Hopefully it won’t have escaped your attention that there is more and more being written and said about the people-side of IT service management (ITSM). That our people are the ultimate barrier (or success factor) to ITIL adoption, digital transformation, or to various other aspects of an IT department successfully meeting business needs.

That while we might get the technology and process elements of ITSM right, the people-side of things can be, and usually is, a different kettle of fish. Why? Because we still fail to fully consider and address the ABC (attitude, behavior, and culture) of IT – something that has been a constant for at least the last decade and most likely since the dawn of IT departments.

What commonly goes wrong

One of the biggest issues I see is that the adoption of ITSM approaches, such as ITIL, or new technologies is seen as the goal, rather than it merely being a means to an end. With the goal ideally being something more akin to improving IT services and support from a business perspective.

In my experience, 70% of ITIL-adoption initiatives fail to deliver on their promises, i.e. realizing the expected – and available – value of the best practices; with 50% of failures caused by employee resistance. Then, we (the employees) blame the best practice sources or the technologies we employee to help deliver them.

But this often has nothing to do with ITIL (or any other body of best practice information). Instead, the root cause of the failure is commonly how we misapply and misuse the best practice. That these failures are actually caused by people issues.

The ABC of IT and other ITSM-related people issues

I, and my colleagues at GamingWorks, adamantly believe that the “ABC of IT” is the number one critical success, or failure, factor in making ITSM work for organizations (this has been proven in the thousands of customer workshops we’ve delivered over the years). Plus, that the ITSM industry’s current approach to training and consulting aren’t working either.

But this isn’t all – something else needs to change. ITIL’s mantra of “people, process, and technology” (or, in terms of ITIL 2011: people, process, product, and partners) doesn’t emphasis the importance of people enough. Although, the more recent ITIL Practitioner Guidance publication – for which I was in the architects team – does, in particular the content on organizational change management (OCM). ABC is also included in the ITIL Practitioner Guide toolkit and AXELOS has published a mini whitepaper on the ABC of ICT.

Consider the importance of people to ITSM:

  • It’s people who design ITSM processes to be used by people
  • It’s people who design the ITSM tool to support and enable the people undertaking the ITSM processes
  • The ITSM tools are only there to support people in making decisions, sharing knowledge, and managing IT (for the people in the business)
  • People who manage partners who are made up of people.

As Rob England, the IT Skeptic, says in his book Basic Service Management:

“Services are delivered by people for people to people.”

The ABC of IT “iceberg”

It might be an overly used and clichéd analogy, but I make no apologies. The ITSM industry finally needs to see all of the people-related stuff (80% of the iceberg) that’s hidden out of sight below the waterline. AND to do something about it!

Unfortunately, we don’t talk about it.

We conveniently ignore it.

And we hope that it will go away.

But this ABC of IT iceberg is capable of stopping your ITSM improvement initiative dead in its tracks. Or at least sending it off in a totally different direction if not recognized and addressed as a risk.

And it will if left unchecked!

Let’s make that ABC of IT iceberg visible

If we can see it, we can talk about it, discuss it, and take decisions about what to do.

GamingWorks has worked with thousands of IT organizations over the years. In particular in understanding the top 10 types of resistance to ITIL, i.e. the main reasons why organizations fail to realize the hoped-for benefits from an investment in ITIL-focused change.

These are a big part of the ABC of IT iceberg…

The top 10 people-related barriers to ITSM success

And remember, this isn’t just my opinion, it’s based on thousands of workshops and conversations with IT organizations that are struggling to succeed.

  1. No management commitment
  2. Saying “yes” but meaning “no”
  3. An attitude of “Never mind about following the new procedures, just do what we normally do”
  4. Plan, do, stop – i.e. there’s no continual improvement focus
  5. Throwing (ITIL/ITSM) tools and solutions over the wall and hoping that people will use them
  6. ITIL is the objective, not what needs to be achieved through its adoption and use
  7. Process managers without authority
  8. The inability to specify the value required by the business
  9. No understanding of business impact and priority
  10. The IT department thinks that it doesn't need to understand the business to make a business case.

This might appear a very negative list, but we have sadly been presenting similar feedback for over a decade. With the iceberg changing little in this time.

There is good news though. We already know many of the solutions to these. And I’ll cover them in my next ITSM.tools blog.

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Director & Owner at

Paul Wilkinson has been involved in the IT industry for more than 25 years and has a broad background in IT operations, IT management, and product innovation and development. He was project team lead in the original BITE (Business & IT Excellence) process modeling of ITIL, an ITIL V2 author, and member of the ITIL V3 advisory group.

He is co-owner of GamingWorks and co-developer of a range of business simulations focusing on IT service management, project management, business process management, business and IT alignment, alliance management and co-author and developer of the ABC of ICT products and publications.

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