ITIL process success: Get people on your side

Executive and employee support can be the biggest barriers to ITIL process adoption. In his latest column, Brian Johnson offers advice on how to secure executive support and appoint ITIL champions to lead your internal campaign.

In most organizations considering implementing an IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) process, you will find both supporters who evangelize the guidance of ITIL and skeptics who want to take a different path to IT Service Management (ITSM).

Why is opinion so polarized? What drives the differing views of individuals who have similar backgrounds, work for the same organization, and have a shared interest in the success of the business?

According to noted psychotherapist and author Dr. Gilda Carle, there are many influences on beliefs and opinions, including past experiences, educational background, upbringing and personality type.

Past experience is a key driver of an individual's view of ITIL. If an individual has been part of a successful ITIL process deployment, he or she has seen firsthand the powerful effect ITIL can have on the business overall. This will obviously make such people more inclined to support an ITIL effort.

Conversely, if an individual has seen an organization spend years trying to implement ITSM without success, he or she may view ITIL as a lot of pain, with little or no gain.

These attitudes are important because ITIL involves people, as well as process and technology. People, in fact, are generally the biggest barrier to achieving sustained results in an ITIL initiative. People need to buy into your ITIL process efforts. They have to accept the need to change processes. They need to understand the benefits of ITIL to both themselves and the business. And they need to understand what it takes to effectively adopt ITIL. So if you don't address your people issues effectively, implementing ITIL will be like trying to sit on a stool with only two legs -- and your fall may be a hard one.

The good news is that there are proven methods to convert ITIL nonbelievers into ITIL supporters. These methods can help secure an individual's support of an ITIL process so the organization can take the steps necessary to improve ITSM. These methods include:

Securing executive-level commitment. People follow leaders. That's one reason executive-level commitment from the CIO, CEO, chief operating officer and others is so important. Executive support of the ITIL initiative filters through the ranks by demonstrating that ITIL has been adopted for the sake of the business, not just because it's the acronym of the week. With executive support, people can see there is something bigger at stake -- and that improving ITSM will improve bottom-line business performance

Using simulation to demonstrate benefits. There's a big difference between simply teaching someone ITIL process theory and showing them what happens when a team applies ITIL guidance. These kinds of positive and successful experiences can turn even the biggest skeptic into an enthusiastic ITIL advocate. One of the best ways to provide this kind of experience is to engage people in a business simulation. One such simulation, developed by GamingWorks BV and administered by CA and other companies, uses the Apollo 13 rescue mission scenario to show how ITIL can contribute to the success of a project. By providing such a tangible demonstration of how ITIL can work in a practical situation, this program has changed the thinking of many people who initially doubted the value of ITIL.

Cultivating ITIL champions. ITIL champions are ITIL supporters who can continue to evangelize the ITIL process throughout the organization. "Using an internal 'champion' for any belief system or behavior is important for purposes of positive reinforcement," Dr. Carle noted. "Characteristics of a champion include diplomacy, the willingness and ability to see and understand where others are coming from, and reliable persuasiveness." A champion should also be someone who is respected by all team members, and is a positive role model.

Investing in ongoing education. While a business simulation delivers the hands-on experience of ITIL in action, ongoing education is needed to support the adopted processes. Continued ITIL education goes hand-in-hand with real-time implementation throughout the organization. ITIL applies a "Plan, Do, Check, Act" model to sustain continual improvements in service management. This ongoing model benefits greatly from ongoing education.

Successful ITIL implementation requires that everyone get on board and pull in the same direction. Ultimately, each team member has three choices: lead, follow, or get out of the way. If the right people lead the way -- and do it right -- just about everyone else should follow along.

Brian Johnson is one of the original authors of the first ITIL books and an ITIL worldwide practice manager at CA Inc. He has also authored more than 15 books on ITIL or related topics and is the founder of the IT Service Management Forum, a professional organization focused on IT service management and ITIL. 

This was first published in April 2007

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