Some COBIT processes focus on the need to reinvent your organization. Innovation (as in COBIT 5 process APO04 Manage innovation), for example, is always a matter of reinventing, reengineering or continually improving. Successful businesses are always in a constant process of reinvention. If you are not reinventing your business, your competitors will overtake your business and you will be but a footnote in history. Innovation is the tactical part of strategic thinking. Strategy defines an end point, and through continual improvement you can modify the business to reach that point. Through continual improvement you change the structure of the business.
Why focus on continual improvement? In Lean IT,1 we talk about Japanese business concepts Kaizen and Kaikaku. Kaizen is change for the better. It is generally gradual and continual. And it involves the people: It is not imposed upon the people. Most organizations cannot handle fundamental or radical change, that is, Kaikaku, as it requires great awareness and desire. The reason is quite simple. Organizations have a maximum increase in complexity that they can bear. Should we make some kind of improvement, we must readapt the business to balance complexity; otherwise, our business becomes increasingly fragile. The more complex the business is, the more difficult it is to manage. We can manage the business only when we eliminate functionality that is not required. The method—ISO 9001, Kaizen, Kaikaku, Lean IT, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma and ITIL 7 Steps Improvement—is not important, it is the standardization and improvement that matter.
Successful businesses are always in a constant process of reinvention.
Organizations must break their addiction to service heroes. In many organizations, things get done because staff go spend a lot of time in firefighting mode and making themselves indispensable so they do not have time to work on process standardization or improvement. You know that old saying from John Wooden,2 “If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” But, heroism in your processes really is a red flag. As long as heroes exist, fixing problems through their superhuman efforts, your organization will not confront process problems. These problems will fester until it is too late. Then you will find that you are not just standing still but you are falling behind. You will quickly fall from your controlled environment to a chaotic one, and the drop is abrupt and harsh.
When improving processes, remember one simple message: You cannot be good at everything. This is a difficult statement for organizations when they do process capability assessment (COBIT 5) or capability maturity modeling(Capability Maturity Model Integration [CMMI])as they think they must score 5 in every process. I have had clients tell me they want to rate 5 in every process. “Good luck,” is what I tell them. Not only is this not feasible, but it is a waste of resources. For IT services, trying to do it all brilliantly will lead almost inevitably to mediocrity overall. Excellence requires sacrifice. Just ask any elite athlete. You must be weak somewhere in the service of good. To deliver great service on the criteria that your customers value most, you must underperform on those they value less. This means you must have the fortitude to do some things less than good. This concept does not sit well with some executives and may seem immoral to others, such as hospital administrators. This is why we perform the act of goal cascading in COBIT 5 for strategic alignment: to triage the processes to determine where we need to be good. The COBIT 5 goals cascade is the mechanism to translate stakeholder needs into specific, actionable and customized enterprise goals, IT-related goals and enabler goals. A goals cascade is important because it allows the definition of priorities for implementation and improvement. If you intend to be good at everything, then why do the cascading?
Once you accept the idea of compromise—and break your addiction to heroes—you will find your foray into service excellence easier to fathom. But now you must do the tough stuff, which is understanding thoroughly who your customers are and what they truly want and require. This necessitates deep insight into your customers, which is a topic for another time.
Peter T. Davis, CISA, CISM, CGEIT, COBIT FC/IC/AC, CISSP, CPA, CMA, CMC, ITIL FC, ISO 27001 LI/LA, ISO 27005/31000 RM, ISO 20000 FC, ISO 9001 FC, ISO 28000 FC, ISTQB CTFL, Lean IT FC, Open FAIR FC, PMI-RMP, PMP, PRINCE2 FC, SSGB
Is the principal of Peter Davis+Associates, a management consulting firm specializing in IT governance, security and audit. He currently teaches COBIT 5 Foundation/Implementation/Assessor, ISO 27001 Foundation/Lead Implementer/Lead Auditor, ISO 31000/ISO 27005 Risk Manager (RM), ISO 20000 Foundation, ISO 22301 Foundation, ISO 9001 Foundation and Project Management Institute Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP) courses.
1 Lean IT is the extension of the Toyota Production System applying lean manufacturing and lean services principles to the development and management of IT products and services.
2 John Wooden was an American basketball player and coach of the University of California, Los Angeles (USA) Bruins. Some consider him the best college head coach ever as he won 10 US National Collegiate Athletic Association national championships in a 12-year period, including an unprecedented seven in a row. Hard to beat that!