Why don’t we ask the users?

Published on Tuesday 3 April 2012 by in Blog with no comments

I have decided to re-issue a Blog or article I made in 2009. Why haven’t we got anything new to say? We have to rehash blogs? No. For two reasons. The first was a Customer who said ‘why haven’t we seen this before? If somebody had told me about this before we could have saved a lot of problems?’

The second reason being that still the highest scoring ABC worst practice cards are:

  • Too little understanding of business impact and priority
  • Everything has the highest priority according to the users
  • IT is too internally focused
  • Not my responsibility

Coupled with a Forrester report that revealed only 15% of IT leaders say they are aligned with the business. Despite all of the wonderful ITSM frameworks and the supposed focus on Service, Customers and Users they are still not happy? this begs the simple question:

Why don’t we ask the users? here is the blog I posted in 2009!!!!….

It would appear a perfectly logical and eminently sensible thing to do if you are adopting and ‘implementing’ best practices aimed at improving the quality of services to Customers and users. But what has logic and sense got to do with IT Service management? And what have the Customers and users got to do with IT Service management?

Why don’t we ask the Users? This is exactly what 1 IT organization did. Much to the surprise of both the IT managers and the Users involved in an ABC of ICT™ workshop.

An internal IT organization in the Health services was about to embark upon a program of organizational change. This was in response to a strategic mandate to ‘professionalize’ the IT organization.

The IT team had organized a 1 day workshop to create a ‘mind set’ and start to scope the improvement focus. The workshop would create a ‘shared view’ on what needs improving. They asked us if we would run an ABC workshop with the IT team and perform the ‘User focused exercise’. We suggested they invite the Users. There was a moment of stillness. The new IT manager, still finding his way in the organization and its culture, shrugged his shoulders and said ‘Why not?’. The other IT managers looked wary;  suspicious even  I thought, as I saw their rolling eye-ball movements and heard their barely disguised sighs of incredulity. However they said nothing to the contrary so the Users got invited to attend an hour of the workshop.

At the start of the workshop I explained the history of the ABC of ICT™ and explained its origin in the worst practice book ‘IT Service management from HELL’. I showed them the top 10 ABC worst practices taken from the global workshop surveys. ‘IT has too little understanding of business impact and priority’, ‘IT is too internally focused’ being two of the top 3. “Now is the chance”  I said, “to find out what the business wants and needs , because the Users will be coming to tell you their concerns”.

“You should have written the book Users from Hell!” one of the IT managers remarked. This raised the most amount of laughter so far, coupled with confirmative shakes of the head and sniggering.

The door opened and two Users sheepishly peered into the room. They shuffled in all defensive and apologetic. “Are we allowed to join this IT meeting?”, “Do we have to sit in the front?!”. There was a look of disbelief and panic in their eyes.

“Don’t worry” said the IT manager. “We just want your opinion about us and what needs improving.”

“……really?!”asked one of the Users.

The exercise:

The exercise was simple I said. A recent Forrester report declared 15% of IT managers says they are aligned with the business. Whilst 80% of business managers stated the importance of IT in delivering Value in terms of lowering costs, improving productivity, acquiring and retaining customers. “We just want to find out how aligned you are”.

I explained a Service to the Users according to ITIL V3. “The IT organization delivers Services to you, A service is a way of delivering value to you by facilitating outcomes you want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks”. The IT organization wants to know what they need to improve to deliver value and what needs changing to prevent unnecessary costs and risks.

We did the ‘User focused exercise’. The IT organization was given a set of 57 worst practice cards and asked “Imagine if I give THIS set of cards to YOUR users and asked them, which 3 typically represent your IT organization which 3 would they choose. Each IT person can choose 3 cards”.

I then simply gave a set of cards to the users and said “which 3 WOULD you choose”. Both teams set enthusiastically about the task. There was sniggering and pointing and the users whispering “shhh don’t let them know we chose this one, let’s see what they think!”.

I then told each team to gather all the cards chosen by each team member and then to perform a team exercise. Which are the top 3 cards out of all the cards chosen individually. Choose the top 3 based upon the negative impact on business value and the cards causing the most costs & risks to the business.

The IT team was scratching their heads trying to think about the real business impact. The business team quickly identified some concrete issues and examples of real impact. Now many IT experts, indeed ITIL V3 stresses the need for Business & IT integration, we shouldn’t talk about alignment. In my opinion we should first talk about alignment to see if in your organization integration is a reality or something at the end of the rainbow hidden beneath the pot of gold.

Both teams then presented their findings to each other. These were the results:

The IT team THOUGHT the business would choose the following top 3 cards. For the top card, the one with the most negative impact they were asked to describe the business impact.

  • Blame Culture
  • IT not seen as an added value partner by the Business
  • No respect for, or understanding of Users

Impact: Lost Business opportunities, Lost revenue, damaged Business reputation, Decreased staff productivity, Higher Business operating costs

Acceptable risk: No.

We then asked the business, which top 3 cards did you ACTUALLY choose and for the top card describe the negative impact and consequences.

  • 9 to 5 Culture
  • No respect for, or understanding of Users
  • Quality manager card: waiting for the IT organization to improve

Impact: Dissatisfied internal AND external customers, Financial consequences, Many complaints, Lost productivity, External customer complaints, Image problem, Long delays

Acceptable risk: No.

It was an eye opener to the IT team that they chose different cards and didn’t really know what was irritating the users. IT didn’t realize the impact on wasted hours, frustration and risks to end customers when the IT systems weren’t properly aligned and when support was lacking. The users suddenly became more open and were giving examples, situations and feedback to IT without passing any blame. The feedback was focused on business activities, what outcomes they needed, the wasted costs and the risks they perceived to business operations. It became a constructive session discussing issues, impact and improvement needs.

Comments from the business and IT people at the end of the session:

“Incredible that in such a short session we identified so may business issues, in such a colourfull, fun way without any feeling of blame or animosity.”

“Now I understand as a non IT’er what my role needs to be in ensuring our needs , priorities and impact are known to IT.”

“This has now made it clear to me that first we need to earn the respect of the business before they will take us seriously.”

“This is the first time that IT has taken us seriously and tried telling us how what they are doing, or planning to do, is aimed at improving our satisfaction.”

The conclusion was that this was a highly valuable session that helped create a good open dialogue with the business, it was decided to plan more dialogue sessions. The insights gained gave a clear focus and priority for the initial improvement initiatives for the IT team. “I didn’t realize….’ was mentioned a few times. New insight was gained.

When the users left the room there was a feeling of being one group, with a common objective for improving IT for the business…..with the business. A first step on the road to alignment had been taken and agreements made for more steps on the long and difficult journey that lies ahead before business and IT integration can be achieved.

One of the IT managers sat shaking his head in disbelief. “We never hold sessions like this with the business or users!….I don’t understand why we didn’t do this before.” In my opinion most IT organizations should start an initiative like this. One of the recommendations in ITIL V3 is ‘Engage with the business’, If you look at the results of the Forrester report it is shocking how poor we are with Business and IT alignment, how little we really know. We adopt a victim role and feel sorry for ourselves bemoaning that the business doesn’t understand us and won’t listen to us. Maybe we should start listening more to them. We have been paying lip service to Business and IT alignment and a customer focused service delivery for too long now. It is time we got up off our seats and asked the users and customers.

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