Case study: Dealing with ABC head-on

Published on Monday 18 February 2013

A large Norwegian organization has been adopting and deploying ITIL-based working for a number of years. They have achieved some limited success but were not getting the buy-in or value they had expected. There was some apathy, frustration and lack of belief that ITIL was more than an exercise in bureaucracy rather than something that added value.

One of the Process Managers within the organization attended a session organized by itSMF Norway in which the ABC of ICT™ cards had been introduced as an awareness and assessment instrument to help create dialogue and change. In the session the Process Manager heard how ABC and a business
simulation could be used to create buy-in, help overcome resistance, help people learn to translate
ITIL theory into practice and empower teams and individuals to capture improvement suggestions. All
in 1 day! Excited by the opportunities he convinced the management team to spend 1 day in their
off-site management team meeting to go through the experience. The Process Manager says: “We started an initiative 5 years previously and at that time I stressed the need to address the organizational change issues – getting people on board. Too little was done and we failed to gain the benefits“.

The itSMF session showed, using results from the worldwide ABC surveys, the negative impact and key reasons for ITSM failure as well as showing how to deal with the issues. The reasons for failure were instantly recognizable. “I now had additional support to help me convince managers. I arranged
a session as part of the Management Team (MT) meeting. I invited external experts to tell the same
messages that I had told, and to confront management with the need to change our approach. I told the MT this is what we NEED to do if we want to change the culture.

I knew they were feeling the pain so I linked the session to their needs”.

Ole-Vidar Christensen of Steria facilitated 2 exercises using the ABC cards as well as a shortened version of a business simulation, in this case the Apollo 13 – An ITSM Case Experience™.
The first ABC exercise was the Customer exercise, aimed at stimulating a customer focus and identifying customer issues.

sterriaabcThe team was given a set of worst practice ABC cards and were asked to choose: ‘Which ABC cards would the customers choose if we asked them? What is the negative impact on business value and outcomes? Is it an acceptable business risk’? It was clearly identified that the impact of the cards chosen was unacceptable and that currently no responsibilities or initiatives were assigned to deal with these issues within the organization.

The MT then played the business simulation ‘Apollo 13 – An ITSM Case Experience’ to try to apply best
practices to solve these issues. In the first round the team struggled and identified significant similarities in their own current approach to deploying ITIL – unclear roles, frustration, inability to steer the processes, lack of management insight, poor match of aligning processes to business priorities,people not following the procedures. The MT was getting agitated and annoyed and hadn’t learnt anything yet. The Process Manager was beginning to ask himself if this was such a good idea after all.
The team was then facilitated on the right way to approach best practices. The MT then learnt how to
turn this failure into success. Simple improvements and an approach that made significant performance gains. The MT saw, felt and experienced how ITSM Best practices could make a difference when applied properly, they felt how this type of intervention helped create a real-buy in and enabled people to change themselves.

This was something EVERYBODY needed to experience! This could help energize the teams to change.

There was positive energy…..not so fast!.

The MT session finished with the ‘resistance’ exercise.Many companies enthusiastically embrace an ITIL initiative and HOPE for the benefits. But adopting a framework like ITIL means that people need to change the way they behave. People do not like to change. There will be resistance. It is an unavoidable fact. The question is what type of resistance and how best to deal with it.

The ABC exercise revealed significant, hidden resistance as well as recognized open resistance that could derail the program.

The MT discussed ways of dealing with the resistance and the ‘behavior’they must demonstrate. Many of the proposed initiatives revealed a need for leadership, management commitment as well as belief and buy-in from all involved. There was a need to engage with the employees and involve and empower them.

The Process Manager says: ‘A week or two later when the managers reflected on the session nobody could remember what was discussed on the first day of the MT get-away, they all remembered exactly what happened on the day of ABC and Apollo. They had felt and experienced the failure and the successes. ‘This is the way to learn about ITIL, to make it come alive and show what it can achieve’,

The management team realized that ABC is the fundament to making ITSM and the processes work.

‘It is all about ownership and personal responsibility.I presented the results of the session to the CIO and explained this is what caused our previous initiatives to fail. Failing to address the ABC issues and create buy-in. The MT confirmed their experiences and were positive that this was the way forward. I created a sense of urgency for the CIO by explaining if we do not consciously address ABC then we should stop theITIL initiatives all together as it will fail. The MT made the conclusions for themselves ‘Everybody should go through this exercise’.

Empowering for change

Employee sessions were organized and facilitated by Steria. These would both engage and empower employees. These would both engage and empower employees. The Process Manager says: ‘I wanted to create those ‘AHA’ moments. I wanted people to say ‘So this is what it is all about?’ Let people experience the fact that we could create a big impact and realize significant benefits by making small changes to the way we work together. Let them feel the need for sharing information, let them feel the need for taking responsibility, let the people discover their own improvement suggestions. I knew there would be resistance from some managers and teams, but what helped was the CIO declaring ‘There is no excuse not to turn up for these sessions. They are an important step in the way forward and everybody needs to be involved.’

The same program experienced by the management team would be run. People from different departments would participate in the same session and certain people would play specific roles to maximize the learning effect. For example a second line manager would play a Help Desk role so that he could experience the impact when second line staff don’t register ‘workarounds’ or follow agreed procedures. At the beginning of the sessions it was clear that there was, to say the least, limited enthusiasm and a feeling that the sessions would offer little real value. It was clear that, although the organization was adopting ITIL nobody knew what it was expected to deliver. There was little awareness of the concept of Service, Value, Outcomes, Costs, Risks. ‘ITIL is the goal not what it should achieve’ summed up the general attitude and approach. The first exercise was the Customer exercise: 25 people were divided into teams of 5, each team received a pack of ABC cards and was asked to choose a worst practice card that their customers would choose as the one that most needed solving, teams were also to discuss the negative impact on Value, Outcomes, Costs and Risks to the business and present their findings.

