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 Feature
13 July 2009 | Dr Jenny Dugmore Blog
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Chinese Whispers
This week Jenny responds to Chinese whispers that are circulating within the industry about ISO/IEC 20000...

  Dr Jenny Dugmore

When I was a child we sometimes played a game of what we called Chinese whispers.  Why ‘Chinese’ I don’t know.  It was a good game for children’s’ parties because it required no equipment and there was only one rule.  As it involved us all sitting on the floor it was also a good way of calming down a group of over-excited children when a party got a too exhausting for the parents.

For those of you who had a more sophisticated childhood than I did, Chinese whispers involved us sitting quietly in a circle.  One child was chosen to think of a short message, usually only a single sentence.  The chosen child whispered their message into the ear of the next child along.  The only rule was that the whisper must only be audible to the next child in the circle, and to none of the rest of the group. The next child then passed the message on until it had gone round the whole circle. The first and last child then announced their version of the message. The differences were normally huge and quite often bizarre and always led to wild giggling and demands to be the one to start the next message off. 

I realised some years ago, long after I had grown out of childrens’ parties, that we adults all too often play Chinese whispers when we ‘communicate’.  Each person given a message (both as adult and giggling child) hears the message distorted by their own experience and views, but neither hears it nor passes on the message ‘exactly right’.

I was recently contacted by someone I’ve met a few times, who had obviously been in a Chinese whispers circle.  A story about ISO/IEC 20000 had become mangled to the point where what he was told didn’t make sense to him.  He was given a bizarre version of the plans for developing the 20000 series. This message was passed on with complete conviction by a representative of one of the leading IT Industry analysts.  This was that “JTC1/SC 7 are working on a standard to give guidance on how to implement ISO/IEC 20000 with the CMMI model”.

Since this didn’t match what he had previously been told (by me, among others) he got in touch with me direct. Was the guidance on CMMi the ‘Exemplar implementation plan’, Part 5 of the series due for its final ballot this summer? Or was it Part 4, the Service Management Process Reference Model that aligns to the requirements in ISO/IEC 20000-1?

The answer was ‘Neither, because were are not working on use of CMMi’ at all. Apart from anything else, CMMi isn’t ISO copyright and Carnegie Mellon University might have a few things to say about SC7 getting involved in how CMMi can and should be used.

This was a classic example of Chinese whispers, but had not been recognised as such by those involved, partly because the message was passed on with such firm conviction that it was true. Perhaps it was also because the “Authoritative Industry Analyst” didn’t ask its clients to sit on the floor and they didn’t do much giggling as part of the process?  Shame really, if you are going to be wrong you might as well have fun at the same time.

As with some Chinese whispers it was possible to work out how reality had become distorted along the communications route.  It might even have been something I said at a conference about our plans that started it off.  Part 5, the Exemplar implementation plan for ISO/IEC 20000-1 is just what it says it is, a sensible, useful, generic plan for implementing the changes and improvements typically needed to achieve the requirements of Part 1. It includes a Gantt chart and divides the work required into three key stages, so that a service provider can approach it in stages, not a ‘big bang’ approach that can put people off getting involved at all. It reminds the service provider that service improvements are not just for ‘achieving 20000’, they are for ever. There is no reference or reliance on anything other than ISO standards in the document - it is framework independent, like all ISO documents produced to date. 

Part 4, the Process Reference Model, is closer to this rumour of “using the CMMi model for ISO/IEC 20000-1 implementation” and almost certainly how this rumour got started.  As people who have read my earlier blogs will know, Part 4 is linked to another SC7 document under development, a Process Assessment Model for IT Service Management.  Together they describe progression from a basic level when processes are neither effective nor consistent through to a level that is highly sophisticated and harder to achieve than most of the requirements in ISO/IEC 20000-1. But it is not ‘use of CMMi’ and although mapped to ISO/IEC 20000-1, they can be used stand-alone.  The approach used owes much to the work that produced ISO/IEC 12207, 15288 and of course the 15504 series (usually referred to as ‘SPICE’). Its roots are in ground-breaking work done on processes that started  well over 10 years ago, in JTC1/SC7.

I’ve heard another industry ‘rumour’ more recently – this was a view from another well known Industry Analyst that

‘ISO 20000 was developed by two of the same bodies behind ITIL, the IT Service Management Forum International (itSMF) and OGC, and is already aligned with ITIL processes. The disadvantage of ISO 20000 is that it does not qualify the certifcation it provides: processes are either ISO 20000–compliant or they are not. We predict that a future version of ITIL will inclde a variation of ISO 20000. 

Not just the wrong end of a stick, but the wrong ends of a whole bundle of sticks.  How do you even start to correct a statement with so many errors?  I didn’t even try!  

Any feedback and comments are always welcome!


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