Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 1

First in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations.  Below is the first in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 1: Identify the Agile Sponsor & Champion

Before you start your Agile journey, you must identify a Sponsor or a “champion” from the ranks of the executive team.  The Sponsor will be similar to the captain of a ship.  You will work with this person to define the destination and ensure the “ship” (the Agile transformation effort) is on the right course.  The sponsor will keep the larger executive team up-to-date on a regular basis.

In order to identify a Sponsor, you’ll want to find someone that is involved in several high-profile, important initiatives within the company.  You’ll want someone who is approachable and understands the importance of relationship building.  You’ll also want someone who is familiar with, and has influence over, gaining the funding you need to make the transformation.  Finally, you’ll want someone who identifies the fact that the transformation you seek won’t happen without training the folks involved in the transformation and is willing to throw his / her support behind an Agile education initiative.  Your Sponsor will be tasked with selling the need for proper training for both the teams executing the Agile practice and the executives consuming the Agile product.

Your Sponsor will be the organization’s representative for the transformation effort.  You’ll want to work with this person to establish tenets of the transformation vision and clearly articulate why the organization is undertaking the initiative.  The development of “talking points” and “elevator speeches” will be critical to effectively allay concerns of folks involved with, and affected by, the initiative.

The Sponsor will be the person that removes the “roadblocks” encountered during your journey.  For this reason, it’s important to select a person who is comfortable with people at all levels of the organization.  The Agile transformation team must be comfortable with sharing honest and open feedback with the Sponsor and requesting his or her assistance in accomplishing their objectives.  Like any good leader, your Sponsor must possess active listening and follow-through skills in order for team members to feel heard.  The Sponsor does not have to be a “technical” person but they should have a firm grasp of the delivery process.  The Sponsor should be universally regarded as a leader throughout the organization and someone who has the influence, not necessarily the power, to get things done.

Lastly, it’s critical that the Sponsor have a firm grasp of the “big picture” and understand the cultural mindset shift that must occur.  Prior organizational rewards mechanisms may need to be changed in order to properly incentivize people to make the changes necessary.  It will be important to measure the transformation effort against established success criteria and publish successes, or setbacks, as required via development of necessary publication materials.  Open recognition and publication of successes is critical to boosting team morale and enforcing the change that you need in order of the transformation effort to be successful.

Driving Adoption of Project & Program Methodologies, Templates, & Standards

Gaining the Buy-In You Need to be Successful

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked how I have been able to drive adoption of project management methodologies, tools, and templates.  Below is a high-level strategy that you may find useful.

How were you able to drive adoption of a project / program methodology templates & standards?

This is the whole stick and carrot analogy of getting folks to change behaviors.  In general, I have found that most folks buy into the concept of a uniform delivery methodology for projects and programs.  The key items that drive folks away from following a uniform delivery methodology is if they perceive or witness the methodology either (1) not being followed by their peers, or (2) not adding value, or not being valued by management, when followed.

When presenting the case for following the methodology, for the carrot portion of the analogy, I have started with the top-down view and began the discussion with, “this is what will give ‘Executive Smith’ the most insight into the project investments being made across the organization.”  I start with a high level dashboard, and explain to the project leaders how the various reporting elements are changed as the project progresses through the methodology lifecycle.  The next item that I stress is the tailoring options for the project.  No two projects are 100% identical and the ability of the project leaders to tailor the methodology based on project complexity places the rigor decision squarely with the team executing the project.  Tailoring allows the skipping of templates that provide no value (given appropriate justification) while allowing the overall project to remain compliant to the methodology.

Finally, related to the “stick” aspect of the analogy, I emphasize the audit aspects of the methodology.  Ideally, you will have either an internal or external auditor conduct an audit of completed projects.  I have wrapped incentive items (recognition awards, small prizes, etc.) around successful completion of each of the items above, especially when initially getting the process started and institutionalized.  I have also incorporated completion of these items into project manager performance evaluations.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 10

Tenth in a Ten Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool.  Below is the tenth in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #10: Pilot your new ITSM platform in parallel with your old “ticketing” system.  There is no better way to understand how your new car will operate than taking it for a test drive.  ITSM platforms are no different.  You’ll want to run at least part of your new ITSM platform in parallel, in a test environment, prior to a production cutover.  This will undoubtedly cause increased burden on Service Desk and technical staff as they now have to log and work Incidents in two (2) systems.  Unfortunately, this is a necessary evil whose risk management rewards far outweigh the one-time additional effort.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 6

