Archive for the ‘ITIL Experiential Learning’ Category

Life after ITIL – creating a culture of Continual Service Improvement

August 3, 2010

Picture the scene: your organisation has decided to improve its IT department through the introduction of ITIL Best Practice. Some external consultants from an IT service provider came in to do a review and mapped out the project. They then implemented the agreed Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) processes while delivering awareness sessions to various members of staff. Perhaps you even got a few of your people v3 qualified. At last, your Best Practice project has been delivered and has finally gone live. But what now?

The Service Management experts are long gone and you find yourself alone in managing the improved environment. Things somehow seem to be slowly regressing to their previous state – as if the project never happened. But how can such a promising project prove so ineffective?

Unfortunately, many organisations don’t seem to truly realize that Best Practice is not a one-off implementation, nor is it self-sustaining. As Version 3 of ITIL underlines, there should be an iterative and interactive lifecycle approach to the various processes. Best Practice is an ongoing commitment, and not a time-restricted project.  It’s essential to continually revise, reassess, and improve the people, processes and technology in order to produce real benefits, especially in the long term. To do this, several elements must be taken into consideration – post-implementation support from service providers, ownership within the organisation and understanding and commitment of staff at all levels.

Post-implementation support

It is undeniably important that the consultants who have implemented the processes make themselves available for further support, to embed the discipline in the organisation. The service provider should come back regularly after the project has gone live to see if the new ways of working have been adopted across people, process and technology, and to help the organisation find ways of measuring the effects, evaluating the benefits and identifying the areas for improvement. But it’s not only up to the consultants to drive through improvements and focus the internal efforts. Ultimately, they will have to hand over ownership and responsibility to the client.

Commitment of staff

It is essential then that the people, processes, and technology in the environment are subject to Continual Service Improvement: the discipline must be understood, accepted, structured and well supported by senior management as well as staff at all levels. CSI is the wrap that allows all other processes to maintain their effectiveness, through ongoing reviews aimed at identifying inefficiencies followed by improvement actions. Actually, the CSI process itself must be continually evaluated and adapted to remain relevant, up-to-date and constantly aligned to the IT and the business objectives.

Senior management buy-in

Senior management, on the other hand, has to really understand the value of ITIL and be able to deal with any resistance to change found across the organisation. They have to ensure that the various members of staff at the tactical and operational levels understand how the new processes, technologies, and roles will affect the way they work. They have to clarify what efficiencies can be achieved not only by the organisation, but in the individuals’ everyday work as well.

For many people, change means stepping out of their comfort zone. Many are wary of, or simply not interested, in doing that. Communication is therefore essential: employees need to be shown the changes and benefits concretely and clearly, perhaps through awareness or experiential learning sessions. Management has to be able to justify the importance and usefulness of changes and how ITIL can support and deliver efficiencies. If this isn’t possible, then the project alone cannot produce the desired effects. If people don’t understand the need to change and don’t adopt the new processes and tools, the organisation will not reach what it aims to achieve and in some cases, may even go back to the previous state.

It’s the people across the organisation that will ultimately determine whether the ethos of CSI will be embedded. The key to making ITIL a framework that adds value and not just a nice-to-have is not solely in the technology or the processes, but the cultural change produced across the organisation.

It’s through regular assessment and review that the benefits of ITIL can be realized. To ultimately create a shared culture of Continual Service Improvement, management has to take ownership and highlight the benefits of change.

Steve Connelly, Head of Service Management

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Experiential Learning explained through Confucius

February 2, 2010
[Gouache on paper, c. 1770.The Granger Collection, New York]‘I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.’

With this quote, ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius gives us an important insight into learning: lectures go in one ear and out the other, Power-Point presentations make things ring a bell, but the only way to truly learn something is through active practice.

You don’t learn to ride a bike by reading the instructions booklet, do you? This is exactly the principle of Experiential Learning in delivering ITIL-related awareness and training.

