IT Operations Governance: 6 Critical Success Factors

9 minute read
Critical Factors for Service Management Success

Many information technology (IT) organizations approach their service management or IT operations management initiatives from a process or tool perspective. Organizations often expect employees to adopt and adapt to the new processes or tools before securing the necessary organizational buy-in.

Without the proper buy-in prior to implementation, many organizations struggle with process and tool adoption.

This limits the value of IT operations.

To gain the greatest value from improving how your organization delivers services to the business, it is important to map out the type and level of governance appropriate for your specific needs and initiatives.

To significantly improve the likelihood of success for your IT operations, your company should consider the following six key elements of governance.

Six factors to consider for governance success.

1. Guiding the coalition of executive support

Attempting a service management process implementation without executive-level support (i.e. working from the bottom-up) is similar to salmon spawning. When salmon spawn, they swim upstream and die due to exhaustion.

When working from the bottom-up, you invest a lot of effort competing for resources and selling the value of your initiative(s) upstream, hoping the new disciplines will catch on and eventually evolve into repeatable capabilities.

This approach can be grueling and ineffective.

Obtaining executive leadership and support is a pre-requisite to the success of any major initiative. Executive support will help guide an the understanding of the initiative’s importance, including how it complements and augments the organization's vision and strategic imperatives.

If you're fortunate, your initiative was spawned by an executive directive, establishing a clear line of executive support. If not, how can you obtain it?

One way is to perform a stakeholder analysis for the executive stakeholders – the individuals who will benefit and whose support is needed for success.

To complete a simple stakeholder analysis:

  • Identify each executive stakeholder's current state of understanding, key concerns, and support of the proposed initiative.
  • Determine the desired level of support necessary for success.
  • Assess the gap between desired state and current state.
  • Establish a plan for moving the individual's opinion and understanding to the desired state.

In an ideal situation, you would be able to move everyone to a desired state. However, at the planning stage, you are looking for at least one executive champion. By completing a stakeholder analysis, you can improve the awareness and understanding of the stakeholders, begin to secure your champion, and lessen the resistance level of the key players facilitating the formation of your guiding coalition.

2. Communications, training and education.

To accelerate adoption of operations management processes and tools, communication and training should be planned, comprehensive, concise, and repeated. Deliver your message using multiple platforms to ensure it is heard.

Your early communications should build a sense of urgency, especially if the service management initiative is new or requires radical change. It is essential that the individuals in your organization understand the value proposition of the initiative (e.g., what are we doing and why) and the potential perils if the initiative fails. Review your stakeholder analysis results and tailor your early communications in accordance with these results. Make these communications personal for your stakeholders by addressing the audience perspective: What’s in it for me?

Consider educating your team members on the bigger picture. For example, demonstrate how the incident information captured in your service desk tool:

  • Enables efficient routing to the proper support team.
  • Is driven by or related to your service level agreements (SLA) associated with the disrupted services.
  • Provides the foundation for your problem management capabilities, enabling you to determine root cause.
  • Is measured and reported for continuous improvement.

Throughout your initiative, provide status updates to the organization and celebrate your wins. Informing the organization of where you're at and what's next is essential to facilitating organizational adoption. Celebrating your wins, especially the value realized with each win, will help maintain momentum and strengthen support.

Establish a feedback loop. Enabling individuals to provide your team and leaders with feedback on what is working and what is not working goes a long way to establishing buy-in. Keep in mind that you should acknowledge and respond to the feedback you receive. Failure to do so will be more damaging than not having a feedback loop.

3. Governance structure

For the purpose of this article, governance structure refers to your organization's leadership and management structure and the way that it enables the organization's decision-making process and ensuring integrated organization-wide service management improvements.

Most organizations already have some form of governance in place. For example, a common area of governance involves managing projects and project portfolios. Although an organization may apply some form of size limit (e.g., project cost, IT labor effort, etc.) to their projects, all projects meeting this limit often are required to abide by a higher level of evaluation criteria and documentation requirements than smaller projects.

Service management references the entire service lifecycle, including strategy, design, build, and run. Establishing your governance structure in a manner that complements your existing frameworks will help facilitate future integration of the separate frameworks as you mature your IT operations capabilities. Your guiding coalition will help ensure that your governance framework is properly sized and balanced.

