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Bureaucracy gone mad: when process gets in the way of service management

I had two interesting discussions over the past few weeks; one with an IT manager and the other with Rhett Glause and Matt French from Service-Now. Both discussions related to the issue of managing service processes in a complex computing environments.  Let me start with the IT manager. He is charged with taking his organization’s web presence from 1990s architecture into a modern Web 2.0 design that will enable better support for customers and partners.  It is a big effort with lots of interaction with the customer facing departments about what they want and with the IT organization about how this new environment will be supported.  Now, this part isn’t out of the ordinary and this is not what this manager was having problems with.  He was being driven crazy by process. The company he works for is devoted to ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library). ITIL is a set of best practices designed to help companies create environments that have a common way to troubleshoot problems with managing complex services.  They are intended as guidelines – not step-by-step instructions about how to managing service processes. In fact, ITIL best practices mandate that you need to start with your strategy for managing services before you get involved in the details.

The IT manager’s problem is that his company’s IT department was so embroiled in process that it was causing excessive delays in getting to a solution. It has a Configuration Management Database (CMDB) —  a repository for all of the details about an application environment including who can change something; how a service or an application is configured and what the change management process is. This company’s problem is that it has set up a change review board that has to review and approve every change for the new environment.  Therefore, something that should take a few days to develop is taking six month of endless meetings.  In other words, the IT manager’s organization is too caught up in process so that it actually crippling the ability to get the job done.  According to the IT manager, “It’s bureaucracy gone mad! This approach will not help make IT more responsive; it will do the opposite.”

I thought about the discussion in context with a great call I had with Matt French, director of marketing and product strategy and Rhett Glauser, communications manager at Service-Now, an IT service desk software as a service company.  What did they think of my friend’s tale of woe? They agreed that this is a common perspective that they hear from customers.  Many customers are beginning to understand that they have to take a pragmatic view of process.  Their top recommendation was that companies should approach ITIL in a phrased approach.

So, here are some recommendations about how to handle process in context with driving business value:

  • Establish a light-weight CMDB by only focusing on configuration items that the organization really needs. If a process isn’t likely to change, it might not be necessary to track that process.  You don’t need a change management process for everything.
  • Get IT management to take a step back from relying too heavily on IT processes. Rather management needs to be focused on what is important to business management and then execute in a pragmatic way.
  • Every service should have a business owner who can make decisions.
  • When a change management process is required make sure that there is a change advisory board. There needs to be one person who has the authority to manage that change in the context of the business drivers. The change management board should expedite process and should not become a bottleneck.

In the end it is about common sense. If IT organizations are going to be effective in managing business requirements they have to look at service management in context with the overall priorities of the business. This was the key message our team was aiming for when we wrote Service Management for Dummies. Service management is increasingly defining not only how we manage IT environments but how we managed businesses. Therefore a streamlined view of process management will be the difference between success and failure.

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