These were the top cards chosen and the discussed and agreed impact on the business.

Cards chosen Impact
The top cards chosen

  • No my responsibility (4 )
  • Internally focused (3)
  • Maybe we should have tested that change first (3)
  • No understanding of business impact and priority(2)
  • Throwing Solutions over the wall and HOPING people will use them
  • Process managers without authority
  • The solution the customer sees isn’t the one that IT sees
  • Neither partner makes an effort to understand each other
  • Plan, Do, Stop… real Continual improvement culture
  • Users not involved in requirements & testing
  • Avoidance culture
The overall impact of the worst practices

  • Damaged Business Reputation
  • Lost productivity
  • Dissatisfied Customers
  • Outages of Critical systems
  • Needs not being met
  • Delays in solutions
  • Frustrated employees

The team concluded this represented an unacceptable business risk that needed solving.

Discovering a solution together

The teams then took part in the business simulation. The facilitator played the role of Mission Director
(Customer) and showed the results above. Explaining indeed this is unacceptable and that he expected the teams to now apply the ITSM theory such as ITIL, CobIT, ISO, they had gained. After all, IT had spent the business IT budget on ITSM training, and the business expected to see a return on this investment. During each session a member of the MT was to attend to explain that all the captured feedback from each session would all be gathered and seriously discussed in MT sessions. The CIO and the MT would then explain which actions would be taken up in the short, middle and longer term. Which actions would be picked up as part of a program and which actions would be the responsibility of the line organization. During the first round of the simulation the team experienced frustration, poor process performance and poor customer satisfaction. It was agreed that it was similar to reality. Despite the amount of people who had been on ITIL training they were unable to successfully apply best practices to realize the value demanded by the business. Steria facilitators then helped the teams successfully apply best practices, focusing on the key critical success factors. At the end of the Apollo sessions the teams saw how THEY had successfully applied People, Process, Product and Partner capabilities to achieve demonstrated PERFORMANCE (The 5 P’s). The teams were then asked to record, ‘What did you apply today that made such a significant improvement that you need to take away and apply in your organization?’


The more than 500 suggestions were consolidated into a top 10 list and presented back to the
management team as ‘Countdown to success….. or failure’. The following table identifies the top level
consolidation of all improvement suggestions. The teams felt engaged and empowered, they had
experienced how best practices could not only improve the organization’s performance but also
make their own work easier. As the sessions progressed throughout the week more and more of
the senior managers attended, not just the kick-off but for the whole session as they saw the positive energy and engagement of the employees and a clear need for managers to demonstrate commitment.

apollo take-aways


The final exercise was to give people a chance to name the types of resistance they currently experience or expect to meet when they try to apply the identified improvement suggestions. The following table shows the cards identified, and what needed to be done according to the delegates. The resistance exercise looked at the cards chosen and the consequences.

The consequences clearly showed delays, lack of cooperation, firefighting and inconsistent decision making.

The teams brainstormed actions and solutions to address the resistance displayed.

Resistance results

Card Solution
  • Saying yes, meaning no(2)
  • Never mind about following procedures just do what we normally do
  • Not my responsibility
  • Avoidance culture
  • Process managers without authority
  • No Management commitment
  • Hierarchic culture. ‘The boss is right even when the boss is wrong.
  • No understanding of business priority and impact
  • ITIL is the objective not what it should achieve
  • We’re going to install ITIL it can’t be that hard.
  • Throwing solutions over the wall and hoping that people will follow them.
  • Plan, Do, Stop..No real continual improvement focus(3)


  • Use of consequence management for rewards and non-compliance measures.
  • Ensure that all responsibilities and accountabilities are clearly known and people are given open, honest, direct feedback on responsibilities.
  • Ownership of services must be established and clear decision making authorities.
  • Managers must ‘walk-the-talk’ and display behavior that addresses resistance at all levels.
  • Establish guidelines and rules for ‘Saying No’ with justification.
  • Processes must be aligned to Customer.
    and user needs. Involve the business in designing and agreeing and deploying new ways of working.
  • Creating good communications channels between groups and departments.
  • The need to involve all in designing and implementing their own processes and procedures.
  • Managers must ensure a focus on CSI. CSI must be embedded in line manager, team and group responsibilities.

Embedding in the organization

For weeks after the sessions there was positive energy, people were talking more about ITIL and
processes and were communicating a lot more, sharing information and giving each other feedback.
The final results of the exercises and the Apollo improvement suggestions were taken forward and
discussed by the MT. The Process Manager says: ‘Following the sessions full-time process managers were appointed, Discussions were started about how to empower the process managers. Process managers were now in a position in which they could confront managers on their responsibilities. Additional workshops were organized together with the MT to define and agree actions, also to discuss barriers and how these could best be addressed including the responsibility of the MT. KPIs, targets and actions were agreed together with process managers, meetings were arranged with customers so that customers could express their concerns. It isn’t going as fast as I had hoped but change takes time, we are making small steps and there is momentum to continue to make changes. Managers are becoming increasingly engaged but we are not there yet. My aim is to continue to confront people with
responsibilities until it is embedded in normal behavior – the way we do things around here.’ The Process Manager says: ‘what did I learn from this and would recommend to other process managers? Never lose sight of the need to manage organizational change and the people aspects, call it ABC or whatever. If you do not address it you will fail. You need to create a sense of urgency to gain management commitment and to confront managers with their responsibility for demonstrating commitment. The simulation type intervention is a great way to let them see, feel and experience the consequences and the benefits to be gained’.