The Consequence of Not Knowing How to Be a Customer
As many of you might recall, Tinkerbell is the fairy in the play Peter Pan, who is revived from near death by the belief of the audience in fairies. As Tinkerbell lies dying from drinking Peter’s poisoned medicine, she tells Peter she could live, but only if everyone who believes in fairies claps their hands, really, really hard.
This scene has become known as the ‘Tinkerbell Effect’, and synonymous with the idea that things only exist if people believe in them. So what has the ‘Tinkerbell Effect’ to do with service management? Little perhaps, except it does provide me with another fun analogy to use as a backdrop to explain some of the issues I perceive in the industry today.
For this thought experiment, would you assume for a moment that the reason for a service management initiative is analogous to the existence of Tinkerbell. The poisoned medicine is the economic conditions we all face. Peter Pan represents the project manager or sponsor. The audience consists of the professional community at large and industry solution providers – the vendors.
First Tinkerbell. Remember, she is representing the service management initiative.
The traditional reasoning behind embarking on a service management initiative, especially within an IT organization, is a commitment to become more ‘customer focused’ and to achieve better alignment of goals. The promised benefits also include greater operational efficiencies, a more agile response to business needs, and an improvement in the quality of services provided.
Much of this is premised on the implementation of industry ‘best practices’. The source for the best practices is typically a ‘best practice framework’, or recognized reference. Here you can enter your framework of choice. It will come in handy later.
Presently, management is faced with hugely challenging times. The economy is depressed and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. This is the poisoned chalice containing Peter’s medicine. The consequences of this time are simple and dramatic. All investments are subject to greater scrutiny, with projects being reprioritized and non-performers shelved, or abandoned, perhaps permanently.
What improvements that are proposed must not commit the organization to any long-term expense, or any expense that does not deliver real, bottom line benefits. Initiatives must complete and deliver on their promise within a 30, 60, or 90-day period. I call this the ‘management imperative’.
Peter Pan represents the project manager. The sponsor in this analogy, innocently proposing the service management initiative in the firm belief it will deliver benefit and improve ‘alignment’, eventually. The project is described as a journey the organization must take, with no tangible end destination or duration. Perhaps there is a small difference here as Peter did have a destination for Wendy and the children – Neverland.
The reason for taking the first step on any journey is often anchored in the belief of reaching a better place. Similarly, the rationale for a service management initiative is driven by the need to address a generally assumed malaise that affects the IT organization, namely, a lack of customer focus and use of imperfect practices.
The reality check introduced by the economic climate (analogous to Tinkerbell having drunk the medicine to save Peter), means we cannot rely as an industry on the “Tinkerbell Effect” to preserve service management as a practice, to defend the use of a particular framework, to justify attending education or conference events, or to garnish support for an initiative.
Nor can we solely rely upon our own ‘Peter’ to turn to the audience for the antidote to save Tinkerbell, in the form of thunderous and sustained applause indicating their belief in fairies. Or, accept suggestions from some, that if Tinkerbell does die, it’s the fault of the audience for not believing hard enough.
On many occasions I have been asked what I believe in, and whether I am also under the influence of the Tinkerbell Effect. Well, although I feel strongly that it is healthy to dream and aspire to greater things, wishful thinking is no substitute for sound situational analysis and fact gathering. I believe that service management is a must do initiative, and especially now given the economic climate.
I also believe that many IT service management initiatives lack proven methodologies to define problems specifically and connect their impact to key stakeholder interests. They also struggle to justify the upfront investment of resources required by the traditional approaches, and by doing so fail to satisfy the management imperative.
We lack the very best practice and how-to references we need to be successful. The very help the onerous frameworks are supposed to provide.
I believe it is time for us in the service management profession to take charge, and to start acting more like the customer we serve. It is time to demand more of ourselves as a community, and of the frameworks and references we employ and support in our work. We need to start expressing our needs as requirements and demanding these to be reflected in the tools we need to be successful.
We need education and know-how on how to recognize a problematic situation, and how to use a variety of tools to organize, target, and deliver real results. We need help in ensuring the maximum beneficial effect from our efforts, and to make the most of available time and skills.
We need credentials that endorse our ability to generate high impact strategies, transforming theory into results, organizations into value creators, and casual observers into committed supporters and stakeholders.
We need to help our references sources to be more disciplined in defining what constitutes a ‘best practice’, and a common, perhaps a standard method, of specifying and confirming the characteristics of a best practice.
We need a centralized source of best practices that allows discussion and comparison, and we need to know how to assess existing practices at the atomic, activity level.
We need to know how to define problems within existing practices and their impact upon various stakeholder interests, how to associate best practices with problems in existing practices, and a means of beginning and sustaining a service management journey, one step at a time
Seems like a lot of ‘we need’, and some might feel it reads like a manifesto for the service management professional. As a service management industry professional we are a customer of the frameworks, education and tools we use to help our customers. Like any customer, we have a responsibility to know our goals, and to recognize the extent to which we are relying on the Tinkerbell Effect for our success.
One thing is for sure; there is an immediate need to respect and satisfy the prevailing management imperative, and be true to the goals of service management. We should be wary of relying on wishful thinking, or allowing the Tinkerbell Effect to be the dominant factor in our decision-making. We must deliver on the promise of real bottom line benefit of service management best practices, and be more demanding and customer-like in ensuring our skills and reference sources are driven by our needs, and of the community we serve. Tick tock…