Effective ITIL project leadership: Plan-Do-Check-Act

Successful ITIL project leaders are using the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle to ensure their teams stay motivated, follow the same processes and contribute innovative ideas.

Central to the success of an ITIL project is ensuring backing and support from the CIO or other senior executives. IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) leaders are responsible for communicating that support to the team. Successful ITIL project leaders use a formalized communication plan known as Plan-Do-Check-Act, which is essential to any ITIL implementation.

The first step in the Plan-Do-Check-Act process is to have an executive address ITIL stakeholders at all project kickoff meetings. This falls under the Plan and Do activities and also shows the team that the ITIL program has leadership support. If a CIO or senior executive doesn't attend the kickoff meeting, project support is questioned and that immediately weakens the team and the leader's ability to direct the program.

Following the kickoff meeting, leaders execute the Do portion of the cycle by simply following the same process as the rest of their team. When you talk about Plan-Do-Check-Act in ITIL, the Do really means that leaders must set the example and establish a culture where the senior executives follow the process like any other employee. One CIO I have worked with took this a step further and communicated to the entire company how he followed the process. He did this after receiving an irate call from a senior executive who claimed the service desk was not giving him the priority he deserved. After sharing the process and his own service desk requests with the executive, the CIO pinned the list on every local notice board and in the service desk operations room to give the technicians a tool for response when they were getting pressure to increase the priority of certain tickets.

For a leader to ensure the Check portion of the cycle is acted upon and executed within an organization, he must establish a culture that encourages questioning the status quo. This is not as easy as it sounds. A leader must establish a belief among the team that its members can speak freely and challenge decisions and processes without repercussion. However, team members are often reluctant to question the team leader and engage in the Check activities. For example, one CIO told me she would bring in her lunch and sit down with her employees in the cafeteria to seek feedback on how things were working on the "shop floor." Initially there was a high level of mistrust among the team, but that turned into respect when she implemented some of the suggestions and attributed the credit to the person who had the idea. She never dismissed an idea and encouraged her direct reports to come to meetings with questioning minds as she did not want "yes men or women" in her organization. This cultural change provided for quite a deal of innovation and the process maturity increased dramatically.

There is often a wealth of process improvement intellectual property that goes untapped in an organization, and it's up to the ITIL leader to motivate the team and draw out this IP.

A leader's biggest role in the Act portion of the cycle is to make decisions. Once the team has planned, executed, examined and questioned, and possible changes have been suggested, a leader must decide whether to act on the recommendations. This ultimately starts the cycle over again.

A leader should also understand the importance of rewards and recognition beyond the standard review cycle and should call out success in his team as it happens. An ITIL project, for example, is all about process. There is often a wealth of process improvement intellectual property that goes untapped in an organization, and it's up to the ITIL leader to motivate the team and draw out this IP, executing in a timely manner. The team executing the processes is in the best position to remove waste and inefficiencies, and an effective ITIL leader will find ways to inspire the team to find these opportunities and ensure team members are recognized and rewarded.

Peter Doherty is a published author on IT asset management with the Cutter Consortium. He worked on the ITIL V3 refresh and was a contributing author to the ITIL V3 Service Operations book.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Guglielmo, Executive Editor, or follow her on Twitter @kgugl.

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