LEADit 14: Quicker, simpler, seamless

I’ve tried to capture the most distinct themes that emerged at this year’s Australian national conference for the itSMF in the title. As I predicted last year, our local industry did contract, but not in the way I expected. This year, we had one of our respected consulting firms go into liquidation, and another one acquire a ServiceNow partner. Best practices, frameworks, methodologies and vendors serving the IT service management industry continue to proliferate despite the bad juju of a quiet couple of years on the consulting front.

Just in case you haven’t noticed already, Agile is still at the top of the hype curve. We had more sessions devoted to the popular methodology than we’ve ever had. People want to move on from ITIL’s perceived bureaucracy and move more quickly. Axelos are doing their best to improve the reputation of best practice, but I think ITIL is sorely needing rebranding—Service Management Guidance, anyone? It might make consultants and managers apply more critical thought and discretion to process changes, then, which is exactly why ITIL has a bad rep. (You can pay me later, Axelos.)

Simplicity is an emerging theme this year, with a number of tool vendors jostling for the claim. The only counter to that is Cherwell who say that oversimplification of the interface makes it harder to track and push knowledge through the support workflow.

Something that was emerging last year, but is now squarely on the minds of many practitioners and boffins, alike, is service integration. The larger organisations are wondering how to go about keeping the lines of communication and expectation clear among multiple suppliers; the smaller organisations are wondering how to integrate multiple cloud and legacy systems efficiently, and leverage the data most effectively.

One other theme I haven’t yet brought up, because I wonder if I’m biased, is customer satisfaction over SLAs. The argument is that you could still have all your service levels met and still attract the ire of your customers. Conversely, you might have outages, but if you communicate well, your customers might still love you anyway. So, where does that leave SLAs when greater meaning can be found in customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores? What do you think?

In terms of the LEADit event itself, this year, there were more tweeters, new vendors, and a good number of international visitors. I look forward to seeing what comes from the itSMF over coming months as they look for new ways to reach a greater audience.



LeadIT13 conference wrap

My annual working-holiday is over for another year, with the conclusion of the itSMF’s LeadIT conference, held in Canberra. With the Under New Management sign still hanging above the Australian chapter, the event went off without a hitch and there’s a renewed sense of interest in what the itSMF can do to reach more members. New business manager, Bruce Harvey, is intending to get out and about to speak to all committee members, so I look forward to giving my two cents whenever that comes around.

Canberra were wonderful hosts for the conference and all the volunteers worked tirelessly over the three or four days to ensure all our sessions ran smoothly.

One can’t help but notice the common themes that tend to crop up through the content of any conference. LeadIT13’s overarching theme was service management in a connected world, but there was an undercurrent of disruption. While the services we support become more and more complex—with multi-vendor management and multiple user-devices, just for starters—there’s a growing sense of contraction within our industry. Yes, more with less, but even our frameworks and methodologies are beginning to shift with the rumbles. Rob England’s keynote discussed a need to find common ground between DevOps and ITSM. Dave O’Reardon brings Kanban to continual service improvement. Aale Roos provokes us to ditch ITIL processes left, right and centre. I want community management and knowledge management to come together in our business-as-usual to take advantage of the valuable knowledge of our user community. Where the agile movement is concerned, it’s not just an undercurrent, but a very strong rip. And those IT managers on the ground, who are constantly learning and iterating their checks and balances in their agile environments and sharing their stories (pardon the pun) with us, will be next year’s luminaries.

I saw a couple of great product demos in the exhibit hall this year and wanted to give a shout-out to one in particular. Early last year, I moaned all over social media that vendors with social activity feeds hadn’t built in any functionality to easily capture comments and turn them into structured knowledge for easy reuse. Frontrange’s Heat has a social service management component that does exactly that. So, thumbs up from me.

If you missed my session on community support in the enterprise, you can catch the TFT13 recording, which is only slightly different.

See you in Melbourne for LeadIT14!

itSMF Knowledge Café

Melbourne laneway café

Last week, the NSW branch of the itSMF held a knowledge café for the first special interest group session of 2013. Paul Bodie and I facilitated the session together with a group of 18-or-so service management professionals. We explored both the Gurteen approach to knowledge cafés and the original version that was developed in the 1990s.

For our Gurteen session we formed three tables—if we’d had a couple more people we would have split into four tables of five—and we began by discussing a single topic: The most successful service improvement programs include…

We had two table changes, each after 10-15 minutes of conversation, where 2-3 people would shift and continue the topic discussion with others. The topic discussion concluded with a group conversation where participants shared insights that surfaced during their smaller group discussions. Executive sponsorship of improvement programs was a key theme but we also identified that our topic may have been too broad. Taking notes was discouraged but a few of us couldn’t help ourselves. 😉

Our second session was in the style of a World Café. Again, we had our three tables, but this time, each on had a different question to explore.

1. What worked well and what could have been improved in the previous knowledge café process?

2. How could you use the knowledge café in your workplace?

3. How could a knowledge café session leverage social media?

We ended up having a knowledge café about knowledge cafés. How meta. 😉 Lots of interesting threads emerged, like is it actually a knowledge café if you involve remote people through social channels? And the answer is no, really, because a knowledge café is all about the comfortable, cosy setting drawing out the tacit knowledge related to the question being asked. I could call this frictionless knowledge transfer in one respect, because a layer of technology can add awkward delay issues and it strips emotion and tone.

A café-like setting (or a pub atmosphere) isn’t available in most workplaces, so the ability to take this sort of exercise off-site was a popular preference.

