Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 5

Fifth in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations. Below is the fifth in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices. I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 5: Be Prepared to Address Difficult Questions & Refute Key Concerns

Moving to a completely new way of doing things can be scary, especially when the folks that will be carrying out the work have no advanced knowledge of how they will be carrying out the work. To the uninformed, Agile can be synonymous with little or no process, tools, documentation, commitments, or planning. The truth, however, is quite the contrary. These concerns and misconceptions must be met head-on if they are to be overcome. Below I discuss each concern that you’ll most likely encounter on your journey.

Concern #1: Agile teams don’t use any process or tools. While the first tenet of the Agile Manifesto is to value individuals and interactions over processes and tools, anyone with a cursory understanding of the methodology knows that Agile, in and of itself, is a process, and there are many tools on the market today to assist with facilitating and automating the agile processes. The bottom line is that Agile does contain processes and does promote the use of tools, however, the interactions amongst team members and the customer is more important than the use of any specific tool or process.

Concern #2: Agile teams do not produce documentation as the project progresses. The reality here is that a documentation-heavy, waterfall approach to writing software has been proven time and time again to be fraught with waste and rework. In today’s software development environment, it is much more valuable to begin with a high-level design approach and then refine this design as development unfolds. Agile teams will not spend hours attempting to document and control every single variable that they will encounter with on their development journey. Lightweight design tools will be employed including whiteboards and diagrams to produce just the right amount of design at just the right time such that development can begin and the design can be iterated. Agile teams will spend more time documenting the design of what’s been built versus attempting to fit development into a pre-engineered design. The effect is that design, development, and documentation happen at the same time.

Concern #3: Agile teams do not make customer commitments. In the old paradigm, the customer would deliver their requirements to the development team, the development team would provide an estimate, the customer would approve the estimate, and then the development team would commit to a release or implementation date. The customer would largely be absent throughout the design and development process, only to be re-engaged for user acceptance testing and release. In this process, the commitment is clearly visible and is part of the development methodology. The issue, however, is that a vast number of the commitments made by the development team were missed. Agile attempts to solve for this issue in a couple of different ways. First, Agile teams ask the customer to remain engaged throughout the design, development, and testing processes to ensure that constant feedback and collaboration occurs. This collaboration has the effect of ensuring that what is built actually solves the business problem and delivers the value requested. Second, Agile discards the big commitment made up-front in the old paradigm for a series of smaller commitments made incrementally towards the larger goal. The same rules still apply in that the overall project end-date cannot be determined until all customer requirements are defined and delivered upon. However, Agile realizes that in today’s software development environment, requirements evolve over time and are more conducive to a product development lifecycle versus a project lifecycle. Requirements don’t stop coming in once a software development project completes. Agile recognizes this and accounts for it via continuously updating roadmaps and release plans, which drive the lower, sprint-level commitments that are hallmark of the methodology.

Concern #4: Agile teams do not plan. As mentioned in Concern #3 above, you can clearly start to discern the tenets of Agile planning. The key difference between traditional Waterfall planning and Agile planning is that Agile embraces what is known as “horizon planning”. Horizon planning means that you can only plan, with any degree of accuracy, as far you can see. In other words, if you look at the horizon, you can make a plan for how to get to where you can see on that horizon, but you can’t plan with any degree of certainty for how to travel beyond that horizon. With each passing day, the horizon changes, and as such, your plans for how to get to the horizon should also change. Agile embraces the planning horizon and anticipates changing requirements by placing a top-down structure around the uncertainty. At the top level, a more high-level approach to planning is employed whereas at the bottom level a more realistic and time-bound commitment is made. The five levels are as follows:

  • Level 1: Product Vision. The product vision is a high-level narrative produced by the product owner. It can be high-level or very detailed depending on what is known, by the product owner, about the proposed product. In many cases it will contain a high level description of the product, the markets it will serve, the value to the organization, and a description of how the product will serve the market. The key outcome of the product vision is a general direction for the development team to embark upon when creating the product.

 

  • Level 2: Product Roadmap. The product vision is decomposed into a roadmap consisting of large work elements, known as “Features”, and high-level estimates for each, laid over time. The key concept here is that the estimates are high-level and the schedules are aspirational. The product roadmap is not meant to establish a product development end-date, but rather it is used to chart a path for product development, and attempt to start setting high-level expectations around when a minimally viable product can be delivered. The product roadmap, like most other Agile planning artifacts, is intended to be iterative and refined over time as the product vision evolves.

