In February, I spoke at the itSMF Slovakia conference for the third year in a row. This IT service management (ITSM) event was as good as ever – and their well-tried approach delivered more of the same.

So, my previous blogs of praise said just about all I need to. So, instead of repeating them, I want to blog about the ideas behind my presentation there. Inspired by the Harry Potter event theme, I talked about how ITSM is like magic.

We all believe in magic

Arthur C Clarke famously said:

“Any suitably advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

It’s not looking down on the uninformed, all of us routinely treat the technology we use as magic, meaning that we make use of something without understanding how it works. Like our smartphones – someone must know exactly how each aspect of the underpinning technology works, but most people just know how to use them.

This is good, and think how silly it’d be to only use things we fully understood the workings of? For instance, how many of us would still be able to drive our cars?

Do IT people need to believe in magic, don’t they understand modern technology?

Everyone has a point where they just accept how things are. For some that’s seeing a smart phone in terms of which buttons to press to get results. Others might fully understand the quantum physics and uncertainty principles behind the semiconducting atoms that all our modern technology is built on. Most of us are in between – it’s just a question of where on that range is your “magic point.”

As service managers, we can build on this reality to everyone’s benefit.

Our customers don’t need to understand how the IT they use works to make the best use of it. They can – and should – treat it as magic. What they need is reliable magic that they can rely on and trust.

We trust the magic behind the food we eat in restaurants, the electricity that powers our homes and offices, even the education of our children. That’s exactly how our customers and users can – and should – treat the IT services we supply and support.

The IT magician’s manifesto

Maybe it’s a cool idea to see ourselves as magicians – using our magic skills to provide the tools and capabilities our customers need to use? But how do we use this idea to make things better?

For my Bratislava presentation, I wanted to create an answer to this question – taking a perspective of ITSM as being the ones to deliver trusted magic that our customers rely on to get their job done or achieve their personal goals.

It’s just one perspective, but maybe a valuable one for ITSM. So, if it has value then we should be articulating it. I took some inspiration from those smart Agile guys and decided that we could use a manifesto for how to be ITSM magicians. So…

We value:
  • receiving trust more than delivering explanations
  • judging outcomes over detailing outputs
  • delivering value over being clever
  • intuition over instructions. 
Nothing too smart or original here, just simple ideas with the potential to help us focus on what matters to our customers.

Trust over explanation

When we trust in our tools, we can concentrate on how we use them.

If we distrust our tools, we are distracted from our work.

IT services are – nowadays – the major tool for most businesses. Knowing they’ll work is more important than knowing how they work.

Outcomes over outputs

It’s something emphasized by the ITSM best practice frameworks, but still too easy to lose sight of.

It’s too easy to think that our job is to get better at what we do, rather than to do what our customers need. It’s not always the same thing, often very different in fact.

Value over cleverness

We admire cleverness, but we need good value.

Sometimes, striving for cleverness and innovation can distract us into delivering aspects of a service that do not deliver value to our customers.

We’re right to be proud of what we do well, but innovation and “cool” aren’t necessarily differentiators for our customers, they just want to be able to successfully use what we deliver, and occasionally we need to remind ourselves of that and readjust our focus accordingly.

Intuition over instruction

One of the best ways to engender trust in our tools is for it to be obvious how to use that tool.

We expect easy-to-use intuitiveness from the apps on our smartphone, getting that same intuition – without the need for long learning curves – should apply to services at work to.

This is a quality we should strive to deliver. The less conscious effort a tool requires, the more folks can concentrate on creating value with that tool.

Magic makes it easier

For everyday services, just as with the electricity in our houses or the cars we travel in, those using our services should be able to treat them as magic and get on with using those services as tools to help them do their jobs.

As service providers – the wizards delivering that magic – we need to be good at what we do and understand how we do it. But to keep this as our internal focus and deliver services to be easily usable by those who need them – realizing that they’ll have different knowledge and understanding than we do.

Some of the approaches and techniques that will help us do this are ones we should be familiar with, from the ITIL Practitioner materials and elsewhere:
  • Make sure that everyone in your team is aware that the team is judged by how services are actually used, not by what they’re capable of
  • Use metrics that measure this – such as how well your customers are doing in their work
  • See what is actually happening, not what you want to see. End users will not necessarily use services or products the way you expect them to
  • Talk to end users, not just customers; and frontline staff not just managers.

Go out and be magical

So, we have it in our power to be the good wizards our customers need. And those customers have the right to use what we deliver as magic, without us expecting them to understand how it works.

In fact, most of us fulfill both of these roles (wizard and customer), at different times, and with different bits of magic (or services as we insist on calling them). We thus need to see, and understand, both roles:
  • Design, build, deliver, and maintain the magical tools
  • Use the magical tools.
And to be clear which one we are in at any one time (so that we can ensure that our focus and efforts are properly applied).

The first role is about generating trust through competence, the second is about having trust in our service providers. Both should be fun, and magical, if we get it right.

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In 23 years working for the UK government, Ivor Macfarlane moved from forestry to ITSM via prisons, warehousing, and training. In 1999 he became an ITSM consultant and trainer, as a freelancer and directly for companies. He was an author for ITIL (versions 1, 2 & 3), ISO20000 and ITSM library and an ITIL examiner since 1991. An active contributor to social media and blogs, he is well known at ITSM events and has presented around the world (40 countries so far and on every continent except Antarctica). In addition to his work as an independent consultant, he also works alongside ITSM.Tools as an Associate Consultant.