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Failing Forward

In the introduction of her book The ITSM Process Design Guide, Donna Knapp writes “In today’s competitive business climate it’s not enough to do things right; Information Technology (IT) organizations have to do the right things right.”  Well what happens when we don’t? Remember New Coke?  Not every decision we make, every new design or redesign we engage in goes according to plan.  What happens when we fail? 

One of the most important and most deeply entrenched reasons why established companies struggle to grow is fear of failure. In fact in a 2015 Boston Consulting Group survey, 31% of the respondents identified a risk adverse culture as a key obstacle to innovation. (1)  ITSM processes for strategy, design, transition, operation and CSI are all based on efficiency and effectiveness.  It’s about being in control of our IT environments and that we must do everything we can to prevent failures.  Now this may go against many of our strongly held beliefs but Pixar’s president, Ed Catmull, is quoted as saying “Mistakes aren’t a necessary evil, in fact they aren’t evil at all. They are an inevitable consequence of doing something new….and should be seen as valuable.”  

Most IT organizations and people would prefer not to review the projects or changes that have resulted in impacts or failures.  In ITSM we have valuable tools that allow us to learn from these failures.  By utilizing our processes of incident and problem management along with SACM, change and knowledge we can begin to use these failures as lessons learned about where our people, processes, products and capabilities may have fallen short of our expectations.  These reviews should be done Fast and to the point; take place Frequently and are Forward-looking, with an emphasis on learning. (2)  By capturing these lessons, the information and the ideas can be shared across the organization (stored in the SKMS) so that their benefit can be amplified.

By ensuring that we are turning these failures into improvement opportunities, they can be more easily accepted, digested and used for our Continual Service Improvement Strategy.   

1, 2 Harvard Business Review (May 2016) Increase your return on failure Julian Birkinshaw, Martine Haas.


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