Sixth in a Ten Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool. Below is the sixth in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #6: Have Diligence Relative to Category, Sub-Category, and Item.  As I mentioned in Lesson #2, don’t take shortcuts or be short-sighted in the proper definition of your meta-data.  I realize that it may be impossible to know all the permutations that will ultimately exist for Category, Sub-Category, and Item when the ITSM platform is initially launched.  For this reason, you must make these fields not required for the user / customer, but required for the Service Desk prior to closing the service record.  The user will generally know if its hardware or software that is impacted, but they may not, or they may choose incorrectly.  Ultimately, it’s up to Service Operation to correctly append Category, Sub-Category, and Item to the service record and they must be empowered (authorized) to create new entries as needed in order to properly record the service record.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 5

Fifth in a Ten Part Series
By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool.  Below is the fifth in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #5: Have Service & Configuration Item (CI) Owners.  The concept here is simple; there is a single person listed in the ITSM platform that is responsible for the availability and working operation of the service and the configuration item.  When a new service record is logged against a service and a CI in the ITSM platform, the appropriate owners are automatically notified.  Similarly, if a request for change (RFC) is raised against a service or a CI, the ITSM platform knows to automatically append these persons as approvers of the RFC.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 4

Fourth in a Ten Part Series
By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool.  Below is the fourth in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #4: Log Incidents, Service Requests, Problems, Change, and Releases against Services AND Configuration Items.  As I’ve mentioned in the previous lessons, when a new service record comes into the Service Desk, you’ll want to ensure that accurate meta-data relative to the Service and Configuration Items impacted are accurately associated to the service record.  Now, it’s not necessary that the customer correctly identify the Service or Configuration Item, only that they submit as much information as they have to the Service Desk.  It’s the responsibility of Service Operations to ensure that the data ultimately appended to the service record is accurate.  Without the Service and Configuration Items being appended to the service record, it’s impossible to report on a variety of key performance indicators (KPIs) relative to the service and / or the configuration items.  For example, if a major incident record does not identify the service impacted, how can you accurately report on the availability of that service?  As I mentioned in point #3 above, if you make development of the Service Catalog prerequisite to launching your ITSM platform, logging the Service & CI impacted by the service record will be easy.  If you don’t, your ITSM platform will simply be just another “ticketing” application.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 3

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool.  Below is the third in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #3: Have a Service Catalog.  The Service Catalog is the foundation of any ITIL-based IT environment.  If you don’t have a Service Catalog, then you don’t have true Service Management.  Developing a Service Catalog is not easy and its something that should be undertaken before any discussion of a potential ITSM tool should take place.

There is much literature relative to developing an IT Service Catalog, but a few key points to keep in mind are:
(a) It should be done in conjunction with the business (customers)
(b) It serves as the “menu” for what IT’s customers can order
(c) “Services” deliver business outcomes and are NOT applications or configuration items
(d) An IT organization’s assets (applications & configuration items) align to deliver services
(e) When a customer raises a request for service (an Incident, Problem, Service Request, Change, or Release), the “Service” that the customer is requesting assistance for, should be clearly identified.

Keep in mind that a customer doesn’t care that an application or network is down, they only care that their business outcome is not able to be achieved.  Having services defined in a catalog, and then reporting on the availability of them, is the true first step towards IT service management.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 2

Second in a Ten Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool.  Below is the second in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #2: Avoid “Other”.  When you’re going down the path of configuring your ITSM modules (e.g. Incident, Problem, Service Request, Change, Release), there are various meta-data elements you’ll be asked to configure.  When a user creates a new Incident record, for example, they will usually be prompted to select the Service being impacted, and possibly the Configuration Items (CIs).  In some deployments, the user may also be prompted to select the Category, Sub-Category, and Item values to be appended to the service record.  In some ITSM deployments, these meta-data can be uniform across all record types.  In others, separate and distinct meta-data may be able to be applied to the different ITSM records.

In any case, you’ll want to avoid giving anyone in the organization the ability to select “Other” as a valid value.  If you allow users and technicians to append “Other” to a service record, invariably this will eventually become abused will result in reporting discrepancies in your tool.

The advent of “Other” in the reporting tool arises from a short-sighted or incomplete strategy, so instead of allowing the user to select “Other”, do your homework and determine what the user is really attempting to accomplish.  If you allow a user to select the Service being impacted by the Incident, there should be no “Other” service listed in your Service Catalog.  Likewise, if you allow the user to select the Configuration Item (CI) being impacted by the Incident, there should be no “Other” CI listed in your CMDB.

Removing “Other” from Category, Sub-Category, and Item drop-down lists can be a little more daunting, but not insurmountable.  Most configurations of Category, Sub-Category, and Item that I have witnessed in production have been ad-hoc, short-sighted, and not valuable.  Further, I have seen reporting built on top of this flawed implementation approach.  My professional opinion is that the combination of Category, Sub-Category, and Item should distinctly identify the configuration item, and the aspect of that CI that is being impacted.

