Finding Service Owner

Four Steps for finding your misplaced Service Owner

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Has your IT organization defined services and named service owners?

Have you identified the right person as the service owner?

How do you know?

Let’s start from the beginning

What is a “service”?

According to ITIL®, a service is “a means of delivering value to a customer by facilitating the outcomes that a customer wants without the ownership of [specific] costs and risks”.[1]

A service is not a discrete unit of delivery, but an on-demand flow that is (should be) continually improved to deliver the outcomes required by the ever-changing needs of business.

A key service role is that of the service owner. The service owner “owns” the service – that is, the service owner is accountable for the quality of outcomes resulting from the consumption and use of the service.

Many organizations have identified IT people as its “service owners”.

But who decides if a service is delivering the desired outcomes? Who decides if the service quality is adequate and appropriate? The customer.

That confusing “customer thing”

Who is the customer?

That’s the thing that seems to cause all kinds of confusion within organizations – the term “customer”.

Who is the customer?

  • The ultimate buyer of solutions.
  • The ultimate judge of quality and outcomes.
  • Who the business is trying to entice and retain in the buying of the products and services.

This means that for many services, IT can’t be service owner.

If the service is an “IT service” – that is, the service is provided by IT and consumed within an organization, then yes, someone in IT is (better be!) the “service owner”. But many services that involve the use of technology result in outcomes that are delivered externally – to the true customer. This means that a lot of IT’s work is done in support of delivering value to a customer that is outside of the business.

But typically, IT is not directly involved in interactions with the customer.

Finding the (true) Service Owner

So, who is the service owner? How about the value stream owner?

In their book “Value Stream Mapping”, Martin and Osterling define a value stream as being “the sequence of activities required to design, product, and deliver a good or service to a customer, and it includes the dual flows of information and material”.[2] They also describe a “value stream champion” as “someone who’s accountable for the performance of the entire value stream. In a hierarchical organization, [this person] is a step or two closer to the work than the executive sponsor”.[3]

ValueStreamGlobal.com describes the role of a value stream owner (VSO) as “an experienced manager or executive servant leader who is accountable to senior management for improving the value to non-value ration of a product family within an enterprise”.[4] Among the responsibilities of the VSO are[5]:

  • Ensuring the Value Stream itself is correctly identified, defined, mapped, optimized, managed, and improved over time…. Including specific definition of the product/service family and related components
  • Coordinate with business functional areas that contribute to the creation of value in the flow.
  • Demonstrate to senior management that the outputs of the value stream are competitive in the marketplace and meet current customer* demand. The value stream must be able to quickly adapt to changing market conditions.
  • Maintain a holistic view of the organization and understand where in the large scheme of things their value stream fits… includes not sacrificing one area for the sake of optimizing another, but to optimize the whole.

“Value stream owner” …. sounds like a “service owner” to me.

Why IT isn’t (always) the Service Owner

If the service owner owns a service from end-to-end; that is, from point-of-origin to point-of-consumption, this means that (in most cases) the service owner cannot reside within IT. While IT may manage and perform activities as part of service delivery and support, IT cannot possibly own a service from point-of-origin to point-of-consumption. Why? Because IT does not have customers – the business does.

IT typically acts upon business needs. Rarely (if ever!) does IT lead business initiatives or interact directly with the (true) customer.

Therefore, the value stream owner must be the service owner. IT’s role may be that of service manager (responsible for particular aspects of the daily operation of a service), but in the situations where value and outcomes are realized by the true customer, IT cannot be the service owner. IT controls only a portion of any given value stream involving the true customer. If IT tries to take ownership of services for which it cannot adequately or appropriately be accountable, it is setting both itself and its business colleagues up to fail.

But on the other hand, since IT does own “IT services”, then IT cannot be passive and wait for something to happen or for someone else to provide IT with its “marching orders” regarding those services. IT must step up and take ownership – in the complete context. This means making the tough decisions like investing in security versus the risk of getting hacked. This means decommissioning infrastructure from the environment as services transition to a retired state.   As the owner for IT services, IT must drive value add, eliminate non-value-added activities, and also drive efforts that are necessary but non-value add – and live with the consequences of those decisions.

