Service Catalog Maxims

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to

Alice: I don’t much care where.

The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.

Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.

The Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

– Alice in Wonderland

One strategy is as good as another if the desired results are unclear or unknown

An ITIL program can be much like Alice’s journey through Wonderland; a confusing jaunt where many new and interesting things are learned but whose results are unclear. Like many IT organizations in a changing landscape, Alice was lost. More importantly, she was lost and had no clear destination in mind. The cat is telling Alice that if she doesn’t have a clear outcome in mind any old path or strategy will do.

ITIL is not a guarantee of business success

Many IT organizations take on ITIL because someone believes intuitively that change is necessary. It is often clear that the same skills and efforts that lead to IT’s current high level of success are not the skills and efforts that will take the organization successfully into the future.

ITIL is an excellent path for success. However, without clear goals the ITIL path can lead to many different results. Many organizations have leveraged ITIL to become excellent in some areas without delivering any strategic benefit to the business. Similar results were seen in quality movements where some companies won the Deming Prize or the Malcolm Baldrige Award only to have devastating business setbacks shortly after.

ITIL is a tool to be wielded by craftsmen with definite purpose.

The challenge for IT departments today is to become strategically relevant in a positive way. IT solves business problems and makes business success possible. However, it brings with it many problems that can make the cost of solving business problems too high to be useful. ITIL as a tool is useful tool for solving business problems and enterprise IT management problems. However, just like any powerful tool it is only as effective as the craftsman wielding the tool. A skilled craftsman can with the simplest of tools produce works of art while the amateur produces only trinkets no matter how sophisticated the tools they use.

Create an unrelenting bias towards “specific” action.

There are many places to begin in the ITIL journey. Some paths are sound and generally lead around the quicksand and tar pits. Others lead directly into the tar but in a way that distracts until it’s too late to get out. Organizations get in too deep and begin to struggle only to be drawn in deeper and deeper with each futile attempt to get free.

Fear of getting trapped can cause many to hesitate and go nowhere while their competitors move further and further ahead. Fear of action is itself a trap. So what is an IT Leader to do when either path can lead to destruction? General Patton, one of the most famous American Generals in history, was known for saying “a good plan violently executed today is better than a great plan tomorrow.” General Patton had a clear bias for action but he also had what many IT Leaders do not; a clear and unambiguous goal.

General Patton always knew that his goal was to “destroy the enemy’s will to resist.” This clear and unambiguous goal directed his “violent action” in a very specific way. War is the application of violence towards political ends. In many ways it is much simpler than conducting business if for no other reason than that the goals are usually much clearer and are provided by the political authority. The clear goals under which General Patten operated made his bias for action “a bias for ‘specific’ action.”

IT Leadership, if it sets clear and unambiguous goals can produce clarity of purpose that motivates people towards a bias for specific action. ITIL provides the tools for success. IT Leadership must develop the craftsmanship in its people and articulate a clear purpose if it is to create strategic works of art instead of trinkets.

Illuminate a clear and low risk path.

Enterprise IT is at an inflection point; having barely been born it must now quickly learn to run or it risks being eaten. Large and inflexible, IT is often unable to create commitment to a singular purpose. Careers have been built on investment in old ways of doing things. That old way was extremely successful both for personal careers and for business success.

However, the future is rarely created by doing the same old things in the same old ways. Creating a tipping point of recognition that the old ways will no longer lead to success ― either personal or organizational ― can be difficult if not impossible. History is littered with organizations that failed to see the inflection point until it was much too late to implement non-destructive changes.

Taking immediate well scoped action towards a service based organization can be a step in the right direction to convince stakeholders that a new way is needed, that the right tools are at hand, and that the organization can learn this new dance. Care must be taken to ensure that the scoped action is taken in a safe manner that illuminates a certain path towards a clearly defined future. Avoiding traps at this stage is crucial, because anything other than clear wins will be used by detractors as reason not to take the necessary risks.

Develop organizational confidence in terms of strategic assets for the future.

Leverage success in a few well scoped initiatives to create commitment and buy in towards a successful service based future. Focus on two key areas that rely on different resources and capabilities, that can be performed in parallel, and that create synergy when appropriately combined. A service catalog project is one such safe and productive initiative. There are two distinct elements of any service catalog project: the customer relationship management piece and the internal fulfillment “Operational Excellence” effort.

Senior executives can begin to develop new strategic assets in terms of managing the outside perception of IT value delivery. The service catalog rests directly in the heart of value creation and presentation. Learning to clearly and precisely articulate IT’s value proposition is the realm of IT management and the service catalog is the primary tool for this effort. Likewise, IT managers and staff can begin to develop new strategic assets in terms of efficiently and effectively delivering the value articulated by senior management in terms of service fulfillment. Once sold to the customer a service represents a fixed value delivered at a fixed price. Additional value is created only when that fixed value is delivered at a lower production costs over time.

If care is taken in implementing the service catalog program, to develop and grow strategic assets in these two areas, confidence will be created in both senior executives and production staff. Both groups will come to realize that they can be successful in this new environment and that they have chosen the right collection of tools in IT Service Management and ITIL.

Develop specific goals for each project in a structured approach to ITIL adoption

Realize that achieving success in ITIL requires producing specific results in multiple areas in a coordinated effort where each part depends on results produced in other parts. Just like in team sports no one part can excel without the support of all the other parts and often the best teams are made up of average parts that work exceptionally well together.

Implementing a service catalog will produce demonstrable value in a short time. It will also highlight other areas of ITIL implementation that are required to move service catalog value creation further towards its potential. Customer perception of IT will improve if services can be ordered and fulfillment is reliable and predictable. However, expectations of delivery will remain a function of individual experience and beliefs without the delivery targets that Service Level Management negotiates with the customer. Likewise, the ability to manage demand and make informed business decisions will be limited by the lack of financial data linked to services that Financial Management produces.

Target incremental Round-Robin opportunities for improvement

When the service catalog is implemented successfully and is demonstrated to all stakeholders, those stakeholders will want to invest more in a proven area. This provides an excellent opportunity to highlight other areas of ITIL that must be improved for the service catalog to reach its next level of potential. The value of ITIL processes lies not in any one process or concept but in the integration of all the processes together. It is team synergy that delivers the wins not super star effort by any one process or concept.