Five Lessons for Successful Transformation

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I received an email from a well-known web hosting provider titled “Transform your business with a second phone number”. The email stated that with a second phone number, I can separate my business calls from my personal calls – and do that using a single device.

I suppose that would be an interesting use of technology. It might even be an impactful change in how I’m doing things. But would it really be ‘transformative’? Or just a change?

Change vs. Transformation

What is the difference between ‘change’ and ‘transformation’? A change results in current things being done in an incrementally different way. Transformation is a process by which current ways of working are converted into or completely replaced by something completely different.

For example, business transformations consist of new lines of business, an acquisition, or a spin-off of a business unit. Digital transformation results in new business models, moving from a pipeline approach to a networked ecosystem of providers, producers, owners, and consumers. Service management transformations introduce methodologies and new mindsets to facilitate business value delivery based on the use of technology.

Has ITSM been transformative for your organization?

ITSM, done well, is transformative.

Has that been your organization’s experience with ITSM? I’m guessing that for some that read this article, the answer will be “no”.

Why haven’t some ITSM implementations been transformative? In my opinion, because those implementations only made incremental changes – not transformed – how IT was utilized. There was no effort to map IT’s contribution to business value chains. There was no effort to defining services in terms of business value and outcomes.

In these implementations, the focus was only on operational activities like how an incident was being handled. What was implemented as “ITSM” was really an incrementally different way of doing what was already being done. The IT organization was already taking calls from its business colleagues before there was a service desk; it was already reacting to outages before formally defining an incident management process.

ITSM is transformative when the utilization of IT within an organization becomes dramatically different. The (whole) organization talks, acts, and works in terms of business value and quantifiable results. The focus is not about IT-business alignment, but rather an integrated, collaborative approach within an organization (yes, the organization includes IT) working toward achieving shared business goals.

Unfortunately, many efforts to promote ITSM as transformative failed because ITSM was presented as a just a tool or a support solution, and not as a way for IT to deliver business value.

In short, the ITSM implementation was just an incremental change to what was being done, not a transformation.

What makes it a ‘transformation’?

Transformation requires rethinking the current ways of doing things. Transformation is wide-reaching and pervasive across an organization. Transformation is often high risk, but also high reward if the transformation is successful.

Transformation is really a leap into the unknown. Transformation requires courageous actions in the face of resistance, confusion, and ambiguity.

I am convinced that IT must transform…or IT will die. Many IT organizations are approaching (if not already on) the brink of irrelevance. In many organizations, IT is viewed as an order taker. A cost center. Nonresponsive and slow to deliver. Too expensive. A black hole.

IT should be a valued collaborator. Innovator. Partner. Leader. Integrator. Enabler. This is the transformation that will result from good ITSM.

But in many organizations, IT is viewed as the former and not as the latter. ITSM – done well – can transform IT. If IT doesn’t transform – and soon — IT will no longer be relevant.

Lessons in (ITSM) Transformation

If transformation is critical for IT, and good ITSM is transformative, then why have so many ignored the lessons from transformations that fell short? When I think about transformation and ITSM, there are five things that I’ve learned.

Don’t start until the desired business outcomes are defined, understood, and agreed
ITSM presented as a technology or IT-only initiative will (eventually) fail. Too many ITSM implementations have only addressed the operational aspects of service management and never the strategic or business aspects.

What is the business trying to achieve? What outcomes does the business require? How can ITSM help business achieve its goals and deliver the required outcomes?

The closer you can align ITSM with the vision and goals of the organization (through measurable, business-relevant contributions), the more successful you’ll be with ITSM.

Don’t blindly believe all of the hype
An organization should not pursue a ITSM transformation just based on the what they’re reading or hearing from industry analysts, a consultant, or a tool vendor. The fact is that your company is unique. Companies must evaluate the potential advantages and difficulties of ITSM for their specific organization with a critical eye.

This means that you must do your homework. Learn what is “good ITSM” and the investment that is required to achieve success. Know that there will be missteps, false starts, and mistakes. There are no transformation cookbooks, no shortcuts, or instant fixes. You must evaluate what will be best for your company, develop the business case, define the plan, and execute.

Don’t lead with technology
Abraham Maslow stated in his 1966 book, The Psychology of Science, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. When you start ITSM implementation based on a tool, there will be a tendency to try to solve every issue using that tool before completely understanding the issue itself.

Before you can determine what tools are needed, first identify and understand the requirements of your ITSM implementation. Have discovery conversations with business colleagues to understand their particular challenges with and expectations of technology. Determine how ITSM can help. Then identify the technology needed to support the required ITSM solution.

Don’t underestimate the need for cultural change
Transformation with ITSM can’t happen without providing a compelling reason for change, rewarding and recognizing those that embrace the change, and making the resisters part of the solution. This means that you must market, communicate, and train those involved with ITSM.

Then you have to do it again. And again. A single ‘town hall’ meeting or a memo from senior management will not cut it when it comes to cultural change. And even when you think the transformation has become rooted within the organization, you must continue reinforce the transformation by investing time, energy, and resources into the attitudes and behaviors required for good ITSM. Cultural change is not a one-and-done event, but must be an everyday effort. Without this ongoing investment, it is too easy to slip back into the old ways of doing things.

Don’t assign accountability without also assigning authority
An important aspect of ITSM implementation is establishing ownership and accountability. Having ownership and accountability not only drives transformation, it also enforces a sense of urgency. But assigning accountability without also assigning authority is not only ineffective, it is also demotivating for both the change agents (those that have been made accountable) and those that want to transform.

Authority provides the needed “permission” from senior management to drive the transformation that results from a good ITSM implementation. This means that senior management must recognize that authority must go across the whole organization, and publicize that authority has been given to those that have been made accountable for ITSM implementation.

If your ITSM implementation wasn’t transformative, there’s still time – but you must act. Don’t just make an incremental change. These five lessons will get you on the right path for successful transformation.


Is your ITSM implementation transformative … or just an incremental change? Consulting services from Tedder Consulting transforms ITSM implementations. Don’t wait to transform – contact us today!

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