Other factors to consider when planning and designing your IT governance structure include the decision-making process, exception guidelines and incentive/disincentive programs. In large organizations, the first two of these provide the means for identifying decision-level authority within your governance structure as well as determining the required supporting documentation and reviews. Establishing exception guidelines also enables identification and management of exceptions.

An excellent way to facilitate the decision-making process and document key decisions is to frame each decision with a “decision paper.” A decision paper is a template used to present topics to the decision makers in a consistent manner, equipping them with the information they need to make the decision at hand.

Key elements of the decision paper template include:

  • Author: Who drafted the decision paper and who is presenting the topic for decision.
  • Approval body: Who will the decision paper be presented to for making a decision.
  • Decision description: A simple phrase giving a title to the decision topic.
  • Recommendation: Description of what the author is recommending.
  • Alternatives: Descriptions of alternatives the author considered as well as why each alternative was not recommended.
  • Assumptions: Identification of any key assumptions made when evaluating and forming the recommendation.
  • Background: A brief description of any pertinent history that may contribute to the recommendation.
  • Rationale and benefit: A description of how the recommended solution will benefit the organization.
  • Impact: Identification of any additional considerations that may influence the decision.
  • Decision: Documentation of the decision-maker's decision (e.g., approval, denied, or further action needed).
  • Action needed: Define next steps if denied or if further action is needed.
Governance Structure

4. Roles and responsibiliies

By defining, documenting, and assigning roles and responsibilities within your governance structure, you establish clear expectations for the individuals assigned to each role. Clear expectations are a key first step in positioning individuals to be successful — and everyone wants to be successful.

One way to ensure that the various roles work well together is to establish a RACI chart. RACI stands for responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed. A RACI chart is especially useful in clarifying roles and responsibilities in cross-functional/departmental processes, such as your information technology infrastructure library (ITIL) processes. By developing your RACI chart for both your governance structure and your process roles during planning and design, you can help ensure that key responsibilities are properly defined and assigned.

5. Measurement and reporting

Successful organizations recognize that good measurement and reporting doesn't just tell them where they've been, it can also guide them to where they want to go.

The three main axioms to consider when establishing measurements/reports are:

  • You can't manage what you don't measure; don't expect what you don't inspect.

Without proven, objective measures in place, it can be challenging to obtain additional investments for planned improvements. In addition, well defined measures can motivate your team towards a common goal, accelerating the adoption and assimilation of the desired behaviors.

  •  Measure to improve, not simply prove. Keep the end goal in mind.

Measures are not the end; they are the means to the end. The "inspection results" are just the starting point of the improvement plan. The challenge is that organizations often flood themselves with volumes of measures and reports that don't mean anything to the business and often aren't used to drive improvement decisions.

A sound measurement framework for IT operations management consists of two levels: process measures and service measures. Process measures are intended for an IT management audience to drive improvements in "how IT provides support and delivery." Service measures provide visibility to both IT and the business on the contribution of IT in creating business value.

  •  People want to be successful. They also want to understand what success looks like.

As you define and design your measures, review the proposed measures with the people you are measuring. If you allow the individual contributors to assist in identifying what will be measured and how, you can avoid mistakes that result in measuring the wrong things, or measuring the right things in the wrong way.


6. Culture

Last but not least, is the consideration of your IT Operations initiative on your organization's culture and vice-versa.

Every company’s culture is different.

For example, a more tenured culture presents different challenges than a culture of a company that has grown rapidly through an entrepreneurial approach.

An autocratic leadership style will obviously have different implications on a service management program than a democratic, consensus-building leadership approach.

Use your guiding coalition to shape your operations management initiative in order to lead the organization through the cultural impacts.  And, use the strengths of the existing culture to the program's advantage. For example, document and measure the "way we've always done things," and highlight the opportunities for improvement.

Address the cultural changes in a planned, well-communicated manner.

Some people are threatened by change. Put yourself in your audience's position. Help them understand the "why, what, when, who, and how" of the change. Equally important to remember: Some individuals may never change. Work with your leadership team to address these situations to ensure they don't undermine the program.

A proper governance framework is important.

By considering these six key factors when planning and designing the type and level of governance appropriate for your organization and your operations management initiative, you should significantly improve the likelihood of your organization's IT operations success.

Addressing these six factors from the start will help accelerate your organization's adoption and adaptation of service management. In addition, greater clarity around individuals' roles and responsibilities should help people understand what it means to be successful in this context. By designing the proper governance framework, you can help position your organization for continual improvement. The primary service management objective, after all, is a continuous improvement process.

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