But the same applies for any service owner, not just IT service owners. A service owner must drive value added activities, eliminate non-value-added activities, and drive efforts that are necessary but non-value add. And live with those decisions.

That might be a different way of thinking for some. For some, it may be downright scary.

Because with ownership comes accountability and great responsibility.

What’s in the way?

The idea of a service owner being outside of the IT organization may be a bit scary to some. What’s in the way?

  • Attitude – Sometimes the thinking is that if it’s anything involving to technology, it is automatically an “IT issue”. Or conversely, if a colleague didn’t request a feature or ask the right question, then that’s a “business issue”. Organizations must look holistically at how value is created and delivered – there is no room for a “us and them” attitude.
  • Fear of losing control – Sometimes the IT organization feels that if it doesn’t own services, they will no longer have control. The fact is IT really never has been in control. Yes, IT is a part of nearly every value stream – but cannot own all value streams from end to end. It isn’t (should never have been) about control – it is about collaboration.
  • Lack of acumen – There’s often a ‘lack of acumen’ within the organization. IT often lacks business acumen – an understanding how the business works, what influences the business, or understanding the environment in which the business competes. Business colleagues often lack technical acumen – how technology works, how technology could be or is currently used within the organization, or are intimidated by technology.
  • Lack of clarity regarding the value stream – While many may have a deep understanding regarding their particular contributions to a value stream, often there are only a few that have an understanding of the end-to-end view of the value stream.
  • Services really weren’t defined – Rather describe services in terms of value and outcomes, “services” were defined as activities and things.

Four steps for finding misplaced Service Owners

Here’s my four-step approach for identifying and enabling the success of service owners.

  1. Identify and map value streams – Identify and document how value flows through an organization. Mapping the value streams provides a holistic view of the organization.
  2. Identify the value stream owner – While many contribute, who ultimately is accountable for the delivery and quality of the value stream?
  3. Understand the relationship between technology and the value stream – This provides the context for services and where IT “fits”.
  4. Define the service portfolio – Captures how technology underpins and enables value streams and enables fact-based decision-making.

Taking these steps will remove barriers within organizations by depicting how the members of the business work together to deliver value. It also moves the business to act as a complete business – not collections of parts – by enabling the mindset shift to “our value streams”.

In the digital era, all parts of the organization must work together seamlessly to deliver true customer value, and identifying the true  service owner is critical to value delivery.  Our Organizational Value Stream mapping workshop helps you visualize how value flows through your organization, so you can identify the true service owner, correct where there may be bottlenecks and missing handoffs,  and ensure smooth interactions with your customers in the digital age.

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Photo credit:  Pixabay

[1] “ITIL® Service Strategy”. TSO, 2011. London. P. 13

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

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://valuestreamglobal.com retrieved 2/13/2018.

[5] Ibid

*There’s that word again!

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2 thoughts on “Four Steps for finding your misplaced Service Owner”

  1. What a powerful, but for me very simplistic way of working, or at the very least aspiring to work.

    My question is, and always will be as follows. ‘We have the advice, the guidance, the best practices, books and white papers including numerous case studies out there. So what is it that is preventing organisations from achieving their outcomes, their vision, their goals and more?’

    I suspect there are many ‘paradigm’ shifts that are needed in many minds to make it, and to continue ‘making it!’

    1. Thanks for your comments, Mike. To answer your question, what we don’t have are the hearts and minds of those leading our organizations. One reason why we don’t have the hearts and minds are due to traditional management practices (such as “managing by objectives” and the like). These practices usually cause leaders to focus inwardly on their areas of control, rather than looking outwardly to the true customer and collaborating/cooperating across the organization to deliver services that result in an outstanding customer experience. Our organizations have been managed this way for dozens of years, so I agree that there are many other ‘paradigm’ shifts needed. Perhaps what I’ve described in the blog is one way that we can raise awareness of the issue.

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