Start where you are: Love the one you’re with

Stephen Stills on stage playing a guitarMany years ago, when I listened to rock music, there was a great single from Stephen Stills with the refrain “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”.

I was reminded of this lyric recently when I was talking to a client about a very expensive tool that they wanted to buy. The client asked me to help them create a business case for buying this tool, but when I looked at what they wanted to do I realised that they could do a perfectly good job with the tools they already had. I see this situation very often, organizations want to replace their ITSM tool to stimulate an improvement programme, but all they really need to do is to make better use of the tools they already have.

This idea is captured very well by the ITIL 4 guiding principle “Start where you are”, and it doesn’t just apply to tools, it applies to everything that you do in IT service management.

Let’s look at how this applies to the four dimensions of service management that ITIL 4 describes, these are the things your organisation has to manage well if you want to deliver great services and co-create value with your service consumers.

  1. Organizations and people
  2. Information and technology
  3. Partners and suppliers
  4. Value streams and processes

Organizations and people

It should be obvious that the first thing you need to do is make the best possible use of the people you already have. If you don’t, you're wasting one of your most valuable and expensive resources. You need to think about:

  • The skills and competencies your people and your teams already have
  • Your organisational design
  • The systems of authority that direct and control the work people do

If your staff aren’t working well, and delivering the quality of service that you need, then you need to ask yourself why. If you need improved skills and competence in your team then maybe you do need to recruit new staff, but you need to consider other possibilities first. Is there a problem with your organisational structure? Or your approach to staff induction and training? It's often much better, as well as much cheaper, to train existing staff to take on new roles; and if there are issues with your organisational culture it is unlikely that recruiting new people into the same culture will make any difference. It's much better to address the issues and motivate your people to do a great job.

Information and technology

This brings me back to the introduction to this blog. I see too many organizations that replace their ITSM tool every 4 or 5 years, expecting the new tool to solve all their problems. It rarely does!

If you are considering replacing your ITSM tool, or any other technology that you use to support your business, then the first thing to consider is how you could improve the way you use the tools you already have. Even if your current tool isn't perfect, you're already familiar with it and probably already have some workarounds for problems you've identified. And it’s very likely that, with some additional effort, you could learn to make better use of it. Don’t forget that any new tool you're thinking of introducing brings with it not just the costs of buying it and getting it up and running, but also its own set of – probably unanticipated – problems that you’re going to have to live with.

There are times when you really do need a new tool. Just be sure, before you invest, that this time is really one of them.

Partners and suppliers

Every organization depends on a wide range of partners and suppliers to help them deliver and support the goods and services that they create. I often hear IT service providers complaining bitterly about the quality of support they get from their suppliers, even to the extent of telling their customers that the poor service they delivered wasn't their fault, it was the supplier!

Tempting as it may seem, changing suppliers can be a very expensive, and disruptive, way to resolve issues. Sometimes contracts have many years to run before they can be cancelled, but even if you can change supplier contractually, you still have a lot of work to do if you want to unpick all the interfaces with your existing supplier and start working with a new one. So, before you decide to change suppliers, ask yourself what it would take to repair your relationship with the existing one. Suppliers rarely want to deliver poor service, and you may discover that you are part of the problem. If you're not good at managing supplier relationships, then it's likely that a new supplier wouldn’t be much of an improvement on the old one.

If you sit down with your existing supplier in a collaborative and constructive manner, to discuss the issues you have, and how they impact your business, you may be surprised to learn that they would really love to deliver better service, if only you would work with them to enable this.

Value streams and processes

I'm often asked to help organizations create new processes. Typically, they tell me that “change management isn’t working” or “we need a new incident management process”. I have seen ITSM consultants who love to take on engagements like this. They create hugely complex documents showing every detail of the new process flow, then reconfigure tools, and train staff in how to follow the new processes. These projects can take months, or even years, to complete, and they rarely meet the expectations of the client.

It is much better to start with the process you already have and see how it can be improved incrementally. This way you avoid disruption, and you build on the good things that are already there. You make use of the knowledge and skills of your people, and existing suppliers. You build on the capabilities of your existing tools, and you can spend your time thinking about the outcomes you want for your customers, rather than the internals of how your process works.


It can be easy to believe that improvement means something completely different, something new. New staff, new tools, new suppliers, new processes. And sometimes any, or all of these will help you to achieve your organisation’s goals. But all of them can be expensive, no matter how shiny and attractive they appear. And none of them will be of much use unless you've thought long and hard about what it is you are actually trying to achieve.

ITIL 4 provides an architecture that you can use to help you understand how you create value, and how you can make improvements that will be valuable to yourself and your customers. Concepts like the guiding principles and the four dimensions of service management are not just abstract ideas. They can provide the scaffolding you need to make great decisions about how to improve your services. Have another read of this blog and see if you can find where I’ve used guiding principles like “Collaborate and promote visibility”, “Progress iteratively with feedback”, and "Focus on value", as well as “Start where you are”.

So remember, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.


Stephen Stills image: Mitchell Weinstock

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