How do we know what works?

Kaimar Karu said at itSMFUK Conference that ”Future ITIL best practice will be from practitioner -to practitioner”. I don’t think it is a good idea. It is a pioneering model. When things are new and it is possible to make great and unambiguous improvements. Those times are past. Now everything is complex and it has become harder to see the effects of some change. Some might say that we can measure the success with outcomes. The problem is that these are difficult to measure and even harder to compare. What is good in some environment can be really bad in another. Customer satisfaction depends on many cultural things. Costs are very hard to compare.

In the early days of ITSM the world was far more simple than today. Everybody was running mainframes with a very limited list of peripherals. It was possible to find and see best practices. It was even possible to compare many metrics. Today most comparisons are meaningless as the environments are different and more complex.

Another problem is that the practitioner is not the best person to estimate the success. I have listened to great presentations where there has been very clear and solid success, but these have been rare. I have also listened practitioners describing very suspect success stories. In some cases the success exists only in the practitioners imagination. In some cases the practitioner has been fired soon after the presentation due to the very unsuccessful development.

Usually the practitioners are not very good at analyzing events and describing their cases. Here is a simple example. In many organizations IT people do not talk with their customers or even more specifically, they do not listen to their customers. Any method XXX which manages to get IT people to approach their customers and ask their opinions will be an initial success. It may well become a disappointment later, but that doesn’t prevent the practitioner from declaring method XXX as success.

On the other hand it is not impossible to say if some development program was successful or not. If there is a problem and some solution solves the problem without causing new problems then it was a success. If the same solution works in many places, then it is probably a good solution or practise. Only people who work in many organizations, have the possibility to see this happening several times.

Then there is another aspect to defining best practices. They should not be wholly empirical. We should have a logical framework which helps us to understand the mechanics of the practices. I don’t think ITIL has a long future unless it admits that the current framework is not solid. And the practitioners won’t give us the new framework. I also doubt that any crowdsourcing project will do it.




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