 

  • Level 3: Release Plan. Once the product’s features are defined in the product roadmap, a vertical slice of the features are taken for each quarter. This vertical slice becomes the release plan. For example, if your company’s product is a new website for ordering college textbooks, features could be “shopping cart”, “search”, “payment”, etc. In each release, you’ll want to include certain aspects of each feature in the release.

 

  • Level 4: Sprints. A sprint is probably one of the most widely known Agile concepts. A sprint is simply a time-box for completion of work. The most common sprint duration is two weeks; however, sprints can be as short as one week or as long as four weeks. It is not recommended to have a sprint duration longer than four weeks. Once the release plan is defined by quarter, the Agile team determines the number of sprints than can be accomplished in each quarter. User stories supporting each feature slice are written and selected by the team for completion in each sprint. The selection of a story to be completed in a sprint is a hard and fast commitment by the team to deliver a working piece of software within a certain timeframe. There is much that goes into the drafting, estimation, and selection of user stories for a given sprint. This guidance is outside the scope of this lesson.

 

  • Level 5: Daily Stand-Up. The daily stand-up is also a widely known Agile concept and fulfills the requirement of the team’s daily planning. It is probably the simplest Agile process. Its goal is to align the team, each day, around the current sprint’s objectives. It is a fifteen-minute meeting in which each person answers three questions relative to the deliverables in the current sprint; what did you do yesterday, what will you do today, and do you have any impediments (a.k.a. “roadblocks”). Typically the team’s Kanban board will be displayed to facilitate discussion. Problem solving is reserved for subsequent meetings to be scheduled by the Scrum Master.

 

In this lesson I’ve discussed some common concerns and how each of these is refuted. While it can take some time to persuade everyone to get on board, it’s clear that planning & process is not absent in Agile, simply better tailored to today’s software development environment.

 

Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 4

Fourth in a Fifteen Part Series
By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations.  Below is the fourth in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 4: Understand Common Environmental Constraints

There are some common organizational environmental constraints that you will encounter when moving to an Agile delivery model.  Each of these must be considered and addressed for your Agile transformation effort to take root and flourish.  Each of these should be considered “difficult” to address and requires ongoing effort to engage key players in the organization and change their perspectives to align with transformation goals.

The first and most common constraint is simply the one of management “style”.  Management style can either be a hindrance or an enabler to the transformation.  If your organization is an older one, especially one that has been around since before the Agile manifesto was published in the early 2000’s, the management “style” is most likely a top-down, “command-and-control” model.  In this model, the methods by which lower-level employees carry out work are dictated by higher-level management personnel.  “Command-and-control” is also frequently used in smaller organizations that may have no knowledge of Agile principles or practices.   Agile requires collaboration.  Collaboration necessitates that decision-making occur at the level where the work is taking place.  Agile believes that the resources performing the work are best equipped to guide their own work and successfully navigate obstacles when they present themselves.  In simple terms, the folks doing the work must be empowered to make decisions about the work.  Since collaboration is a bed-rock principle of the Agile manifesto and “command-and-control” does not foster collaboration, the “command-and-control” management style must be regarded as detrimental to an agile transformation in that it stifles collaboration.  Shifting from a “command-and-control” model can be difficult, especially if the next three constraints are not adequately addressed.

The second constraint to overcome is your organization’s willingness to accept change.  In a “command-and-control” environment, the notion of, “we’ve always done it that way” may be prevalent.  Clearly this won’t work when attempting to institutionalize a culture shift.  In this type of environment, you’ll need to confront unwillingness to change head-on.  You’ll want to tout expected Agile benefits (Lesson 3) and reasons for moving to Agile (Lesson 2) and ensure they are well understood by key leaders, stakeholders, and resources.  You should be looking for the, “let’s give it a try” response to your transformation proposal.  When you lay out the case for Agile and start small, you will be able to build confidence on your successes and get more folks on-board with your vision as your experiment progresses.

