Monday, September 28, 2009

The Rain in Spain

When Dr. Higgins attempts to improve Eliza Doolittle’s speech in My Fair Lady, he starts with the basics: practicing speaking with marbles in her mouth, repeating basic sounds and words, the most famous being “the rain in Spain is mainly in the plain”. The parallels with an organization seeking to improve its processes are similar in that the basics must be mastered first before one can be the belle of the embassy ball.

What are some of the basics that an organization can put into place while attempting to improve? Some choices are:

Strategy: Easily the most neglected area of organizations worldwide and IT organizations in particular, certain basic techniques of Strategy should be implemented. While full blown strategy methodologies might be a bit much for the beginning effort towards improvement, fundamental techniques of demand analysis, financial management and portfolio management should be implemented.

Customer Point of Contact for Negotiation: While organizations do have this in place in some fashion, it is rarely enacted formally enough to bring its true value and benefits to the table. ITIL’s Service Level Management process is a well defined methodology for achieving this objective. The ability to not merely interact and form a point of contact with the customer but to build a relationship and understand their needs allows for superior alignment of IT with customer’s requirements. This effort returns rich rewards and is definitely much value for money.

Change & Configuration Management: Again implemented by most organizations but not adequately. A good first step for organizations committed to improvement would be to evaluate what they have in place and tighten up and further align with what users require. At an organization that I consulted for in the past, they had a home grown Change/Configuration management tool that had fields and options that users did not need or use and did not have needed fields and options. Clearly they could have benefitted immensely with a properly thought out tool that fitted with their needs better.

Service Desk, Incident and Problem Management: Another set of those processes that most organizations do have in place but could desperately use an overhaul and update of. Common service desk shortcomings are lack of current information made available to service desk personnel, increasing call volumes and increasing and more complex changes to the service. Incident and Problem management also suffer from lack of communication from change and configuration management typically.

Continuous improvement: While there may not exist an organizational maturity to reach six sigma levels at the present, certain basic improvement techniques can certainly be implemented. A basic technique of Root Cause Analysis and resolution to prevent similar mishaps occurring in the future is easy and requires minimal investment. Therefore, there is no reason to not implement a RCA system of continuous improvement, no matter how limited resources are available in the organization.

It is often argued that times are too challenging or resources not available to implement process improvements by those not enthusiastic about improvements. However, there are small and simple steps that can be carried out that yield rich returns for the effort expended. It is possible to get started without a great deal of investment and disruption. With the improvement and stability gained with these initial steps, further and more complex process improvement endeavors can then be undertaken. Even if an organization is dedicated to a large scale process improvement effort, the basics must first be completed successfully. Remember, the rain in Spain is mainly in the plain.

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