Why ITIL success demands Ownership

Does lack of clear Ownership leave your organization spending a lot of time trying to determine  who makes decisions? Do they suffer from decision deja vu, again and again?  Ownership is prominent in the Service Management frameworks. I’ll tell you why.

Ownership

In  IT Value is Created  Horizontally,  I talked about horizontal vs vertical mindset as it relates to IT Service Management. Making the shift to the higher value-creating horizontal requires strong Ownership.

In silo’d organizations, ownership is concentrated at the top of each silo – typically the manager of the work unit or section. There’s no mechanism outside voluntary collaboration to facilitate horizontal processes. And in Service Management, ALL processes are horizontal – cutting across the organization.

This is where  Ownership is critical. Stephen Alexander recently did an excellent piece on Process Owner, Process Manager or Process Engineer. In ITIL, every process and service has an identified owner. Everyone needs to understand who’s ultimately responsible. That’s the role of the Owner.

But most importantly, owners need to feel a sense of, well…. ownership. Pride of ownership, and a strong sense of responsibility for a piece of a larger puzzle demands responsible citizenship. Owners are compelled to keep their process/service in top shape for the betterment of the organization, and they are held accountable for that which they own.

Ultimate decision making authority resides with the Owner, as they will  be held accountable.  Everyone benefits from clear and visible ownership. Ownership accelerates decision making and resolution of issues. It reduces redundant conversations, and provides a clear focal point.

Ownership is part of a system that naturally produces the desired outcomes.

Michael Krigsman, CEO of consulting firm Asuret and an expert on the roots of IT project failure, recently described a failed government project as “a project managed by committee. ” He adds: “The goal of that is to get multiple points of view. The negative, what usually happens, is that there’s no one who’s actually responsible.” (emphasis mine.)

Accountability

One of the reasons some organizations avoid strong ownership is an overdeveloped sense of decision-by-consensus. They fear ownership will encourage fiefdoms and despotic leadership. And, frankly,  ownership without accountability may do just that.

Accountability is the yin to Ownership’s yang, and work together to produce a greater whole. When owners know their personal success is tied directly  to how well their process performs and interacts with other processes they will make sure the greatest good of the organization is top priority.

Leadership must carefully balance holding owners accountable, while allowing the latitude (through ownership) to take calculated risks in pursuit of increasing levels of performance.

Bringing Ownership and Accountability Together

Ownership without accountability fosters tyrannical leadership,  while accountability without ownership breeds fear and disengagement. Either way, not good.

If your culture has weak ownership or accountability (or both), you must start working to build them into the culture. This is an often overlooked and underestimated aspect of Service Management, and requires careful Management of Change. It is not the part of ITIL to adapt to existing local practices.

Ownership and AccountabilityUnfortunately, trying to suddenly institute accountability (as “leadership” often wants to do) without the necessary cultural change to establish healthy Ownership  will only make matters worse.

The ITIL framework is designed to produce business value in a wide variety of organizations and situations. That’s why  ownership is NOT optional, and  the success of your Service Management program depends on it!