A major environmental constraint that exists in many organizations is a “process-heavy” culture.  Process-heavy organizations are those with rigid activities that must be completed in order to progress an effort.  This typically manifests itself with paperwork, and lots of it.  Agile requires lightweight processes.  This means that unnecessary or “non-value add” steps are skipped.  Agile is focused on just enough process to get people what they need to complete the work at exactly the right time.  If you’re in a process-heavy culture, you’ll need to reset management’s expectations relative to the process rigor that will be employed.  It’s not that no process will be used; it’s simply that required process will be employed.  For example, if there’s a process that must be followed to introduce new changes to the production environment, you’ll most likely want to follow it.  However, if the traditional waterfall process dictates that a full-blown detailed technical design be completed before any actual coding begins, this can be problematic and antithetical to Agile’s tenets.  You’ll want to thoughtfully analyze existing process and have a meaningful, collaborative discussion with oversight bodies to gain agreement on exactly which processes will be followed and which will not.  When having these discussions, stress the benefits of “speed-to-market” and reduced costs associated with an Agile effort.  You may also find yourself in the position of re-writing the “rules of the road”, specifically for Agile initiatives.

The last key environmental constraint that you must address is trust.  Trust is an absolutely essential component to Agile.  A key item to keep in mind is that trust is earned over time.  When trust does not exist, management tends to micro-manage the engaged resources.  When trust exists, management will get out of the way and let the workers carry out the work.  Trust is required to start an Agile pilot project, and management, including the Scrum Master, must trust the folks carrying out the Agile project to get the job done with quality.  By starting small and demonstrating value delivery, trust will be gained and increased over time.

Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 3

Third in a Fifteen Part Series
By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations.  Below is the third in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 3: Understand Expected Agile Benefits

Agile implementations produce benefits for both the team members executing agile and the managers of agile teams.  These benefits, however, can only be realized when company management commits to making the changes necessary to realize them.  Further lessons will expand upon the changes and buy-in required, but for now, understand that teams that adopt agile practices must move away from traditional “command-and-control” and “wishful-thinking” (a.k.a. “predictive”) management philosophies.  Agile can appear to be simple, but key concepts such as self-organization and continual inspection and adaptation have subtle implications that require a change to management’s status-quo approach.

Industry studies show that approximately half of software features developed are never used.  These studies indicate that required features can be developed in half the time by avoiding unnecessary work and waste.  Via continuous prioritization of development requests, agile teams avoid building features that will never be used and focus only on delivering those with the highest business value.  Prioritization is further extended to impediments (a.k.a. “roadblocks”) that surface during daily meetings.  Discovered roadblocks are prioritized and removed resulting in a further increase in quality and productivity.

Agile is known to improve the quality of life for the team members executing it through elimination of the pressures inflicted on the team by management personnel.  A sense of autonomy is instilled when teams are allowed to select their own work and then self-organize around the best way to complete the work.  This fosters the development of innovation within the team, produces higher team productivity, and delivers higher customer and team satisfaction levels.  Allowing the team to deliver a functional and effective product that achieves the market and financial goals of the company produces team spirit, ownership, and results in increased employee retention.

Finally, agile is known to improve the profitability of the company by affecting components of the profit margin.  These include customer retention, innovation, timely and accurate delivery, and workforce motivation.  Customers are retained when they are cared for and provide critical referrals necessary to grow the business.  Accurate and timely delivery of exactly what customers need, when they need it, enhances customer satisfaction and revenue streams.  Innovation ensures synchronization with market trends and anticipation of future customer requirements.  A motivated workforce is a productive workforce and one that provides an edge over the competition.

Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 2

Second in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

 

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations. Below is the second in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices. I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

 

Lesson 2: Understand Common Reasons for Moving to Agile

 

I believe there are three (3) common reasons for moving to an agile delivery methodology. These reasons have nothing to do with IT specifically, but rather align themselves more generally with the common goals of product delivery. These are timely delivery, resolving quality deficiencies, and speed to market.

 

In the traditional waterfall model, an IT project could have a duration of several months or years and not produce anything of value for the business, if it produces anything at all. A common stakeholder complaint is that they rarely, if ever, know when anything will be delivered. Sponsors and stakeholders become reluctant to allow the project to continue when there is no end date or discernible deliverables in sight. An obvious and common risk is that a new opportunity or project will present itself resulting in the original project being cancelled, ending the work before anything of value is delivered. An agile delivery methodology alleviates concerns related to timely delivery by producing incremental product units on a pre-defined timescale.

