Navigating ITIL 4's Value Streams

From Principles to Practice

March 12 . 10 mins read

In the constantly evolving IT service management (ITSM) landscape, the ITIL 4 framework offers robust guiding principles that help IT service organizations achieve service excellence and add value. Indeed, the focus on dynamic end-to-end IT service management value streams that serve and support organizational value delivery (as different from more static and conceptual value chains), and in place of prescribing particular processes (static links in a chain), is among the most notable aspects of ITIL's evolution.

At the heart of ITIL 4 lies the service lifecycle, encapsulating the journey from service design to service delivery and operations within the overarching ITIL service value system. This lifecycle is not merely a sequence of events; it's a dynamic flow where real-world value streams drive service requirements, and service requirements drive design and delivery, guiding continuous improvement.

To help IT service management practitioners think about how ITIL 4 might help advance excellence in their organizations, this article illustrates how individual guiding principles can manifest as organizations incorporate them into service management operations.

Focus on Value

The core of ITIL 4 is a 'Focus on Value.' This principle redefines service delivery by emphasizing value creation for all internal and external customers and stakeholders. It prompts practitioners to scrutinize every activity through the lens of cross-organizational value creation, co-creation, and enhancement, ensuring continuing alignment with evolving organizational objectives.

For a multinational corporation aiming to revamp its customer service portal, the 'Focus on Value' principle directed the team to prioritize functionalities that enhance user experience. In service management, experience can be defined as expectation minus reality. Through employee and customer surveys and feedback, the team was able to react to users' key pain points and wish lists, focusing development efforts on streamlining navigation and introducing a chatbot for instant assistance. Starting from a clear understanding of users' expectations and requirements, the team realized a system that satisfied most of the critical functionality users wanted.

By prioritizing features based on their perceived value to end-users, the team's work significantly increased customer (and employee) satisfaction metrics within three months post-implementation. Taking this real-world-experience-driven approach to all links in the organizational value chain will usually result in similar improvements.

Start Where You Are

'Start Where You Are 'advocates leveraging existing resources and capabilities rather than reinventing the wheel. This principle encourages a pragmatic approach, acknowledging the significance of incremental changes and continuous improvement within the service lifecycle. Of course, "starting from where you are" requires a clear-eyed evaluation of where "where" is, an exercise that pays significant dividends. Remember that this principle extends to understanding the state and health of relations between coworkers and departments.

I recently spoke with Sandi Conrad, Principal Advisory Director at Info-Tech Research Group, about her work with clients looking to implement IT asset management for the first time. Many clients want to implement new asset management processes and software solutions simultaneously.

Preparing for a change of magnitude that impacts nearly every aspect of the larger organization's operation requires that clients first understand "where they are." Changes to mission-critical systems and processes can't be made suddenly or all at once without creating significant disruption, often leading to failure.

That entails looking at how assets are currently managed (or not managed), identifying where existing processes are working well and should be preserved, and where control points should be located in those processes. Creating a road map for iterative improvements will help reduce disruption and dissatisfaction with service management teams' efforts.

Identifying and eliminating silos is another benefit that often emerges as organizations start where they are. IT service teams can't assume they have the only clear and correct view of asset management's present and desired future state or any other aspect of service management. As Sandi said, "Asset management should never be done in a vacuum, and engaging with teams [outside of IT] to find out where data can be captured as part of the existing processes is an excellent way to get commitment from other team leaders to participate, intending to work together moving forward on any necessary changes, also to streamline processes."

Progress Iteratively with Feedback

The iterative approach advocated by 'Progress Iteratively with Feedback' also helps destroy siloes and promotes an adaptive perspective that supports strategic agility. By continuously gathering and implementing feedback, ITSM practitioners can identify areas of practice excellence that can often be extended to help other departments improve their processes, recognize where less-than-optimal processes and systems can be proactively improved, and help foster an agile and responsive service creation and delivery culture.

A software development company adopting Agile methodologies embodied the 'Progress Iteratively with Feedback' principle. Their development cycles comprised short sprints, each followed by a thorough review. By soliciting continuous feedback from internal stakeholders and end-users, the team made iterative improvements, refining the software's functionalities in alignment with evolving market needs. This contrasts strongly with development processes that effectively use the end user as quality control, delivering sub-par experiences into the market and waiting for user complaints to drive improvements. Sadly, this happens far more often than it should in internal service delivery and releasing solutions to paying customers.

As Mark Smalley explains in his book, Reflections on High-velocity IT, within complex systems, "each step can change the situation in unexpected ways, requiring an exploratory approach rather than a (traditional project management) confirmatory approach in which predefined and planned expectations are ticked off."

Collaborate and Promote Visibility

'Collaborate and Promote Visibility' underscores the importance of breaking down silos, fostering transparent communication, and cultivating a culture of collective responsibility within the organization.

Every human likes to be asked their opinion about things that are important to them, that are likely to have a direct impact on their work or personal satisfaction. We all want to feel heard and that our insights and opinions contribute to improving service or product experiences. Bringing in those insights and opinions from outside IT is critical in optimizing service management. As difficult and disruptive transformation efforts proceed, ensuring that as many ideas as possible feed into making important decisions and creating trust across departments is vital.

This is important in every organization, especially when close coordination and clear communication are necessary.

When a large healthcare organization was faced with implementing a new patient care system, it recognized that many of the processes that had grown up around its legacy system were reducing the quality of care they were delivering to patients. That had led to a dysfunctional culture of finger-pointing, avoidance of responsibility, and territoriality and created personal friction among the doctors, nurses, and IT. Service changes that should have been delivered across the entire healthcare system were often delivered piecemeal to various operating units.

