With IT burn-out rampant, tracking work motivated by increases in productivity is not working. Making work visible forces either good or bad decision-making. Remember, happy employees are more productive.

Tech burnout’s something that’s been simmering for a long time; I said this on the initial MyServiceMonitor blog almost 20 years ago:

“I believe that the real road to a quality culture has more to do with people than with process (which may make some ITIL fanatics scream in horror), since in the absence of process it is values that carry the day. I am in awe of many IT professionals — many much smarter than I — who are literally killing themselves keeping the cars on the road as the business keeps its foot firmly on the accelerator (and in some cases on IT’s neck). They have my admiration (and sympathy).”


I attended a workshop recently, Advanced Techniques for High performing Leadership Teams by Dr. Dean Anderson.

While I like Conscious Change Leadership, I’m afraid that while senior management is on an executive retreat learning to change themselves the rest of us are still sweating away in the boiler room.

The pressure to do more with less, shortages of technical skills and the burn-out crisis suggest that IT managers either are unwilling or unable to make the difficult decisions to face these realities.

Meanwhile, the stress that the worker-bees are under tend to generate increasingly poor behavior patterns and if anyone’s in need of being mindful it is these employees. Unfortunately, doing more with less often triggers efforts to make work visible.

So, management supports using Kanban boards, establishing SREs and other techniques. But the focus remains steadfastly dedicated to increasing productivity (with the same resources).

“42% of IT workers who are facing high levels of burnout are considering quitting their company in the next six months, Yerbo found, while 62% of IT professionals report being “physically and emotionally drained”.

These time pressures also force workers to resort to “short-term fixes to get the job done” – or ‘antipatterns’ – that ultimately lead to bigger problems and additional work later down the line.”

Tech workers face a ‘burnout crisis’ unless employers act now; ZDnet[i]

I remember a post titled ‘Let’s Kill Incident Management’ where I ranted about needing a ticket for everything. Of course, if every single operational action needed a ticket, we’d have even less time to get real work done than we do now[ii].

Unfortunately, it is true that unless we make all work visible, we’ll never really know how busy people are. So, are we damned if we do and damned if we don’t?

Not necessarily.

It just means we must blend making work visible with organizational change management – and specifically transformational change.

How USM makes work visible

The Unified Service Management method addresses organizational complexity and dependency through an integral and integrated management approach that restores and optimizes the control over each contribution to the system, and consequently restores and optimizes the control over the whole system.

One of the things I like about the Unified Service Management method is that it actually has a very simple OPERATE process defined in its non-redundant process model. In the USM process model all operational actions are triggered as service requests, which is why all USM standard workflows include the OPERATE process.

But the workflows that generate these service requests can be one-off or repetitive. One-off requests are simply planned and executed in OPERATE. But requests for a repetitive action can have more consequences since the required action appears repeatedly on the OPS calendar and becomes part of management rules and manuals. These requests for repetitive actions are therefore only requested via change management.

So, the Ops Calendar can now show all operational activities and makes all operational work visible. While ‘tickets’ are still required for dynamic operations, repetitive or routine work is planned and defined only once and becomes part of the static operations calendar.

For more detailed information about how the USM Process Model and standard workflows make work visible, enroll in a FREE USM Workshop!

But in any case, this visibility can either improve decision-making or make it even worse.

How USM Addresses Cultural Change

The biggest challenge at a USM deployment is always around the people in the service organization. While USM does not directly address cultural change, it supports the organizational change approach with:

  • a detailed description of the organizational structures, routines, and support technology, which provide a stable environment for all employees
  • a structured deployment, based on a step-by-step approach in the form of improvement sprints, in which the organization adapts the processes and the technology to the planned improvement goals in an integrated way

USM points to some organizational change management techniques including:

  • Attitude, behavior, culture (ABC)
  • De Caluwe Color-Print thinking
  • Organizational behavior management (OBM)
  • The Triad models

USM provides some interesting suggestions on how these and other techniques can be leveraged in a Unified Service Management context.

For example, encouraging steering on consequences instead of steering on antecedents.  We want employees to understand WHY they need to follow a routine, not explain (or re-explain) the rules to them again and again, (which is often the case)

Or, how to use rewarding and ignoring with process coordination:

“Punishing and threatening helps. But the underlying question is: Do you want to light the fire under employees, or set fire to the employees?”

The USM Method

Thinking Before Doing is not Nothing

The pressures to ‘do more with less’ sometimes just adds more work to an already overworked IT staff.

“When there is too much WIP, there is no time to simply think.”

DeGrandis, Dominica. Making Work Visible (p. 186). IT Revolution Press. Kindle Edition.

What this tells us is that IT staff, and the associated calendars, must provide time for people to DO NOTHING.

” ‘know that by doing nothing, you are actually being your most productive and creative self’ “

TED talk, How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas[iii]

Of course, there’s not a chance in hell that most executive leadership will respond favorably to encouraging critical technical staff to spend more time doing nothing. But they must recognize that making work visible and falling right back into traditional management thinking – do more with less! – is not likely to help.

The current burn-out crisis should be telling them that.

“The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become.”

Russell Ackoff

The USM method is simple. It can be deployed incrementally over time. It provides a level of standardization without forcing specific practices. It establishes a basis for leveraging positive organizational change techniques.

So, before you run out to get that new tool, or start implementing make work visible tactics, think about it:

The core concept of the Unified Service Management method is a singular normalized management system as an acceptable link, based on the concept of an integral and integrated process architecture.

This improves interoperability between service teams by providing a level of standardization that does not limit localization of organizational structures or tooling.

Before you race across the finish line, THINK. The USM method can sustain your efforts in improving service management and keep you from running over the cliff.

Find out more: enroll in a FREE Workshop today!

[i] https://www.zdnet.com/article/tech-workers-face-a-burnout-crisis-unless-employers-act-now/

[ii] You can find the full post at the ITSM On-Ramp Manifesto

[iii] https://www.ted.com/talks/manoush_zomorodi_how_boredom_can_lead_to_your_most_brilliant_ideas?language=en

Published by myservicemonitor

I am an independent service management consultant with two decades of experience helping customers.

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1 Comment

  1. In the spirit of blogging alone, I thought I’d comment on my own post.

    I’ve made this comment before:

    “Two decades of applying best practice frameworks while business and technology have continued to accelerate has resulted in a complexity that is unmanageable. As IT and the business struggle with transformational change, attempts to automate their way out of these problems can make this complexity even worse.” – Rolling Uphill

    After skimming the book Intelligent Automation, I thought this might warrant some explanation….

    There’s a difference between automating a business process (i.e., a service) than managing these services. To quote the SURVUZ Foundation:

    “Few things are as variable as service. However, the management of services is universal : whether you manage a facility task area such as ICT, Building Management, Human Resources or Security, or a primary task area such as a municipality or a healthcare institution, it is and remains service provision . This requires cooperation between participating parties and some degree of standardization to function as a link in chains and networks.”

    There’s no question that Intelligent Automation is important, and the business is correct to want to focus on this. However, IT must also understand that this will raise the bar significantly for the management of services, as the number of services explodes, and change accelerates.

    As intelligent automation drives improvements to services at an ever-increasing pace, the USM method can enable IT to ‘walk and chew gum’ by establishing a universal, standard for the management of these services.

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