Fund Services, not Projects

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Businesses are demanding more speed, agility, and responsiveness from their IT organizations. The work that IT does must provide the means for business to quickly realize value.

What does this mean for IT? Roy Atkinson sums it up nicely when he says that IT “must go faster”.

In response, many IT organizations are adopting Agile methodologies to help them “go faster”. But soon after the Agile decision, many IT organizations soon encounter one of the biggest challenges of all.

“How do we pay for this?”

A long-standing challenge that many IT organizations adopting Agile methodologies often encounter is the drive for agility using Agile conflicts with traditional budgeting and project cost management and accounting.[1]

Surely someone has figured this out.

Turns out that someone has…. Well, almost.

Problem solved… well, not quite

As I was thinking about this challenge, I started to do some research. I found an article titled “Lean Budgets” which does go a long way toward resolving the challenge.   The article proposed a set of practices that fund and empower value streams rather than projects, while still maintaining financial controls, by establishing portfolios of value streams. This approach seems to address many of the challenges faced by IT organizations adopting Agile approaches.

But I think the problem is not quite solved.

If we only focus on application development and do not consider the total cost of ownership of a service, we’re not providing the full story to the accounting folks. And accounting folks do not like surprises.

If we make funding decisions based only on the application development perspective, isn’t that like buying a new car, loaded with lots of features, but not considering the other costs involved with owning the car? To really understand the total cost of ownership of the car, we also need to consider fuel cost, taxes, licensing, upkeep, and so on. Only then can (should) we make a judgement regarding the value of purchasing (or investing) in that new car.

To bring it back to IT terms, while application development is an important aspect of designing and instantiating a service, it does not represent the entirety of service provision – things like the underpinning infrastructure, on-going maintenance, vendor agreements, and consumer support. Application development is only one part of the cost.

The key is that we have to look at the complete IT value stream, not just the software development component of that value stream. In other words, we need to define services that reflect the complete IT value stream.

A value stream map paints the “big picture”

The key to getting this holistic view is to map the value stream – the complete value stream.

A value stream represents the sequence of activities required to design, produce, and deliver a good or service to a customer.[2] The value stream includes the dual flows of material and information.[3] Application development is just a portion of an IT value stream. Shouldn’t the IT value stream also depict how underpinning infrastructure enables information flow? How external vendors are involved? How consumer interactions are managed?

In my opinion, the short answer is ‘yes’. Value stream mapping, when applied to the IT organization, is a great way to fully understand how the outcomes provided by IT enable business value. In other words, IT services.

Enter the service portfolio

Can a true service portfolio help?

By defining a service in terms of the complete IT value stream provides a holistic view on which real value can then be evaluated. Looking at these IT value streams within a service portfolio provides an organization with a much different perspective and more complete way to evaluate value.

And as Mark Schwartz states in his book “The Art of Business Value”[4], value is “whatever the business decides it is.”

It is not for IT to decide what is and is not valuable to a business. But it is for IT to present a complete picture of what it does – application development, end-user support, maintenance and support, and more – to contribute to business outcomes. This is why defining services in terms of the complete IT value stream is important.

But there’s more that goes into a making a service portfolio even better. A good service portfolio can be enhanced by underpinning it with things like:

  • Customer portfolio – Who is buying what services? What revenue is resulting from provisioning of the service?
  • Supplier and Contracts Portfolio – What vendors are involved in the delivery of what services? How much is the organization spending on vendor support?
  • Application portfolio – What applications support what services?

Providing this information in a service portfolio facilitates informed business decisions about investments in technology by providing the holistic view of services.

Then organizations can fund services, not projects. Fund services, not just application development.

The best of both worlds?

Make no mistake – Agile can provide many benefits for both the IT organization and the business it serves. But by defining the service portfolio and funding services and not projects, organizations can realize the best of both worlds.

This approach allows the IT organization to exploit the benefits of an Agile approach:

  • Smaller and more manageable iterations of work
  • Value delivery more quickly and more frequently
  • The product owner, representing the business, provides guidance regarding desired features and business direction.

The IT organization also realizes the benefits of a service portfolio. A service portfolio:

  • Clearly describes how IT underpins business value
  • Enhances the perception and reputation of the IT organization being a good business partner
  • Enables the business to make informed decisions about IT investment.

The business also benefits:

  • A service portfolio provides business colleagues with a holistic view of IT services
  • Investment decisions can be made based on the ‘complete picture’ of an IT service
  • Based upon service investments, the IT organization can use the best approach to meet business requirements – Agile or otherwise.

Defining a service portfolio is just the way that a business can have the best of both worlds – agility and control.

Need to modernize your service management environment and incorporate emerging practices like Lean and Agile, while still leveraging your existing investments?  With our Next Generation ITSM consulting service, Tedder Consulting can help you get the best of both worlds – contact us today!

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Picture credit: Pixabay

[1] “Lean Budgets”, www.scaledagileframework.com retrieved 1/28/2018.

[2] Martin, Karen and Mike Osterling. “Value Stream Mapping”, McGraw Hill Education. 2014. New York.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Schwartz, Mark. “The Art of Business Value”, IT Revolution Press. 2016. Portland, OR.

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