 

Today’s business environment is constantly changing. Whether it’s new products being developed, old products being retired, competitors being acquired, divestitures, market expansions, new legislation or regulations, the only constant is change. This has an overwhelming and obvious effect on the information needs of the organization required to make accurate business decisions. Furthermore, a business is often willing to invest in building a solution to meet these information needs before all of the needs are fully known or understood. The traditional waterfall model is not conducive to the ebbs and flows of today’s business environment. It creates a situation in which a project team attempts to collect all requirements at the beginning of the software development effort, even though they may be unknown at the time of collection. The project team then takes the requirements as defined (or undefined) and attempts to build the solution over the course of months or years while discouraging changes to the requirements during the development process. This invariably breeds an environment in which the product delivered not only fails to meet the initial requirements, but also fails to address the changes in business conditions that occurred since the original requirements were collected. Stakeholders regard these as quality deficiencies even though the system may be coded exactly as the requirements specified. An agile delivery methodology alleviates quality concerns by continuously engaging the consumers of the information system throughout the development lifecycle and embracing the inherent changing requirements of today’s business environment.

 

A key theme of a successful business is continuous innovation. A common complaint from an executive whose business is failing to innovate could be, “our competitors are consistently beating us to market with new products or features.” An agile delivery methodology keeps the organization focused on product release milestones via the inherent cadence that accompanies the methodology. It also seeks to discontinue the use of non-value add activities such as unnecessary documentation or process which further refines the focus of the product delivery team.

Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 1

First in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations.  Below is the first in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 1: Identify the Agile Sponsor & Champion

Before you start your Agile journey, you must identify a Sponsor or a “champion” from the ranks of the executive team.  The Sponsor will be similar to the captain of a ship.  You will work with this person to define the destination and ensure the “ship” (the Agile transformation effort) is on the right course.  The sponsor will keep the larger executive team up-to-date on a regular basis.

In order to identify a Sponsor, you’ll want to find someone that is involved in several high-profile, important initiatives within the company.  You’ll want someone who is approachable and understands the importance of relationship building.  You’ll also want someone who is familiar with, and has influence over, gaining the funding you need to make the transformation.  Finally, you’ll want someone who identifies the fact that the transformation you seek won’t happen without training the folks involved in the transformation and is willing to throw his / her support behind an Agile education initiative.  Your Sponsor will be tasked with selling the need for proper training for both the teams executing the Agile practice and the executives consuming the Agile product.

Your Sponsor will be the organization’s representative for the transformation effort.  You’ll want to work with this person to establish tenets of the transformation vision and clearly articulate why the organization is undertaking the initiative.  The development of “talking points” and “elevator speeches” will be critical to effectively allay concerns of folks involved with, and affected by, the initiative.

The Sponsor will be the person that removes the “roadblocks” encountered during your journey.  For this reason, it’s important to select a person who is comfortable with people at all levels of the organization.  The Agile transformation team must be comfortable with sharing honest and open feedback with the Sponsor and requesting his or her assistance in accomplishing their objectives.  Like any good leader, your Sponsor must possess active listening and follow-through skills in order for team members to feel heard.  The Sponsor does not have to be a “technical” person but they should have a firm grasp of the delivery process.  The Sponsor should be universally regarded as a leader throughout the organization and someone who has the influence, not necessarily the power, to get things done.

Lastly, it’s critical that the Sponsor have a firm grasp of the “big picture” and understand the cultural mindset shift that must occur.  Prior organizational rewards mechanisms may need to be changed in order to properly incentivize people to make the changes necessary.  It will be important to measure the transformation effort against established success criteria and publish successes, or setbacks, as required via development of necessary publication materials.  Open recognition and publication of successes is critical to boosting team morale and enforcing the change that you need in order of the transformation effort to be successful.

Driving Adoption of Project & Program Methodologies, Templates, & Standards

Gaining the Buy-In You Need to be Successful

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked how I have been able to drive adoption of project management methodologies, tools, and templates.  Below is a high-level strategy that you may find useful.

How were you able to drive adoption of a project / program methodology templates & standards?

This is the whole stick and carrot analogy of getting folks to change behaviors.  In general, I have found that most folks buy into the concept of a uniform delivery methodology for projects and programs.  The key items that drive folks away from following a uniform delivery methodology is if they perceive or witness the methodology either (1) not being followed by their peers, or (2) not adding value, or not being valued by management, when followed.