We can all agree that the only service items that exist in an IT environment are hardware and software.  Let “Hardware” and “Software” be the only choices for “Category”.  Sub-categories under the “Hardware” category would be entries such as, “Data Network”, “Desktop PC”, “Laptop PC”, “Messaging”, “Printers”, “Scanners / Imaging Devices”, “Server – Intel”, “Server – Unix”, “Telephone Network”, and “UPS”.  Sub-categories under “Software” would be entries such as, “Antivirus”, “Business Applications”, “Data Files”, “Data Network”, “Database”, “Desktop PC”, “Desktop Publishing”, “Development Tools”, “Infrastructure Tools”, “Laptop PC”, “Messaging”, “Middleware”, “Operating System”, “Printers”, “Reports”, “Scanners / Imaging Devices”, “Security Applications”, “Server – Intel”, “Server – Unix”, “Telephone Network”, “UPS”, “User ID Administration”, and “Web Browsing”.

Now you may have noticed that some of the sub-categories that I listed for “Hardware” are duplicated in “Software”.  Take “Printers” for example.  There is both hardware and software that goes into a printer, and each could potentially fail and / or require service.  You want to be able to report on each of these items separately.  Lastly, the “Item” choices would most closely mirror the actual CI setup in your CMDB.  Now you may be asking yourself, “Why do I need to have an “Item” entry if I already have a CI entry?”  The answer is simple; it’s so that you can more granularly report on exactly what is affected by the ITSM record.  For example, if I just choose “Dell Color Laser 5110cn” as the CI affected by the Incident record, I don’t know if its hardware or software that’s the problem.  By applying the appropriate Category, Sub-Category, Item, CI, and Service I can accurately report the true nature of all ITSM records across the environment.

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 1

First in a Ten Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool.  Below is the first in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #1: Beware of the Integrators.  An “Integrator” is a third party professional services firm that will help you to setup and deploy your selected ITSM tool.  Unless you have requisite development, configuration, and strategy skills & expertise in your organization, you will need to contract with an integrator to get your ITSM platform launched.  The key thing to remember is that the contract between you and your selected integrator is no different than any other professional services consulting engagement; you must clearly define scope, deliverables, acceptance criteria, etc.  Most of these agreements will center on the modules you want to develop and deploy.  Keep in mind that the overarching strategy is YOURS!  Don’t rely on the integrator to tell you how the modules you’ve asked them to develop and deploy will fit with your overall strategy.  While some integrators can offer some level of strategy expertise, the strategy completely depends on your organization’s dynamics and the desire to bring selected modules to market.  The bottom line is that the modules defined in the integrator agreement will be the sole focus of the integrator.  They will attempt to finish the development and release of the contracted modules as quickly as possible, and then move on to the next engagement.  If your organization is not ready to accept their work and deploy into production, your organization may incur additional cost or rework as the overarching strategy evolves.

Cost or Profit Center?

An Important Policy Decision

By Chad Greenslade

An important policy decision to be made is whether IT will be a profit or cost center.  This is a decision made by the organization’s executives, not by IT management.  This is because IT, as a business unit, is subject to the same governance as any other business unit.  Although IT executives may be asked to participate in making that decision, this is ultimately a matter of enterprise financial policy.  Definition of these two options are:

  • Cost Center: Two (2) definitions for the term “cost center” are commonly used in business.  Although they appear close in meaning, they are different.  In this context, the term is used to indicate a business unit or department to which costs are assigned, but which does not charge for services provided.  It is, however, expected to account for the money it spends, and may be expected to show a return on the business’ investment in it.  A cost center is able to focus awareness on costs and enable investment decisions to be better founded, without the overheads of billing.  However, it is less likely to shape users’ behavior and does not give the IT organization the full ability to choose how to financially manage itself (for example, in funding IT investment).  The other definition for the term “cost center” is used in the context for accounting.  In this context, a cost center is anything to which a cost can be allocated (for example, a service, location, department, business unit, etc.).  They also provide meaningful categories for allocating and reporting costs so that they can be understood and influenced by a wide audience.  Care should be taken to read the context of the term to ensure the correct meaning is inferred.
  • Profit Center: A business unit that charges for providing services is a “Profit Center”.  A profit center can be created with the objective of making a profit, recovering costs, or running at a loss.  As a profit center, IT is able to exercise greater autonomy, even to the extent that it can be operated as a separate business entity, under the ownership and direction of the corporate entity.  IT will also be able to achieve better cost control over service provision and calculate the true costs of IT by customers.  Charging other business units in the same organization can be useful in demonstrating the value that the service provider delivers, and in ensuring that funding is obtained from an appropriate source (i.e. the customer that uses the services).