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1 February 2010 | Juan Jimenez Blog
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Beware of Unintended Consequences
This week Juan looks at unintended consequences that could follow a successful ITIL implementation...

Every blogger in the ITIL® industry talks about the issues that happen when things go wrong in an ITSM implementation with ITIL, from initiation through execution to fall-on-your-face types of failures, complete with sound effects to simulate the crunching noise a nose makes when it meets sidewalk concrete. We also talk about some of the success stories and the “They lived happily ever after…” outcomes that come out of La-La-Consulting Land.

Few of us, however, talk about the unintended consequences that follow success in an implementation. We have all read the stories of the lottery winners who go on wild spending sprees, give ten percent of their winnings to the local pastor’s BMW-parish-vehicle fund and wind up penniless in a few months. The more unfortunate ones disappear, only to be found buried under concrete slabs. These are events that represent the introduction of events bringing wild swings in the realities of people.

But can the long term success of an implementation also bring unintended consequences? The so-called “experts” will argue that such a thing is not possible. A successful implementation has become so because it has foreseen every possible threat and put in place countermeasures to guide the organization through the mine field whose documentation is filed under “B” for “Boom!” a-la MASH’s Radar, right?

Oof. I wish that were the truth, but the reality is that many implementation initiatives succeed in spite of themselves, and navigate the obstacle course of the maturity scale almost by sheer luck, with a little momentum thrown in for good measure, topped off with a healthy serving of prayer to preferred deities.

With that success come consequences that no one foresees because… well, because they are unintended. But that does not mean that they unpredictable. What are some examples of this? Here are a few.

Consider the situation in an organization that has a less-than-ideal Help Desk. One of the consequences of this is that users will want to avoid the pain of having to call in to get assistance, and will instead either try to resolve their problems on their own or recruit their colleagues in adjoining cubicles into the effort. Super Users will rule the roost – for better or worse. If you do a good job of implementing an ITIL-aligned Service Desk and show that your team has improved their processes and culture, you are going to find that your Service Desk utilization will increase beyond what you thought would be normal for your organization. The reason is simple – those other Incidents that were not reported were also not tallied, so they were never included in the calculations. Nevertheless, once users figure out they might receive good service, they will most certainly come to you for help.

This effect will have spillover effects on other Service Transition and Service Operation processes as well. Increase in Incident counts will most likely generate a similar increase in Problem tickets, RFC’s and work orders to implement approved Changes to correct issues or introduce required modifications into the service infrastructure.

Take another example – the Business Relationship Management component of Service Level Management. A good Relationship Manager will bring a number of practices into the role, including activities intended to increase their credibility, reliability and trust with the business side of the organization. If the BRM is able to increase those very important factors by delivering consistent successes in the projects he/she chooses to tackle, the business stakeholders will begin to migrate to the point of contact where they see results. In organization where trust of IT was low and projects were often undertaken without the involvement of IT, you will likely see that situation turn around as well. As soon as word gets around, the BRM may find him/herself swamped with requests for engagements in projects all over the business, but without enough time in the day or enough resources to delegate responsibilities in order to service all the requests.

These activity spikes will tax resources, and may require staff to put in long hours until the organization makes a decision on how to react. The extra work will generate stress and may cause a rebound reaction that, if not managed, could result in a significant drop in customer satisfaction.

The concepts required to deal with these situations are similar to the concepts involved in Early Life Support – intense monitoring, staffing and other resources on call, and Plans B, C and D.

Do you have an ITIL success story with unintended consequences? Send us a line and tell us what happened! As always, the point of my blogs is to get readers to think, rather than provide ready-made answers, because I will be the first to admit I do not always have them. Feedback on my blog entries is always welcome!

(ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom and other countries.)

Juan Jimenez Email to a colleague | Add to MY ITP

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