Where’s the Magic in an ITIL Process?

This past weekend I attended the Penn and Teller show in Las Vegas. It was the first “magic show” I’ve ever seen, and it was the first time I’ve seen Penn and Teller live.

If you’re not familiar with Penn and Teller, they can best be described as “magicians” or stage performers that conduct a glitzy Vegas magic show but in a way that exposes the audience to the truth about magic. 

That truth is that there is no “magic”. Penn and Teller are very clear that their show is built from a series of consistent and repeatable activities that they practice until they become second nature. Another thing that was clearly mentioned in the show was that they are very focused on continual improvement and will walk through their processes countless times to identify subtle changes that often dramatically improve the outputs produced.

That sounds familiar.  

Isn’t a process a series of activities that produces some result? When an organization practices a process through training, don’t they become better at that process until the focus shifts to the value that the process produces rather than the steps in the process? When an organization makes subtle changes to processes, do they often see significant results?

The answer to all of these questions is yes. Through training, practice, and a focus on continual improvement, organizations increase the value that they deliver through their processes.

By focusing on the “outputs” of their processes, Penn and Teller demonstrated a focus on value. The value in a magic show comes in being deceived in a controlled situation. If they did not practice and continually improve their routine, the value would be impaired. In other words, as an audience member I might see the routine steps behind their act, and if I did, I wouldn’t necessarily focus on the value produced by the act. If they weren’t focused on producing that value that the audience enjoys, they’d quickly go out of business.

Service providers face the same thing. We want our customers to focus on and enjoy the value of the process. When we deliver impaired value, we tend to invite our customers to be more involved in the behind the scenes details of the process. This takes them away from what is really important, which is achieving business outcomes.

When I attended the Penn and Teller show the business outcome I wanted was to be entertained. I was. It was a great show, and I recommend it to anyone. However, if their processes were not as efficient and as effective as they are, that value would have been impaired, which in turn might have sacrificed some or all of my overall business outcome. Penn and Teller were only able to offer a service that contributed to my desired business outcome by doing two things: responding to my preferences and managing perceptions and doing this in a predictable and repeatable manner, which ITIL discusses at length.

To answer the question that this post poses, just as there is no “magic” in a Vegas magic show, there is no “magic” in a process. The only magic in a process originates from repeatedly executing the process and improving it over time.

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