Guest Author: Jim Cross
Have you ever gone through the process of a transformation effort and suddenly found yourself conforming to a standard or framework without really knowing why? Have you ever finished a transformation effort and realized that it really didn’t meet the business drivers that initiated the effort to begin with?
Many IT leaders have found themselves in this situation and, in many cases, end up abandoning frameworks all together. But are frameworks really the problem? They’re not.
When looking at IT transformation initiatives many IT organizations have, in the spirit of trying to help the business, adopted and adapted industry standard frameworks and best practices. While these frameworks and best practices are great resources and tools for IT to utilize, many organizations have fallen into the trap of conforming to them instead of allowing them to influence and guide them down the transformation path to becoming more deeply integrated into the business model.
DREAM OR SCHEME
Before even considering frameworks one must first understand the business goals or “the dream” of the initiative. Realizing the dream is the first and vital step to any transformation initiative and should be reviewed and referenced throughout the project life cycle. Without this as a reference point, you may find yourself implementing the “scheme” of a framework for the sake of everything it has to offer. Full comprehension of the business goals will ensure you are transforming to the dream and not conforming to the scheme.
A quick and easy way to look at the dream/scheme analogy is to answer one of two questions:
- What’s in it for the business? (transform to achieve business value – Dream)
- What’s in it for the framework? (conform to the framework – Scheme)
In many cases a transformation effort becomes more about the framework than it does about the business benefits to be realized. For instance, there is almost never a direct business benefit from merely moving up a maturity model, so a focus on a maturity improvement path can quickly allow a transformation effort to fall victim of a scheme. Maturity models are great tools to be used for targeting specific areas that are relative to the dream, but by themselves provide little value. The key to ensure the dream is to align it to the business goals and not get stuck in the quagmire of simply obtaining the next level of framework maturity. Remember that no matter what the framework may suggest as a best practice, the dream always trumps the scheme.
THE ALL-INCLUSIVE FRAMEWORK
One way to avoid a scheme is to be aware of the many types of frameworks that are available and the specific area each framework targets. It is equally important to comprehend what a framework is in general.
The definition of an IT framework, simply termed, is an underlying structure of a system or concept that provides the basis for business and IT integration to be more fully developed at a later stage. What a framework is not is an all-inclusive, prescriptive definition of everything an IT organization should do and how to do it.
Whereas one framework may satisfy the needs of IT governance, another may provide greater process improvement guidance, while yet others may supply even greater direction on metrics, IT human resources development or client relations. All of these critical IT functions, and more not mentioned, are essential when looking at a successful transformation program. Utilizing the right frameworks to provide guidance with those IT functions will bolster your ability to achieve business value within your IT initiatives.
Looking at ITIL gives us a good example of how one needs to pay attention in leveraging the right framework to accomplish what’s needed to obtain the core objectives. First, ITIL does not claim to be an all-inclusive framework, but many organizations and consultancies have tried pitching it as such. What ITIL is good at is the management of IT services by targeting specific areas for process improvement and efficiency. ITIL V3 took this a step further in making sure the process areas are considered within the context of the service delivery lifecycle.
Pay attention: when stepping through the framework, ITIL points out other functions of IT that need to be looked at in order for these important process areas to work at their maximum potential. One common area is the introduction of new roles within the IT organization – the process managers. Although these roles may be important to a process improvement initiative, one must realize that this is an IT organizational change and should be looked at as such. ITIL does not hold itself to be an organizational assessment framework, so bringing in another framework to assist you with this change is certainly a recommended strategy.
Choosing the right framework can be compared to choosing the right bat. Batting is often considered to be one of the hardest achievements in sports as it boils down to hitting a tiny round ball with a narrow round bat. In fact, if a batter can get a hit in three out of ten at bats, he or she is considered a great hitter.
If IT were the batter and the ball was the business goal then the bat would be the framework. When looking at the history of the bat, we can glean some similarities to the framework. At one time, baseball bats were all manufactured out of some type of hard wood. This is no longer the case. Today, there are actually several different types of baseball bats in common use. The types of baseball bats often vary based on division and league specifications that govern the equipment that is considered the standard for all teams associated with a given league and the divisions that make up the league. This means that different types of baseball bats will be in common use in a minor or amateur league that would not be present in the major leagues.
Much like the history of the bat, there was once a finite selection of industry standard frameworks to choose from. With compliancy, regulatory requirements and a constant effort to find the business value of IT, the types of frameworks have increased, both industry and non-industry specific. Although there is a diverse choice of frameworks there is still a core selection chosen depending on the type of business and transformation effort.
It all comes back to a basic principle: I’m reminded of the first time I ever picked up a baseball bat and heard the words, “Keep your eye on the ball”. Can you imagine what would happen if you kept your eye on the bat instead? Essentially, that is what we’re accomplishing by IT grabbing hold of a framework and keeping our eye on the business goal of a transformation effort.
Finding the business value of a framework must be accomplished by understanding your business goals and ensuring you’re using the framework to target the specific areas it’s designed to address. By not conforming to the scheme of the framework, but realizing that frameworks are simply a tool to be leveraged within your transformation effort you can achieve your “dream” of business value.
- Meyer, Dean. “ITIL Worship”. CIO. May 05, 2005. October 1, 2010 <http://www.cio.com.au/article/6203/itil_worship/>
- Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. “Batting (baseball)”. Wikipedia. July 17, 2010 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batter_(baseball)>
- Tatum, Malcolm. “What are the Different Types of Baseball Bats?”. wiseGEEK. September 9, 2010. October 1, 2010 <http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-the-different-types-of-baseball-bats.htm>
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