The service management team recognized that trust and communication had collapsed and embraced the 'Collaborate and Promote Visibility' principle. They worked with department heads and staff to stand up a cross-functional team and got everyone to commit to regular meetings and transparent communication. As nurses, doctors, staff, and IT specialists built trust and collaborated to identify broken processes and unneeded features in the existing system, they were able to focus on identifying, agreeing, supporting, and protecting what they needed to deliver the value they all wanted to provide. They assessed procedures and interfaces in patient records, in staff scheduling, patient check-in, and family visit processes. Working closely together, they helped design and deliver a well-integrated system that worked seamlessly across departments, ultimately enhancing patient care quality and efficiency and all employees' work experience.

Think and Work Holistically

'Think and Work Holistically' urges practitioners to view the entire service value stream as an interconnected, dynamic system rather than a chain of isolated components. This principle encourages holistic thinking to optimize service delivery and minimize disruptions.

Roy Atkinson, CEO and Principal Advisor at business advisory practice Clifton Butterfield, shared an example of an innovative European construction company working to develop a digital continuity plan. As the service management team worked with company leadership and operational teams, it recognized that the company needed to address its data silo problem to move through the next step in its transformation journey. Employees and management needed to reimagine their business practices and strategies to bring true digital transformation and accelerate how the entire organization delivered value across their internal value chain and to their clients. Taking that step required the company first to identify and then integrate data from all of its many existing silos.

Why was this step so important? It was the critical prerequisite to creating a holistic view of company operations that could be shared with and understood by all the teams working to deliver value for customers.

With data isolated within operational silos, the construction company couldn't access and share data across departments or analyze that data in the context of the company's end-to-end value stream. There was no way to give everyone an accurate and timely view of project status without shared visibility into current material inventories and future requirements. Individual groups were often left reacting to changes rather than anticipating them and struggled to keep projects on schedule.

Working with its software vendor, the company designed and built a collaboration and planning platform that included a digital boardroom and a shared dashboard, giving all departments real-time access to project design files, bills of materials, site inspection reports, and other critical information. The shared view enabled the teams to anticipate and resolve competing priorities in the context of multiple active and planned projects; the firm reached an agreement on shared priorities and proactively addressed emerging problems before they impacted schedules.

Designing and realizing a shared dashboard also illuminated where data was trapped in isolated systems and invisible to much of the organization. With a "single source of truth" and a holistic view across all aspects of its operation, the company was able to identify and leverage data and insights to improve efficiencies and better serve its customers.

Keep It Simple and Practical

Complexity often impedes efficiency. 'Keep It Simple and Practical' advocates for simplicity in service design and delivery, focusing on easily understandable, implementable, and maintainable solutions. This can be particularly hard when the service management team is tasked with improving processes and products that have been used for a long time. But IT teams must take the time and make the (often heroic) effort to scrape off the encrustations of "that bit still works, sort of, let's not mess" and achieve a clean slate where customers' wants and needs drive design and usability.

Of course, starting from square one makes the process much less strenuous. An e-commerce startup implemented the 'Keep It Simple and Practical' principle when designing its website. They prioritized a clean and intuitive user interface, minimizing clutter and complexity. Focusing on essential functionality and straightforward navigation enhanced the user experience, leading to a higher conversion rate and increased customer engagement. As this startup grows, however, the service management team will have to resist the temptation to add a never-ending stream of "cool improvements" to the original, clean interface and functionality. Soon, features nobody asked for have been added, and truly useful stuff is being left to decay. By starting each time from the principle of keep it simple and practical and basing decisions on actual user input, IT service design and delivery teams can preserve the value they created at the start.

Optimize and Automate

ITIL 4's optimize and automate principle encourages identifying and implementing opportunities for automation to streamline processes, enhance productivity, and reduce manual intervention.

In any large financial institution, the IT department supports various services, including online banking, transaction processing, and customer support. At one such organization, the combination of growing complexity and evolving technology demanded that the IT leadership identify targets for automation that would quickly optimize operations to ensure agility and cost-effectiveness.

The first step involved conducting a thorough analysis of existing processes. The IT team identified areas with room for improvement, such as incident resolution times, change management workflows, and resource allocation. For instance, seemingly non-critical but recurring incidents in existing processes hurt employee productivity across multiple departments and took up far too much of the IT team's time. Elsewhere, unclear manual change approval procedures were causing ongoing delays in urgently needed service delivery improvements.

Working with their solution provider, the team introduced a proactive incident management approach, leveraging data analytics and an effective dashboard to identify patterns and potential issues before they impacted users. At the same time, they streamlined change management processes by defining clear roles and removing ambiguity and delay from the process.

Navigating the ITIL 4 Value Stream

ITIL 4 is built around collaboratively building, improving, and extending value streams between individuals, departments, and business units and between the organization and its customers. Capturing the value created as those streams meet and merge requires one factor more than any other - trust. Many organizations discover that embracing the ITIL 4 framework and putting these principles into practice is, in many ways, a trust-building exercise that extends benefits beyond the effectiveness of IT support and service delivery.

To succeed, your teams must clarify that the foundation of every interaction between IT and the rest of the organization is based on truly working to understand all parties' needs and capabilities. Organizations embracing these principles place collaboration, mutual support and promotion, and value co-creation at the center of all business relationships. The result is far more than a more effective set of IT processes - it is a healthier, more productive, and more engaged enterprise.

About the author

Tim McElgunn

Tim McElgunn is Principal Analyst at TMT Advisory. He has extensive and varied experience in researching and writing technology-focused market studies and providing strategic advice across IT and enterprise service management, IT support, contact center operations, human resources and benefits, and telecommunications. His career includes senior analysis and editorial positions at Informa Tech, Bloomberg Law, Stratecast Partners/Frost & Sullivan, and Gartner.

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