We had participants suggest that a timer be displayed so we would know when the end was nearing so we could be sure and say what we might not have got around to saying yet. We also thought providing people with the topics beforehand would be helpful, as well as giving them the opportunity to post their own preferred topics anonymously.

It was a great afternoon and I think everyone took something away from it to hopefully adapt for their own teams and environments.

The Future is Practical

The LEADit 2012 conference rounds out a pretty stellar year for the Knowledge Bird. Knowledge management topics were high on the agenda and I can’t help but think the interest my paper sparked last year had something to do with that. Under the surface, though, there was something even better bubbling away.

Karen Ferris presented her Balanced Diversity session as the opening keynote. We’ve been following each other around a bit this year, so I’ve seen it a few times, but Karen’s talk on making organisational change stick is always a hot topic. Read the paper, if you haven’t already, but the secret sauce is the portfolio approach to change. She explains how a balanced, but diverse, set of practices in combination with a continual improvement program is what we must do to embed any kind of change in an organisation. Karen says the reason 70% of organisation changes fail is because we’re too heavily focused on the upper right quadrant of formal practices. (The paper provides a great example.)

Rob England presented his Standard + Case approach. I’ve been watching him develop the idea for a while, and while it’s not unlike the way tech support has traditionally been handled, there is one fundamental difference to the way we’ve always done it. Instead of escalating those non-standard faults into the ether and moving on to the next tech support call, Rob’s approach calls on those more experienced analysts to become case managers, in effect. It empowers those analysts to continue working with the customer in whatever way that their unique situation needs. They’d require some relationship management skills and depending on the level of technical expertise, they may also need to team up with an engineer to work through the solution. Just like case workers from other industries, these guys would also be keeping extensive notes that are added to the knowledge base.

When I started in tech support in 1997, several of my team mates and I would hang out in an IRC channel together while we were working through the tech support queue. It wasn’t directly purposeful, but it did make a tough job more bearable because we had some like-minded people to blow off steam and tell jokes to. Years later, in 2006, I’d recently started a new operational role at a bank. When I fired up web MSN (all other messenger services were locked down), my team leader insisted that was a bad move. I went around him to the operations manager and successfully put my case: I was working part-time. By allowing us to run MSN, it would mean the guys could ping me on the days I was at home to pick up any loose threads. It was an excuse, but a completely valid one. In one of the closing keynotes of the LEADit conference, Ross Dawson, spoke of a developing collaborative workforce with each of us having deep knowledge of a single subject area. Those networking tools that I’ve been using on the job all along, enable all of us to connect as a global brain to get stuff done. I gotta tell you, I’m entirely happy being one small part of a global brain—it’s way less pressure.

The reason I bring these particular sessions up is because they’re all indicative of a shift in the paradigm of the way we work. Finally, gone is notion that we must know everything, control everyone, and define every expectation in such an unrealistic way. Yes, we can work to our strengths and connect to our network of collaborators to fill in the gaps. We can be empowered to do things better than we did the last time. It’s just more practical this way.

The itSMF Australia Conference Warm-up

In the weeks leading up to this year’s Australian national itSMF conference on the Gold Coast (Aug 20-22), the itSMFA is holding a series of twitter chats with speakers who will be presenting at the conference. Last week was with Rob England, the IT Skeptic, chatting about governance. I was on last night to talk knowledge management. I know it’s hard to get a full picture in 140 characters, but there were several gold nuggets in there and even if just one person takes one of those and builds on it, then it’s been a useful exercise. Check out the curated Storify and you might just take something away, yourself.

I did ITSM my way—the itSMF New Zealand conference

Wellington played host to the national conference for itSMF New Zealand last week. I was last in the windy city about ten years ago and couldn’t remember much about it, except for having caught the ferry from there to the South Island. But I quite enjoyed it. It’s quiet, it was easy to walk to everywhere I needed to be, there are water views, it’s very safe at night, and the indoors are nice and warm. The wind and the expensive internet are Wellington’s only downfalls.

I was interested to see how people would interpret the theme of the event. Having done ITSM in a backwards kind of way—all the practical first, and the theory only once I’d left my tech support career behind—I thought I’d get to hear a few personal stories from people who’d come to it in unusual ways.

Thoughts from my first itSMF National Conference

Last week’s trans-continental junket to Perth for the Australian itSMF National Conference was well worth the time, effort and cost. Quite apart from the award, it was wonderful to meet some great people who were kind enough to give me career-related tips and advice; and who made me feel like one of the bunch, even though it was my first itSMF conference. Isn’t it interesting that a room full of IT professionals can get together and share information with each other but transferring knowledge within our own organisations is still so difficult?

The Knowledge Bird wins Whitepaper of the Year

Wow. I’m so excited tonight to have received the award for Whitepaper of the Year from the itSMF Australia. The IT industry seems to be crying out for practical help with communication. And really, a knowledge base is just an organised form of communication. If you’re looking for a copy, you’ll find it here, but I’m sure itSMF members will have access to it through their normal channels.

The Australian national itSMF conference has certainly been worth the trek across the country. Some great sessions with compelling content. I plan to share my thoughts on what I’ve heard over the coming days.

itSMF Australia National Conference 2011

The IT Service Management Forum is the only internationally recognised and independent organisation dedicated to ITSM. The Australian chapter is holding it’s national conference in Perth, 17-19 August, and I’m proud to say A Simple Guide to Creating a Knowledge Base has been nominated in the 2011 Whitepaper Competition.