Monday, January 31, 2011

Why your Service Transition needs to be institutionalized

If, like most IT organizations, you have a strong project management culture, the importance of a strong service transition process should be a priority especially if service excellence is your goal.

A common scenario that I see all too often is that your PMO spends months or even years managing that industry busting project and then it comes to implementation time.  The customers are happy, it tested well.  You have a strong implementation plan and everything seems to be in place for the project to be declared a success.  But then almost as soon as pat each other on the back for a job well done something goes wrong.

Something small at first, maybe an IP address changed and the application is unavailable.  Easy enough, you identify the issue and fix it pretty quickly.  Then another issue where a file is surprisingly over capacity.  Whoops!  Easy, fixed in a matter of minutes.

Here's the real problem.  Your project resources that are troubleshooting the issues are saying things like "Oh, it was only a small issue",  "There's no way we could have tested that" or "It wasn't our fault, it was the infrastructure team who screwed up" while your customers are all saying "This new system is worse than what it replaced!".  The fact you just had a successful project carries no weight with your now disenfranchised customers.  What matters is whether they can do what they want to, when they want to.  they feel like you don't value their concerns and that IT is inefficient and even infighting.

So how does a good service transition process solve this problem for you?  If your process is thorough you'll know who is supporting every aspect of the new service as well as every component that needs to be in place, monitored and exactly what the service level expectation of the customer is.  Everyone involved will know what is chaning, when and what the expectation is on them.

If you ensure the service transition process is institutionalized into your PMO requirements for all projects and included in your change management process you'll have everything in place to give consistent service delivery.  If you find something that wasn't put in place you can always fix it through your continuous improvement process!

To find out more information on Service Transition best practices, contact

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Continuous Improvement Vs. Big Bang

So your in the business of making money and you're doing OK but your shareholders expect more. 
Sure, projects usually start with an ROI calculation but we all know that these projections are often optimistic or misleading to benefit your system integrators and do your shareholders really want to wait 2 to 5 years to see a return on their money?

While big bang projects can be great to get your organization into a new market (think iPod) they are far less effective at making you money at your core business and more and more these days, by the time you've waited 5 years to see your return on the project, the technology is obsolete.

So what's the alternative? 

Strategically you will be much better off with a continuous improvement methodology rather than starting a project to do everything differently.

I learned a lot about continuous improvement or kaizen during my time at Toyota.  Continuous improvement allows you to add quality or value to your product or service and reduce the cost of providing that product or service.  Effectively you can give your customers more for less which increases your margin.  And it doesn't just increase your margin once.  Every time you provide that service you are getting an immediate return and the more times you're doing it, the more you're adding to your bottom line.
So how do you introduce a continuous improvement culture? 
Unless you know how a service is performing now, it's impossible to know if any improvements you make have actually had the desired results so step one is measure the service.  At a bare minimum you should know how often it is performed, the cost of performing it, the benefit from performing it and the affect not performing it would have on your business.  You can also measure more intangible thing like, for example, the affect on reputation.
Once you know how your services are performing you must take some time to look over the data.  Try to identify areas for improvement.  Where can you improve quality, lower costs, reduce waste, remove customer frustration, improve reputation, whatever is important to your business.
Don't necessarily try to fix all of these things at once.  Look for improvements that are easy to implement first, implement them, continue to measure the service as it's provided and then review the data to see if it had the desired affect.  If service improved, leave the change in place.  If not, remove the change and go back to how it was done before.
Now do the whole thing again!  Look at your data, make an improvement, measure it's effectiveness, keep it or go back.  If you can introduce this cycle into your day-to-day operations you will be well on your way to continuous improvement.  Also have larger cycles to look for larger improvement opportunities.
Try to encourage everyone, at every level to suggest improvements.  Make it part of their process.
What about the risk of all that change?
Look at it this way... If you on a boat going from point A to point B would you rather have a big bang project that spends a year planning the route and sets off only to find out later that the projections of wind strength were not accurate or that someone didn't take into account that you competitors are firing cannon balls at your boat?
Continuous improvement allows you to declare where you want to go, set out and then repeatedly make adjustments in your route as conditions in the marketplace change.  It is far more adaptable to the change going on all around us.  As long as you manage your change process you can control the risk.
Do you sometimes need a big bang project to bring something to market?  Of course but once it's implemented keep ahead of the market using continuous improvement.
For more information on getting more from your services, contact

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Do your business partners value the IT services you provide?

Why do so few people in the business world value their IT departments?  The answer is that the IT departments don't value their business partners, at least not in the way they want to be valued.  Business units expect IT to deliver high quality service every day, continually add value and support them in delivering end-products and services to their customers.

Throughout the relatively short period that IT has been in existence they have had a laser like focus on one thing... Project Management.  Project Management is great at delivering new products to market but does almost nothing to improve the service that IT provides to it's customers.  PM's often focus on delivering on-time and on-budget but all too often this results in a lack of quality or a redefining of the initial scope so that the original vision is often cut back until the customer cannot recognize the product or realize their original hopes for the new product.

Don't get me wrong.  Project Management is an important part of IT's function.  When done well it can buy a lot of forgiveness from your user base for other shortcomings in service delivery.  But that goodwill fades over time so it's extra important now for IT as an industry to mature and realise that they could go a long way to improving the services delivered to their business partners.

