February sees us kick off a series of guest posts from Wellington’s very own IT Skeptic. We’ve known Rob for a few years now, and we’ve always been impressed by his no nonsense, practical and common sense approach. That resonates with us here at Beetil HQ. If you couldn’t tell already, we enjoy a good dose of service management here, but we often find that smaller businesses can struggle with the beast that is ITIL, and quite often run a mile. Fair enough, too. This guest series aims to tell us why, for the smaller businesses amongst us, service management can be useful, how and why it doesn’t need to be bigger than Ben Hur. We’ve called it the Sensible Service Management Series.
First up, the IT Skeptic tells us all why Better Process Can Be Better Business.
Better Process Can Be Better Business
Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) take risks. All the time. You know we do. There are many things that in theory ought to be managed and under control, but you simply don’t have the bandwidth to deal with them. So you don’t. The experts who berate us about how we “should” this and “must” that remind me of an air-force doctor advising World War II bomber pilots to give up smoking. There are far more pressing risks to worry about. You note the risks, fix a few, mitigate some, and live with the rest. Occasionally a risk is brought front of mind and you address it because of a local or recent driver. For example, New Zealand SMEs suddenly got more interested in disaster recovery after the Christchurch earthquake. But that too will fade and most of us will go back to living with the risk and lying awake occasionally.
So you focus on what matters: successful daily operations, growing the business, controlling costs, and keeping customers happy… probably in about that order, perhaps a different order for not-for-profits and public service.
When process wonks like me come along suggesting you improve your processes, you tend to lump us in the “give up smoking” category of advice. Not so fast.
There’s a school of thought, Service Management (SM), which says the most important thing you do is deliver services to your customers. Moreover, everything you do should be considered in terms of the services you provide to your customers. There are those words again “most important”, “should”… but don’t tune out! Some SM process improvement delivers on those four top goals we mentioned above:
© Two Hills Ltd. Original image © Canstockphoto.com
You will deliver on these goals when you work on three areas: improve (1) how you respond to user requests, (2) how you fix things, and (3) how you control changes to make sure you don’t break things in the first place. If you already know about SM, you know what we are getting at here. If not, don’t worry we’ll break it down in a future blog post.
For today, let’s focus on making it achievable for SMEs.
1) Keep it simple
Process improvement doesn’t need to be the big deal that process consultants and books make it seem. If you open up one of the main SM references – ITIL – you get thousands of pages of “musts” and “shoulds”. But they are painting a picture of “best” practice: what the world would look like with infinite time and money. If we focus on the main needs and risks, to meet our four goals, it all boils down to some simple concepts. In future posts we’ll give you some simple models for what you need to think about.
2) Look at what matters right here right now
You should pick and choose amongst those simple concepts in order to address what is burning your toes in your organisation today. If we start with where we are, and work with what we have, in order to deliver what we absolutely need most, then any process improvement becomes manageable.
3) Make sure it is worth it
If you are focused on successful daily operations, growing the business, controlling costs, and keeping customers happy, anything you do is likely to give a positive return on investment (ROI). In another blog post we’ll talk about simple methods for estimating the costs and the returns so we can be sure.
4) Make sure it is the best option
We all live in a world of multiple urgent requirements competing for limited funds. (If you don’t have this issue, please write to me and tell me what you do.) What many organisations forget to do is the last step: an improvement may be a good use of funds with a positive ROI, but we should consider whether it is the best use of those funds right now. This means looking at all your proposed investments as a portfolio and balancing your decisions to come up with the optimum use of your resources. This doesn’t need to be complicated either: a healthy debate over the portfolio between the key people in your organisation should flush out all the information for the executive to decide.
Think of it as multiple filters:
1. Use simple models limited to the most important concepts
2. Only look at what addresses your core business goals
3. Check that the costs are paid back within a reasonable time
4. Make best use of available resources
The work that drops out of the bottom of those sieves will be simple, practical, useful and worthwhile. It is OK for SMEs to take more risks than larger organisations, when we make a considered business decision to do so, in order to focus our resources and efforts. But once a filter tells you that improving your process will advance your goals and is the best use of those resources, do it. In upcoming blog posts we’ll talk about how.