When presenting the case for following the methodology, for the carrot portion of the analogy, I have started with the top-down view and began the discussion with, “this is what will give ‘Executive Smith’ the most insight into the project investments being made across the organization.”  I start with a high level dashboard, and explain to the project leaders how the various reporting elements are changed as the project progresses through the methodology lifecycle.  The next item that I stress is the tailoring options for the project.  No two projects are 100% identical and the ability of the project leaders to tailor the methodology based on project complexity places the rigor decision squarely with the team executing the project.  Tailoring allows the skipping of templates that provide no value (given appropriate justification) while allowing the overall project to remain compliant to the methodology.

Finally, related to the “stick” aspect of the analogy, I emphasize the audit aspects of the methodology.  Ideally, you will have either an internal or external auditor conduct an audit of completed projects.  I have wrapped incentive items (recognition awards, small prizes, etc.) around successful completion of each of the items above, especially when initially getting the process started and institutionalized.  I have also incorporated completion of these items into project manager performance evaluations.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Bonus Lesson

Bonus Lesson in a Ten Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

Given the points made in the ten lessons learned, you may be wondering what my strategy recommendation would be for launching a new ITSM platform.  Well, as I mentioned, each organization is different and will have differing levels of ITSM knowledge within it.  Similarly, you may have IT executives who don’t see the value of defining services and CIs prior to launching the platform.  ITSM platforms can be expensive and executives are eager to show value for money as quickly as possible.  This will most likely translate in a directive to get “Incident”, “Problem”, and “Change” launched ASAP.  There may be no change management system currently in place and the organization’s viability depends on getting a handle on changes in the IT environment.  You’ll need to tailor your approach to the organizational dynamics at play, but give deference to the items I’ve mentioned above.  If you’re being forced into the market without a properly defined service catalog or configuration management database (CMDB), setup your service management processes to allow for the eventual introduction of these pieces.  Keep in mind that a new ITSM platform can be relegated to simply a “ticketing” system if services and configuration items are not defined.  The true power of the ITSM platform is “Service” management, not Incident or Change Management.

If you’re allowed the time and the money to “do it right” from the beginning, here’s my recommendation:

Phase 1: Discovery, CMDB, & Asset Management.  Many ITSM platforms will perform a network scan of your environment and automatically discover configuration items (CIs).  When you first turn this on, it will be like drinking from a fire hose.  There will be a lot of data that will need to be sifted through.  Many data points of a CI will be pre-populated, but these will need to be reviewed for accuracy against underpinning contracts.  You may see duplicate CI entries.  For example, duplicate entries may be the result of scanning a Windows domain controller that may not be properly configured or up-to-date.  There will most likely be components that cannot be scanned, or components that can only be scanned upon completion of appropriate troubleshooting.  Some scanning will require credentials whereas others may be discoverable without them.  There may be add-on components that you can purchase to make discovery easier.  You’ll want regular scanning to be enabled so that when new devices are found, appropriate action can be taken.  Using the underpinning contracts, you’ll want to populate warranty, maintenance, and depreciation information.  A properly setup CMDB and asset management practice will serve as a solid foundation from which to build your service catalog.

Phase 2: Service Catalog, Self-Service Request Fulfillment.  Once you have all of your IT assets properly defined, you’re now able to use them in the construction of services to be consumed by your customers.   The “menu” by which a customer can order a service is the “Service Catalog”.  Some services are running all the time and need not be ordered, and some may need to be ordered only once.  The key thing to keep in mind is that IT assets are used in delivering services, so the underlying principle to developing a service is the mapping of configuration items to business outcomes.  For example, a service could be “Messaging”, which could entail email, mobile phone, desktop telephone, and instant messaging.  A number of configuration items are responsible for delivering the “Messaging” service.  Development of the Service Catalog involves mapping these CIs to the “Messaging” service.  Keep in mind that a single CI can be mapped to more than one service.  Once the service is defined, Request Fulfillment entails the definition of one or many service requests that can be logged against the defined service.  A Service Requests differs from an Incident in that a Service Request is a request from a customer to run a service as it’s designed, versus an Incident entails a service being degraded or broken.  An example of a service request for the “Messaging” service would be creation of a new user mailbox.

