Red Pill, Blue Pill: A Service Management Dilemma

A new technology advertisement (“software that intrigues me”) that debuted on broadcast media recently reminded me of the challenge faced by those engaged in a Service Management implementation. The ad is notable in that it resurrects a character, Agent Smith, from The Matrix and highlights the challenge faced by information technology today. You may recall the 1999 movie pitted a seemingly hapless computer hacker played by Keanu Reeves, against a reality of human exploitation.

Reeves’ character Neo, later revealed as “the One”, is given a choice to continue his nescience existence as a blissful hacker (“blue pill”) or to confront a sobering and quite frightening reality (“red pill”). The blue pill would ensure Neo could continue his hacker ways, blindly oblivious to reality. The red pill, however, would subject Neo to a painful transformative confrontation with reality and an eternal conflict with Agent Smith. As we know, Neo elects the red pill, a gateway to the harsh reality of the matrix, fully aware of one significant provision: There is no going back.

The transformative effects of Business Service Management present today’s IT professionals with a comparable challenge and the very same dilemma: Face a potentially painful reality and move forward with what may be a difficult transformation or continue blissfully ignorant hoping things will get better. In fact, it is this very dilemma that speaks to the failure or success of a Service Management initiative.

All definitions of Service Management (and, much to the chagrin of the novice ITIL® Foundations candidate, there are many) come down to one underlying and fundamental principle: IT must first understand and then leverage and empower its resources and capabilities to consistently deliver value to its customers. And that takes time because understanding reality is a painful confrontation with the current state. But it is a challenge that must be endured. Let’s face it: There is really no other choice: IT must ingest the red pill, deal with reality, regardless of how painful. Like Neo, IT must accept the proposition that there is no turning back.

Sticking with it through this transformative journey comes down to executing against some basic tenets:

Understand “Why” – Everyone on the team must understand why Service Management is being implemented, what the goals and objectives are, and how it all fits with IT strategy. The why is the foundation of the marketing effort, permeates all communications and provides the fabric of motivation.

Analyze Your Stakeholders – You need to know who will use and be affected by the Service Management initiative. Such an analysis is both broad and deep:

  • Broad in that all stakeholders affected must be identified;
  • Deep in that you must understand what is important to each stakeholder.

Understand Your Customers – The most important stakeholder is the customer. Quality is always defined from the customer point-of-view. Similarly, IT services and the processes that underpin those services are no different. Find out what is important to the customer, condense those qualities to goals and build to fulfill those objectives.

Use a Programmed Implementation – Nothing will kill a Service Management effort faster than implementing a single process instance in isolation – or ignorance – of other process interdependencies. Far too many organizations fall into this sub-optimization trap. A process may appear to work fine as a stand-alone process but its full potential will be limited by other process deficiencies. A structure that coordinates multiple projects with a clear understanding of the interdependencies is the only reasonable approach to assure success. A programmed approach should also identify risks such as conflicting resource commitments and competing projects in advance and build a mitigation plan to avert forces that may derail the effort.

Get Management Involved...Really Involved – We have seen senior management give lip service to a Service Management program and then step aside to “let the magic happen”. Well, sorry to say, there is no magic! Hands-on means management provide their guidance and support formally through a steering committee and informally through individual counseling and advisory sessions with the implementation teams. They’re involved in resolving resource conflicts and breaking down barriers. As a key stakeholder, management must demonstrate they are not only interested in but committed to the outcome of the Service Management effort.

Communicate, Market and Sell Value – Top-down directives have their place; but not here. While management can set the objectives, position incentives and promote organizational alignment with the program, it is up to the program team to generate the enthusiasm worthy of the effort and to “sell” the initiative to those who will use and benefit from the improvements that will be realized.

Build Momentum – There is no substitute for identifying long-term goals and measuring short-term success in pursuit of those goals. Publicizing these incremental successes as the Service Management initiative moves forward provides a compelling and motivating force to propel successive accomplishments.

While a Service Management transformative effort may elicit a painful view of the current state, these basic principles will position the program team for success. Because, that is the only option: Once you have embarked on this journey there is no going back.

Patrick Musto is an IT Service Management professional with first-hand experience in Service Management implementations. Patrick has national and international experience as a consultant, facilitator, trainer and course developer for IT Service Management, process improvement and IT governance and a regular contributor to thought leadership in best practices.