Decades ago learning equalled plain knowledge absorption. Now Montessori schools teach nursery children through ‘guided discovery’, English teachers help foreigners of all ages learn the language through role-plays and games, and it’s high time businesses trained their staff likewise, in order to improve efficiency – and efficacy, too.

So how does this apply to Service Management, and more specifically, ITIL? Well sure, it’s nice to hold accreditations, but theory alone doesn’t imply understanding: “He who learns but does not think, is lost!” says Confucius, before adding: “He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.” Training employees to deal with common and uncommon incidents or just to manage changes in the system through Best Practice is, in fact, essential to avoid time-wasting, low customer satisfaction and needless financial loss, or as Confucius would say “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”

With anything Best Practice, the know-how is more important than the know-what, therefore certificates may not be enough if they do not give practical experience of the knowledge they provide. It is also important to have a tailored approach, realising which processes are relevant to the business and how to apply them to everyday operations and incidents. Investing in an ITIL Foundation course, then, may not have the expected results – and the main reason, surprisingly, has social and cultural roots.

In fact, surveys in the sector all agree that one of the major pitfalls in putting ITIL into practice is not money or lack of guidance, which are at third and second position, but internal resistance to change. People do not understand why they should change and cannot see the benefits, causing them not to really collaborate in putting ITIL into practice. Training all employees involved in the operations is important to get the best out of Best Practice. “If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.” Easy to say, but how do you teach people effectively? Well, using Experiential Learning’s methodology, through role-play involving real life examples the participants take on a role (that can either be the one they are currently performing within their organisation or a different one to allow them to experience challenges connected to other roles) and are encouraged to make mistakes and see the consequences of their actions in a safe, virtual environment. From that experience they understand why it is so important to change behaviour and operational procedures and learn how to put theory into practice, which results in a change of perspective on the whole management of IT Services.

The strategy used in Experiential Learning is surprisingly simple: participants are free to make their own choices and at the end of each round of role-play, the facilitator who leads the game reviews with them a series of reports, whilst at the same time discussing their own perception of their performance in different areas, so that they can see what needs improvement, where they have progressed and how an action taken by a department can be successful in an area but cause discontent in another. Reflecting upon mistakes and successes leads to building a theory, and then to planning a new technique to be put into practice in the following round, copying the good and changing the bad, learning again from strengths and weaknesses of the new tactic, in fact self-teaching the notions.

Do, review, create a theory, plan, do again. This technique is found in David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, contained in his publication ‘Experiential Learning: Experience As The Source Of Learning And Development’ dated 1984. Kolb, an educational theorist known for his contributions in the field of organisational behaviour, developed the Experiential Learning Model (ELM) with Ron Fry in the early Seventies, an approach to learning based on experience. Through this cycle, the trainee uses all the learning bases – experience, reflection, thinking, action – encompassing the ways of learning recognised by Confucius for gaining wisdom: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” Activities if truth be told require in fact an effort, but that’s why the knowledge acquired through them will almost certainly remain in memory.

According to the Learning Pyramid, a graphic representation of average memory retention rates for each different learning technique, people remember only 10-30% of what they read, hear and see but 70-90% of what they do as an activity, especially if talking through it or teaching someone else what they have learnt. The pyramid is based on research carried out by the National Training Laboratory in Bethel, Maine in the early sixties and is still used as an indicator when explaining the effectiveness of teaching methods similar to this. So with only a morning or afternoon session of Experiential Learning, one not only manages to see how the ITIL principles work in practice and what their effects and benefits are, but the information on Best Practice processes will have all sunk in.

Whether you are planning a whole IT system revolution, a small migration or are just cautiously studying your next moves – “The cautious seldom err ,” sure, but be aware they don’t seem to achieve anything of importance, either – Experiential Learning should be the launching pad for all operations; it might be unbelievable that one can achieve such an insight in only a half-day session, and certainly the journey to making the best of ITIL processes can be long, but let’s keep in mind that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”


Derek Elphick


Derek Elphick, Head of Service Management

This article is published on the Jan/Feb edition of VitAL, and online on