with the model itself and the fact that Pepperweed has made it freely available to anyone who wishes to utilize it).

In summary, this post and future posts from this blog are intended to put a focus on Real things that we can do both within the industry and additionally as practitioners allow more people to be successful in their ITSM endeavors.

I look forward to sharing information again in the near future.