Phase 3: Incident, Problem, Change, and Release.  Only after Services & CIs are properly defined can true service management occur.  As mentioned, you may experience pressure from executive to skip straight to this step in the deployment of your ITSM tool.  If this is the case, you’ll want to make room in your process for the eventual introduction of the items in phases 1 and 2.  The proper configuration of Category, Sub-Category, & Item as discussed in Lessons 2 & 6 becomes even more important if you’re not allowed to complete phases 1 & 2 first.  Again, the goal of this exercise is to implement “service” management and not simply a “ticketing” system.  You’ll want to ensure that you have process models created for Incident, Problem, Change, and Release.  ITIL foundations will provide you with basic models that can be tailored to your organization.

Phase 4: Project Management (Waterfall & Agile).  With a solid ITIL operating platform established via the first three phases of your rollout, you are now ready to “bolt-on” project management modules.  In most organizations, the management of an IT project will culminate in the raising of one or more Requests for Change (RFCs) to implement one or more releases into the production environment.  Project management modules will assist you in managing these efforts.  Having project management as a part of your ITSM platform will also facilitate integrated resource management across all work types within IT.  The ideal situation is one in which an IT resource can access a single application (e.g. the ITSM tool) and see all of their work items.  Whether it’s a trouble ticket (Incident), a Service Request, a Problem, a task associated with a Change or Release, or a task associated with a project, your ITSM platform is intended to be the one-stop-shop for all work within IT.  Integrated time tracking will also facilitate labor capitalization for qualifying work.

Subsequent Phases: Service Level Management, Reporting, Governance, Risk, Compliance, Cost Management, Knowledge & Content Management, and User Survey. With each of the subsequent phases, you are “tightening the screws” on your ITSM platform.  Increasing service availability and IT operational efficiency are the overarching themes while managing risk, enforcing compliance, collecting knowledge, publishing content, and polling users for satisfaction.

The approach above is intended to be comprehensive and is the ideal scenario.  Rarely do we get to implement exactly how we want.  Don’t let perfection get in the way of being good enough.  In general, modules are flexible and your implementation can be tailored to your specific organization’s dynamics.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 10

Tenth in a Ten Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool.  Below is the tenth in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #10: Pilot your new ITSM platform in parallel with your old “ticketing” system.  There is no better way to understand how your new car will operate than taking it for a test drive.  ITSM platforms are no different.  You’ll want to run at least part of your new ITSM platform in parallel, in a test environment, prior to a production cutover.  This will undoubtedly cause increased burden on Service Desk and technical staff as they now have to log and work Incidents in two (2) systems.  Unfortunately, this is a necessary evil whose risk management rewards far outweigh the one-time additional effort.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 9

Ninth in a Ten Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool.  Below is the ninth in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #9: Have a good CAB.  ITIL will tell you that the “Change Manager” is the only person that needs to approve a Request for Change (RFC).  While this is literally true, the “Change Manager” must be advised by someone.  That “someone” is the Change Approval Board (CAB).  In reality, however, most ITSM platforms and organizational practices require the actual approval (recorded in the ITSM) system of many different stakeholders.  What you want to avoid is folks who provide “rubber-stamp” approvals.  You want approvals to be meaningful and reflective of a person’s true position of authority in the organization.  Similar to the way some organizations skip the step of defining services or a service catalog, many organizations will take shortcuts in defining who should approve an RFC.  As I mentioned in Lesson #5, every service and CI should have an owner.  When an RFC is raised and the requestor of that RFC selects the services and CIs that are impacted by the RFC, the owners should be notified by the ITSM tool that a new RFC has been raised against their service or CI and that their approval is required.  In my professional opinion, these are the only three (3) persons that should approve an RFC; the service owners, the CI owners, and the Change Manager.  I fully endorse the concept of the CAB advising the Change Manager, but approvals from CAB members are not necessary.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 8

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool.  Below is the eighth in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #8: Resist Customization.  Everyone thinks that their organization is unique, has a unique use case, and has a valid reason why a tool should be customized to fit their use case.  While I am not denying that there are some valid reasons for customization, implementing an ITSM strategy should largely be based on ITIL.  If your organization is doing something that doesn’t conform to ITIL, it’s probably worth examining the non-conforming activity and attempting to discontinue it.  Anyone that has been in IT long enough knows that customizing commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software will undoubtedly introduce unknown complexity in the future.  The software manufacturer and the integrator may warn you against customization while simultaneously advising that the customization you are requesting is both doable and won’t cause a headache later.  Again, beware; they are attempting to sell you a product.  Think long and hard about any potential customization.  It will cost you in the future in terms of additional custom development in order to implement upgrades, as well as subsequent pre and post release testing.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 7

