Can Human-centered Design rescue your ITSM investment?

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Is your organization struggling to realize a return on investment with ITSM?

If you answered “yes”, you’re not alone. Many organizations are not getting the expected return on investment that was expected by adoption ITSM practices. Organizations are facing several challenges to realizing a ROI with ITSM.

  • “IT Operations only” approach. Many ITSM implementations have only focused on ITOM (IT Operations Management) aspects, such as managing user support requests, resolving incidents, or implementing changes. Services are not defined in terms of business outcomes or business value, making it difficult to determine the holistic benefit of ITSM practices.
  • Poorly defined workflows. This survey revealed that 43% of organizations cited excessive manual processing or insufficient automation as their top ITSM challenge. This points toward having poorly defined or undefined workflows that are obstacles for automation and AI-enabled capabilities.
  • Ineffective ITSM practices. According to this survey , 56% of businesses reported a significant impact on revenue due to technology downtime. Does this indicate ineffective incident management, problem management, change management, and continual improvement practices?
  • Total cost of ownership associated with ITSM tools. The cost of implementing ITSM doesn’t stop with the implementation of the tool. Ongoing maintenance costs, both in terms of licensing, support, and daily management of the platform contribute to the cost of ownership. Post-implementation costs, such as user training, organizational change management, and ongoing process improvements also add to the cost of ownership. Many IT organizations also struggle with what they see as conflicting demand between business priorities and operational activities.
  • Lack of specific ITSM success goals and metrics. Many organizations have not defined specific success measures for ITSM adoption. Further compounding the challenge is that organizations have not defined metrics that indicate how ITSM contributes to the organization achieving its mission, vision, and goals.

These are big challenges for many ITSM implementations determining an ROI. But in my opinion, there are two reasons why ITSM isn’t delivering the expected ROI.

  • ITSM has been and continues to be about IT, not about the business. Most ITSM implementations are focused on how to manage the work of IT, not on delivering business results.
  • ITSM practices were not designed with business outcomes and value in mind but instead based upon the requirements of the ITSM tool being implemented.

And even if one of the drivers for ITSM implementation was to manage interactions with end users – an operational aspect of IT management – the end user typically had no voice or input into the design of ITSM practices. And the lack of user involvement with ITSM design shows up in the experience with IT. As an example, the 2023 Global IT Experience Benchmark report from Happy Signals indicates that 49% of survey respondents identified “IT Support Services” as a negative factor regarding their experiences with IT.

Haven’t people always been a core focus of ITSM?

In theory, a core focus of ITSM is the people that interact with technology. “Customers” are the people that have defined the requirements and need for a service. It is the customer that determines the value of the service that IT provides. Customers are also users of those IT services. “Users” are people that rely upon and interact with IT services to get their work done. The use of the technology associated with these IT services is intended to improve productivity and efficiency of users in getting this work done.

But in practice, ITSM adoption has been more about how IT manages its work, and less about how the experience or success people have with technology. In fact, users are rarely – if ever – part of process design or technology implementations associated with ITSM.

Think about it. In practice, most incident management practices are built around routing and closing tickets as quickly as possible. Service desks and their agents are evaluated by how quickly an issue is closed (with “closed” usually being an IT judgement, and not confirmed with the end user), and not in terms of the user experience.

In practice, Service Level Agreements (SLAs) do not discuss business performance measures, but describe how IT measures its work. And many SLAs are defined by IT with no input from the end user or customer – yet the end user is expected to act within the terms of the SLA. In practice, “customer” satisfaction surveys are not engaging the customer, but rather the user. Compounding the situation is that the return rates of those satisfaction surveys are anemic, and actions are rarely (in practice) taken based on the information captured in the few surveys that are returned.

So how can organizations get the focus of ITSM back on people?

It’s about PPT plus HCD!

In the early 1960s, Harold Leavitt introduced what eventually became known as the “golden triangle” or “three-legged stool” of People, Process, and Technology (PPT) as guidance for managing change within an organization. The model represents if one component shifts, the other two must also shift to maintain an effective balance as change progresses.[i]  The PPT framework is simple but powerful. And while PPT is a mantra often heard as part of ITSM adoptions, the ‘people’ aspect is often ignored, as the focus is typically on the implementation of the technology associated with ITSM.

How can organizations take impactful, people-focused actions based on the PPT framework? This is where human-centered design (HCD) comes in. HCD is a framework for creative problem-solving that focuses on understanding the needs, wants, and limitations of the people who will most directly benefit from the solution.[ii]  It’s about designing with empathy for the people that will be interacting with the solution. HCD is composed of three elements:  desirability – the product or service meets users’ needs; feasibility – the product or service is technically feasible;  and viability – the product or service is viable as a business model.

There are real benefits when organizations shift to an HCD approach.

  • Technology teams build better, more robust products and services when they have a true understanding of individuals, their needs, and their journeys. [iii]
  • Leveraging human-centered design principles also helps technology teams deliver faster and at lower costs — mostly because they’re hitting closer to the mark on their first delivery. [iv]
  • Gartner’s 2021 Hybrid Work Employee Survey, which found that employers with a human-centric philosophy across the business saw reduced workforce fatigue by up to 44%, increased intent to stay by as much as 45%, and improved performance by up to 28%.[v]
  • A McKinsey study found that over 5 years, companies with strong design practices outperformed their industry counterparts in terms of revenue growth and returns to shareholders. [vi]

It’s a compelling argument for introducing HCD into ITSM practices – and bringing the focus of ITSM back to people.

Shifting the focus of ITSM to people

How can HCD be applied to ITSM? It all starts by asking “what do people really want?” from ITSM. Here are some tips for getting started.

  • Start where you are. Don’t throw away what has been done with ITSM, but human-centered design begins with a mindset shift. Commit to making ITSM more about the business and less about IT by shifting from a “technology-first” mindset to a “human-first” mindset.
  • Truly capture and understand the user perspective. Let’s face it – the way that the user perspective is typically captured today (via post interaction surveys sent from the service desk) isn’t that effective. What are better ways for IT organizations to understand the user experience? First, asking better questions (not rating questions) will yield better answers into the true user perspective. Going to where work is being done and observing user interactions with technology is powerful and informative. Hosting regular, periodic small focus group meetings with users provides opportunities for deeper discussions about the user perspective.
  • Include users in continual improvement actions. Including end users as part of continual improvement actions uncovers underlying needs, improves experience, and helps provides solutions that solve the real issue.

Shifting ITSM practices from a technology-first to a people-first approach will have a major positive impact on users, customers, organizations – and ITSM.

Need help with shifting your ITSM practices from a technology-first mindset to a people-first mindset? It starts with understanding the user’s experience. We can help – contact Tedder Consulting for more information.

[i] April 2024.

[ii] Retrieved April 2024.

[iii] Retrieved April 2024

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi], Retrieved April 2024.


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