Classroom Conversations

Classroom Conversation #6: Outcomes versus Requirements

The opening lines of chapter three, Service Strategy Principles,  in the Service Strategy book:

“ ‘People do not want quarter-inch drills. They want quarter-inch holes.’ Professor Emeritus Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business School”

This may be true, but I think we can take it a bit further and improve on it. 

I often use the quote to drive home an important principle of ITIL, that of managing to desired outcomes.  Often when the IT Service provider is told that the customer wants a quarter-inch hole, the service provider will focus on which would be the best drill to use (so to speak), accepting that the requirement has been determined. 

If we move from a mind-set of requirements gathering to that of determining outcomes, we give both the customer and ourselves, the service provider, a chance to partner more fully.  I’ll usually ask the members of the class, “What question should we ask the customer before we begin drilling the hole?”

Here are some common answers (note, each leads to the gathering of another requirement):

“Exactly where do you want the hole?”
“How deep do you need the hole to be?”
“When would you like me to make the hole?”

Every once in a while, someone in the class will provide this answer:  “Why do you want me to drill a hole?”  Yes, indeed:  Why does the customer want the hole—what outcome is the customer trying to achieve?  If we understand our customer’s desired outcomes, we give ourselves a better chance to partner with them in putting together better services.

Imagine, after hearing why the customer wants the hole, replying, “I can help you achieve your desired results without having to damage the wall at all—and give you flexibility for meeting a future need as well!”


Classroom Conversation #5: Deming

Plan-Do-Check-Act (The PDCA cycle) is the brain-child of  W. Edwards Deming.  And it is all about: Quality.  Why bring it up? Deming’s quality circle is pervasive across the ITIL framework.  In our classroom conversations we discuss the importance of improvement: improvement of our services, improvement of our processes, improvement of our functions, improvement of all we do and are. 

I also often share a story about a training session several years back at a company in which I began our discussion of CSI.  As I introduced it, a person in the class said, “We can skip this section.  The truth is that nobody here cares; we just want to do our work and go home.”  Fortunately, I could see a number of people furrowing their brow and frowning as if to say, “That’s not true.” Nobody actually said it out loud or challenged the person, however.

My response was that if what he had said was indeed true, they had just wasted their time, their company’s money, and my time as well, in taking the class—and I mentioned that they all might as well begin searching for new jobs because their company wasn’t going to be around much longer if what he had said was really the truth. 

If a company embarks on the IT Service Management trail and determines that ITIL and/or ISO\IEC 20000 is worth using, it will find itself embarking on the Deming trail.  Both ITIL and ISO\IEC 20000 are all about quality and improvement.  The expectation:  we want to do quality work and provide quality services. 

Classroom Conversation #4: The Customer as customer

If there’s one thing that became more clear and focused in the ITIL v3 and 2011 literature over the older versions, it is the driving focus on understanding and meeting the customer’s needs.  Still, I seem to have to constantly remind people in every class that what we do isn’t about us (the IT organization).  Even in companies where ITIL’s guidance has been used for years, I meet people in IT who think only about IT and their specific IT role.  One anecdote I regularly share has to do with a company who tried using ITIL’s guidance only to see things fizzle and watch IT activities “return to normal.”  (This is a true story slightly modified to protect the identity of the real company.  The company is not in the world of healthcare, so we will pretend it is.)

The problem was that “normal” wasn’t working too well from the business customers’ perspectives. So, the head of IT received approval from the business to create an IT Service Management Steering Committee to drive change.  The members of the committee then began asking fellow IT employees, “What’s your job?”  Early on, people would say things like “I’m a database administrator” or “I’m a server administrator” or “I’m a programmer.”  The steering committee member would then look the person in the eyes and respond, “No!  Wrong!  You are a healthcare provider.  You deliver quality healthcare to thousands of people.  If you can’t figure that out, maybe you should find a different company to go work for.”

Word quickly spread among IT staff to be careful to say, “I deliver quality healthcare services” or some similar answer when asked.  Guess what.  Things dramatically improved.  Business focus and a good steering committee—if you don’t have them both, get working on it.

Classroom Conversation #3: Change Management

Change Management for an IT organization is critical.  An old Gartner study found that around 80% of incidents could be linked to changes in the IT environment.  Nonetheless, in our conversations, I am able to share story after story of companies struggling with change management.  Interestingly, it seems that a common issue in those situations can be summed up thus:  bureaucracy.  Change Management should be focused on expediting changes while ensuring that the changes will be safe and successful.

Over the years, my observations are that businesses often focus on following the script (or process) instead of making sure the script/process works for the business.  In class, I often point out that ITIL recommends this item to be on every standard Change Advisory Board meeting agenda: “What can we do to improve the process?”

Truth be told, each process’s owner and manager should carry that same question around with them and bring it out anytime there seems to be reason to do so.  And, of course, that means it will happen a lot more than perhaps it does now.  In short:  “What can we do to improve what we do?” 


Classroom Conversation #2:  The ITIL Framework (Posted November 13, 2014)

I’ll often open up one of the five ITIL publications (I have them in .pdf format) to show the exact text or a specific visual figure in regards to a conversation we’re holding in class.  Almost always, somebody will ask, “Is that in our book [the courseware]?”  My response is “No, it’s one of the actual ITIL books.”  If the person is in class with a colleague, the person will then often ask the colleague, “Do we have those books?”   If they do, the next question is typically, “Where?  How can I get hold of them?”

If you don’t have the books or don’t think they are available in your company, I’ll state emphatically that it would be a very good idea to get them.   While courseware is helpful, it should make sense that if we’re trying to use ITIL’s guidance then we need to have the real guidance available, and that of course means that we need the five books.  If you don’t have them, I recommend getting electronic copies.

Here is one place you can go online to order them:


Classroom Conversations  #1: ITIL Best Practice  (Posted September 5, 2014)

Folks new to ITIL (even when they work for a company that uses it) often ask a variation of one of the following questions:

  • Do you know of any company that is doing ITIL completely?
  • Do you know any company that does ITIL well?
  • Can you really do ITIL?

In response to any of the three, I typically say, “You can’t do ITIL.  That often produces a set of very befuddled faces on those attending the class.  Then I typically say, “You do Service Management—with the help of ITIL.”

As a best practice framework, ITIL is a guiding framework that can be used well or used poorly to guide a company’s IT organization in its delivery of IT services.  My follow-up to the you-can’t-do-ITIL statement is that you don’t even want to.  You want to use its guidance (along with the guidance of other frameworks and standards such as Cobit or ISO/IEC 20000) to help you perform better as an IT organization.

ITIL is especially beneficial when you are struggling in your organization with some common issues: too many incidents caused by changes, changes that break other changes, lack of integration with (or understanding of) business/customer needs.

ITIL does a pretty good job in providing help or assistance in getting our IT ducks in a row.  Remember, we don’t DO ITIL.  We DO “IT Service Management”.