Why incorporate IT managment frameworks?

IT frameworks seem like pure common sense to anyone whose been in this business long. So why deal with all that complexity?

Recently, I attended the kickoff meeting of a local interest group of the itSMF USA, or IT Service Management Forum USA. It is a group dedicated to fostering the delivery of IT services via ITIL. Short for IT Information Library, ITIL is a methodology developed by the British government for best practices in the delivery of IT services. It is popular internationally and is just catching on in the US. It is another management methodology such as CobiT, ISO, Six Sigma, etc., except it tells you what to do in the ways of best practices, not how to do them.

I was talking to a colleague before the meeting about why companies need (and will pay for) what are essentially common-sense guidelines for managing. As we were discussing this, I was flipping through a book on aligning IT with business strategy when I came across a paragraph which said (to roughly paraphrase):

Regarding database backups, they should occur on a regularly recurring schedule, which is made known to the customer and any deviation from said schedule should be made known right away.

No kidding! What a brilliant bit of insight! Another concept in the same vein (but not part of ITIL) is Root Cause Analysis. "Root Cause Analysis refers to finding the real cause of the problem and dealing with it rather than simply continuing to deal with the symptoms." OK, when was the last time you set out to just remedy the symptoms of your problems?

See my point? Most of this stuff, especially to those who have been in the field for a long time, is pure common sense. Yet, I am going to argue that, in fact, these methodologies are very important.

I concluded that the reason we pay for common sense is because of size. When organizations are small, they tend to communicate well. There are less people involved in all processes; each person is usually responsible for multiple processes and the atmosphere is usually very collegial. Thus, there is little need for lots of communication, and the communication that does occur is direct and usually unhindered by multiple layers of management.

When organizations get larger they start to lose the ability to communicate effectively (for a variety of reasons). And as the organization grows, the work typically gets more complex because you have more to do, even if it is the same stuff you've been doing for years. It's like growing from a two-person IT shop that supports 50 users to a 50 person shop that supports 5000 users.

So you put these things together and suddenly, all the things that we used to do that made sense get lost in the magnitude of the work and the breakdown in communication. As the organization grows larger, there is a tendency to overcommunicate, which increases the chances that the important messages get lost in the deluge of email, memos, forms, phone calls, etc.

Thus, we turn to methodologies to help us return to the times when we did a better job of managing by formalizing the structure. This helps us ensure that the basics get taken care of as they should.

ITIL and the other methods mentioned above are excellent examples of how best practices and their skillful implementation can lead to outstanding results for your organization. I do suggest you check them out -- particularly ITIL, as it is being touted as the coming wave of IT service delivery management.

You might be thinking, "Oh, so ITIL and other frameworks are just for the big guys". And my answer to that, my Padawan (Jedi learner), is, No, it is for the little guys too. In fact, it can be just as important for small- and medium-size organizations as it is for big ones.

Whoa! How can this be? Simply because good habits and processes learned early and practiced regularly will stay with the organization as it gets bigger, if it is part of the culture. Even as personnel turn over, if the processes are firmly in place, they have a tendency to stick around. So starting out early with one of these frameworks can pay huge benefits down the road when your organization is MEGA-GOV.

So my suggestion is to get familiar with one or more of these methodologies and decide which you might want to try on for size depending on the culture of your organization. Keep in mind though, that the implementation of any kind of framework is a big deal and requires work, work, and then more work. Also, it needs to start from the top. If management doesn't buy in, it will be doubly hard to implement and succeed.

Start slow, research, and join groups such as ITSMFUSA in order to have a support system around you as you begin to plan your journey into an IT management framework. And remember, this stuff doesn't happen over night. But by joining a group, you will have folks to lean on and be able to pick their brains and learn from their mistakes -- and besides, the cookies were really good at the meeting. Best of luck in your endeavors!