The first step would be to understand what services you provide for your customers and what services they think you provide.  Get on the same page because most IT departments don't even have the same view as their customers so it's important to synchronize the understanding and then to quantify it in a service catelogue.

Once you've quantified your services you will need to define the measure of success for those services.  Each one could be different so define what measurement makes sense for each service and measure it.  Now you know how you're performing, you can work to continually improve the service or at least maintain the service at acceptable levels.

By now you know what services your customers expect, what services you're providing and have an understanding of what improvements are needed.

If you get it right you'll have excellent relationships with your business partners, be providing world class service and have a foundation to keep your costs under control and provide added value to the business on an ongoing basis.

Ignore service management and you may have just delivered the best new product to market but will your business partners be happy forever?

For more information on measuring the value of your IT services, contact

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Is your IT Support structure "Upside Down"?

I've consulted at enough clients to know a pattern exists out there where the support structure in place is what I call Upside Down.  What I'm referring to is that the wrong people are placed in the wrong roles.    You have your highest value workers doing the lowest value work.

Here are some of the symptoms of an upside down support structure:
  • Service desk analysts resolve too few calls.  They typically log the tickets and pass them on to a second line support team.
  • Your SMEs are spending all their time resolving incidents and have done this role for some time.
  • Your customers are frustrated about the length of time it takes to resolve issues and that each time they request a major enhancement or project they get dumped with an IT team who doesn't seem to know what they're doing.
  • Your entire support staff are stressed up to their eyeballs.
It's not that your IT staff are incompetent but it sure looks that way to the people you are servicing.

What IT as an industry needs to do is take a look at the healthcare industry.  If I have a cold, for example, I can go to any pharmacy and buy something to relieve my symptoms.  I don't need to go and wait in a doctors office if I know how to fix the issue myself.  This is similar to self-serve within IT.  If the user knows what's wrong and what to request to fix it, let them do it themselves.

If my symptoms are uncommon to me, I'd go to my GP.  This doctor knows how to fix all of the most common issues.  How?  They have the training and knowledge available to deal with a vast majority of issues that the general population has to deal with.  And when they don't, they know who to refer the patients to.  They also know how to recognise critical cases and refer them to the local ER.

The ER is another important role within healthcare.  The first person you see in the ER is a triage nurse who quickly assesses the impact of your symptoms and then deals with the most critical cases first.  The triage nurse doesn't usually treat the patient but refers them to the specialists.

The specialists are the last line of defense in healthcare and usually manage the patients until their specialty is no longer needed.  They resolve those issues which need critical attention as well as work longer term to ensure the issues are fully resolved or can be managed reasonably.  They are also often consulted by the earlier lines of defense in the healthcare team

That's a nice overview of healthcare but how does it relate to IT Support?

Lesson 1 - Give self-service wherever it makes sense.  If your service desk is spending a large percentage of it's time resetting passwords for users, make it self-serve.  Understand how much it's costing you in both in financial terms and in terms of reputation and if it makes sense to implement a password reset function then do it.  Look at all your most common services and do a cost benefit analysis on whether it can be automated.

Lesson 2 - Make sure your generalists have the knowledge to deal with the most common issues.  This means passing knowledge to the service desk as it becomes available and making sure they understand what is going on in the organization and what changes are happening.

Lesson 3 - If you're not sure how bad the issue is, have effective triage methods in place to deal with the most critical issues first.  Have pre-determined protocols in place to quickly establish the severity and priority of any issue.  Don't let this happen on-the-fly because we all know that the squeaky wheel is the one that gets the oil.

Lesson 4 - Let your subject matter experts focus on truly fixing the root cause of the issue.  Each time a root cause is fixed properly, it will never recur saving everyone time and effort.  If the subject matter experts are spending all their time patching issues and moving onto the next one, the cost will never go away and you may not know when it's going to come up again.  If your SMEs are not fighting fires, they will have time to work on fire prevention techniques or developing a new way to limit the impact of future fires.

Lesson 5 - Give your less skilled second and third level support staff a chance to learn.  Most teams are set up so the SME is the first to see every issue and then passes the easier tasks down to more junior team members.  By doing the opposite (less skilled members see the issues first and then refer to more skilled members if needed) you will give the lower skilled team members a chance to learn hands on and the SME has a chance to see what knowledge other team members are missing and find more effective ways to share that knowledge.  This does mean that the SME also needs to play an oversight role and will look over the shoulder of others to ensure no mistakes are made.

If you put these methods into place your service delivery will improve significantly.  Incidents will be resolved more quickly.  Service requests will be handled more efficiently.  Problems will get resolved so the incidents don't recur.  You will be able to have your SMEs consult on projects and major enhancements and ensure new solutions build on what you have in place rather than produce more overhead and integration issues.

For more information on how to best manage your IT Service Delivery team email me at

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Welcome to 2011 - The year you turn your IT services around!

Well another year has started and it's looking like it's going to be a busy one. 2010 was an interesting year and despite the continuing recession it was my best year ever in terms of consulting and speaking engagements.

So far 2011 is shaping up to be even better.  My pipeline of consulting opportunities is bigger than it's ever been and I will be developing some very useful tools, courses and keynotes over the next few months.

If you're considering talking to me about consulting, speaking, IT service auditing or course delivery in the next few months, do it now as dates are starting to fill up.

Don't forget, if you want your organization to strive for Service Excellence it's not going to take care of itself.  Talk to me about what can be done to turn your dissatisfied business partners into your biggest advocates.

Contact for more information.