Seventh in a Ten Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool. Below is the seventh in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #7: Review ALL existing ITSM systems, organization charts, and IT contracts when developing the strategy for your new ITSM platform.  If you’re going to deploy a new, single, unified ITSM platform to replace all others in the organization, you’ll need to gain read-only administrator access to each of these existing systems and thoroughly interrogate them.  This includes project management systems.  Any application that is used to manage IT assets (assets are hardware, software, and people) should be reviewed and a thorough analysis conducted to determine exactly how use cases will translate from existing systems to the new one.  Similarly, you’ll need the organizational structure context that only organizational charts can provide.  While the transition is under analysis and execution, a concerted effort must be made by the organization to keep reporting relationships and functional teams largely intact.  In other words, it becomes increasingly difficult to implement an effective ITSM strategy if the organization is in a constant state of flux.  Lastly, you’ll need to gain access to all of the active asset (underpinning) contracts within IT.  When implementing asset management and service level modules, the information contained within the contracts will be required.  Some of this information may be sensitive so be prepared to have these conversations with the keepers of these documents.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 6

Sixth in a Ten Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool. Below is the sixth in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #6: Have Diligence Relative to Category, Sub-Category, and Item.  As I mentioned in Lesson #2, don’t take shortcuts or be short-sighted in the proper definition of your meta-data.  I realize that it may be impossible to know all the permutations that will ultimately exist for Category, Sub-Category, and Item when the ITSM platform is initially launched.  For this reason, you must make these fields not required for the user / customer, but required for the Service Desk prior to closing the service record.  The user will generally know if its hardware or software that is impacted, but they may not, or they may choose incorrectly.  Ultimately, it’s up to Service Operation to correctly append Category, Sub-Category, and Item to the service record and they must be empowered (authorized) to create new entries as needed in order to properly record the service record.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 5

Fifth in a Ten Part Series
By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool.  Below is the fifth in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #5: Have Service & Configuration Item (CI) Owners.  The concept here is simple; there is a single person listed in the ITSM platform that is responsible for the availability and working operation of the service and the configuration item.  When a new service record is logged against a service and a CI in the ITSM platform, the appropriate owners are automatically notified.  Similarly, if a request for change (RFC) is raised against a service or a CI, the ITSM platform knows to automatically append these persons as approvers of the RFC.

Cost or Profit Center?

An Important Policy Decision

By Chad Greenslade

An important policy decision to be made is whether IT will be a profit or cost center.  This is a decision made by the organization’s executives, not by IT management.  This is because IT, as a business unit, is subject to the same governance as any other business unit.  Although IT executives may be asked to participate in making that decision, this is ultimately a matter of enterprise financial policy.  Definition of these two options are:

  • Cost Center: Two (2) definitions for the term “cost center” are commonly used in business.  Although they appear close in meaning, they are different.  In this context, the term is used to indicate a business unit or department to which costs are assigned, but which does not charge for services provided.  It is, however, expected to account for the money it spends, and may be expected to show a return on the business’ investment in it.  A cost center is able to focus awareness on costs and enable investment decisions to be better founded, without the overheads of billing.  However, it is less likely to shape users’ behavior and does not give the IT organization the full ability to choose how to financially manage itself (for example, in funding IT investment).  The other definition for the term “cost center” is used in the context for accounting.  In this context, a cost center is anything to which a cost can be allocated (for example, a service, location, department, business unit, etc.).  They also provide meaningful categories for allocating and reporting costs so that they can be understood and influenced by a wide audience.  Care should be taken to read the context of the term to ensure the correct meaning is inferred.
  • Profit Center: A business unit that charges for providing services is a “Profit Center”.  A profit center can be created with the objective of making a profit, recovering costs, or running at a loss.  As a profit center, IT is able to exercise greater autonomy, even to the extent that it can be operated as a separate business entity, under the ownership and direction of the corporate entity.  IT will also be able to achieve better cost control over service provision and calculate the true costs of IT by customers.  Charging other business units in the same organization can be useful in demonstrating the value that the service provider delivers, and in ensuring that funding is obtained from an appropriate source (i.e. the customer that uses the services).