Delivering IT services is a team sport

More and more IT organizations are in, or planning to make the transition from a technology delivery model with focus on efficient delivery and management of individual technical components and/or systems, to a service provider model that is characterized by the holistic management of services that produces a value for the customer.
We´re realizing that we don´t fulfill a purpose by only managing the Infrastructure and some systems, we can´t defend our value to the business by doing exactly the same things as any cloud provider out there, and probably with less quality and higher costs. We need to justify our financing, and one way of doing that is to provide a clear value through IT services to the business.

For a long time, IT organizations have taken influence from the manufacturing industry, the way they organize and their processes. Recently we have started to take other influences and are beginning to find our own way of working that are more suitable for IT. One of the things that differs IT delivery from manufacturing industry, is that they produce products, where we want to deliver services. So, what´s the big difference?

A product is tangible and storable, where a service is intangible and perishable. This means that a service is produced in exactly the same moment as it is consumed. A customer can´t evaluate a service before using it, and we can´t produce a service, store it, and then go home. We need to constantly produce, during the opening hours of our service.
The production of a product is all about output. It is easy to measure and control quality with data, it´s supposed to be exactly the same, every time. A service is aiming for the outcome that the customer seeks. Outcome is considerably harder to measure because it´s different from customer to customer and weary much built on the customers perception and preferences.
It´s like when you go to a fine restaurant, the outcome you seek is a nice evening. That experience depends on not only the quality of the food, but also your own state of mind, the atmosphere in the restaurant, the staff’s actions and behavior and so on.
The restaurant can´t measure the quality of their performance, without asking the customers if they had a nice evening. They can measure some indirect metrics, like the amount of tip, and ratings on social media. One thing that we as IT service providers should learn from the restaurants, is that a satisfied customer, never complains about the cost of the service. When our customers complain about costs for IT services, it´s more likely a signal that we don´t fulfill the outcome, or that we fail to make it visible.

The desired outcome is different from customer to customer, even for the same service. Some customers may only want the food to take home, where others are aiming for the total experience of dining out. And even during the meal, there is a difference in how they want their food cooked and if they want starters and dessert. This means that we need to be really responsive to the customers’ needs before and during the delivery of services. And if we succeed in the delivery of the outcome that the customer seeks, we provide value to the customer.

Another difference is that the production of products is highly repeatable, they do exactly the same activities every time, and therefore it is very easy to automate. The production of a service has, as mentioned above, slightly different inputs for the same activity depending on the specific situation. This means that we cannot micromanage and exactly specify every activity in our processes. We can, and should, have well defined workflows and processes, but we are dependent on the individual skills of our staff. Regardless if it is the waiter in a restaurant or if it is the service desk analyst, the outcome will be dependent on the how our staff handles the issue at hand, right there and then.

We can’t, like the manufacturing industry, use rigorously detailed processes to control quality in the production of services. We don’t really know the situations that will arise during the delivery. We can’t prepare for every situation.
What we can do, is to ensure that we have a clear and well understood line-up for the delivery, where every role have a clear responsibility in the relation to all other roles. And we can have a well-defined workflow, where everyone knows how it works and can relate their own responsibility to the purpose of delivering the specific outcome.
In the restaurant everyone, from the head waiter at the door, to the chef in the kitchen is involved in the production of our desired outcome. They don’t know when we will step inside the restaurant and what we will order, but from the moment we do, they are well trained in a common workflow and use their individual skills to handle the details and the deviations that occurs.

This is very much like a sports team. We have our line-up, we have a common tactic and a system for the game. But when it comes to unique situations, we depend on individual skills of the players. Instead of micromanaging every situation of the game, a sports team develops the capability of team work. Every aspect of practice in a sports team, is about making individuals working together. And during games, the coach constantly measures the performance and makes changes depending on the development of the game. The beauty with team sports is, that the team with the biggest resources and the best players don’t necessary win the game. It is the team that uses it is recourses and capabilities in the most efficient way that usually wins the game. In team sports, this is called “Team effort”, within IT, we call it Service Management.

Delivering IT services, is a team sport!
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