04 March 2015

Guerrilla IT – how to be an IT rebel with a cause

I conducted two pre-conference workshops about ‘Guerrilla IT’ at the itSMF Norway annual event in March 2015. The idea for Guerrilla IT emerged in conversations with itSMF Norway’s Sofi Falberg at a conference in 2014. We spoke about people feeling the need to make relatively low key and informal individual contributions to improving ITSM, possibly under corporate radar. And that’s when I coined the term Guerrilla IT. Then before I knew it, I had committed to delivering a workshop about it in the new Service Bazaar format!

I announced the workshop as follows:

“Do you want to do something really worthwhile in IT yet keep getting ambushed by mealy-mouthed middle managers with their petty policies? In this interactive workshop we'll explore and discover how to identify realistic initiatives and how to deploy them under corporate radar while keeping out of friendly fire. You'll leave the session with some ideas for your specific situation as well as an arsenal of weapons for an IT rebel with a cause.”

In 90 minutes, with a maximum of 8 participants, we discussed:
1.       The concerns they the participants had at their organization or in the case of consultants, one of their clients
2.       The relationships that they thought needed the most improvement
3.       The kind of behaviour that business people and IT people should exhibit
4.       The factors that drive behaviour, and therefore need to be changed in order to influence behaviour
5.       The degree of freedom that their organization consciously or unconsciously afford them to take behave like an IT guerrillero or guerrillera
6.       Their person appetite for heroic behaviour
7.       The kind of guerrilla IT tactics that, given their organization’s and their own nature, would be effective
8.       Their ‘rebel’s resolutions’ - the takeaways that they could apply at work.

The results of the two workshops are summarized below:

1.       Participants concerns 
  • Ill-conceived services being abandoned on the doorstep of the ITSM department
  • Lack of IT awareness of the business context and in particular the customers’ interests – in other words no business focus
  • The shift from ITSM to Service Management in general
  • The difficulties of changing the culture in an organization, in particular resistance to change
  • Lack of basic trust
  • The challenges of working in a dysfunctional organization
  • The challenges of working in a disconnected organization in which IT seems to live in a world of its own
  • Change-overload – too much change to deal with

2.       Relationships in need of improvement

I gave the participants  the following simplistic depiction of the business (left) and IT (right) to think about.

  • Better understanding by ITSM of what the business does and how value is created
  • Better understanding by the business of how IT is organized – they don’t know where to go
  • More user involvement by business management in formulating needs for IT
  • Better insight by ITSM in what users actually do with the systems
  • Involvement of users in designing IT processes (usually this doesn’t happen, despite the fact that they are part of the process)
  • Better collaboration between AD/AM and ITSM (infrastructure) because of their interdependency

·         “Many BRMs don’t do BRM, they’re just order-takers”
·         “We need IT Relationship Managers in the business as well as BRMs in IT”

3.       Desired behaviour  

In each workshop, the group was split up into 2 groups of 4-5 people each.

In the first workshop, one group was tasked with thinking about the kind of behaviour that IT people should exhibit in their dealings with the business, and the other discussed the desired behaviour from the business.

Desired IT behaviour
Desired business behaviour
Understand the business better
Articulate requirements clearly
Proactively suggest innovations
Have mature conversations with IT about cost/value (meeting every single business requirement is not feasible)
Understand impact on consumers
Understand that IT is not setting out to do a bad job – the business needs to tell IT clearly what it needs
Understand business processes in depth and how IT supports them
Be aware of IT’s capabilities and limitations
Be less systems-focussed (because business people don’t think like that)
Strike a balance between business want/need and technical feasibility
Understand business output
Communicate with IT in terms of problems, not solutions
Focus more on value
Invite IT to participate in business discussions and thereby gain insight
Change keeping-the-lights-on to innovation ratio
Build a dialogue with IT
Provide honest and simple reports (referring to misleading reporting with for instance tactically classified incidents)

Support shadow IT (SalesForce.com is OK)

Build a dialogue with the business

·         “'There is a difference between quick and agile”
·         “Get your users involved in #ITSM process design”
·         “There is a problem with 2-way accessibility between business and IT”
·         “IT needs to hear about desired outcomes from the business rather than requests for specific solutions”

In the second workshop the participants explored another perspective, namely the horizontal divide between the executives and managers who take managerial decisions, and operations (both business and IT). One of the participants called this gap between executives and operations the ‘Rockwool syndrome’, referring to the insulation material. Having no real experience with executives, the ‘executive group’ admitted to having difficulty in getting into their role, and therefore struggled with their formulation of desired operations behaviour.

Desired executive behaviour
Desired operations behaviour
Share the reason for the decisions made
Understand that it’s about profitability and efficiency
Help us (operations) how the strategy (micro-strategy) contributes to the goals
Support our goals
Walk the talk. When you make a strategy, give it the right investment to achieve it
Be loyal
Ask operations for their opinions, advice and expertise and incorporate that in the design and decisions of strategy
Understand ‘business to operations’
Map the metrics and measurements clearly to the strategy
Be willing to change
Prioritize the strategy impact, especially when there is scarcity of resources/capabilities and conflicts of operations to be executed
Communicate and inform better
Strategy needs to be ‘concrete’ in terms of clarity (e.g. is the service catalogue an accurate reflection of the strategy)

Management activities should also be recognized as processes (processes are not just for operations)

4.       Factors that drive behaviour 
  • Insight and understanding
  • Belief that the new way of working might be better
  • A common enemy (or goal – in other words, why are we doing this?!)
  • Seeing an opportunity rather than a problem
  • Something in it for me
  • Urgency (with reference to John Kotter)
  • KPIs and incentives that are effective, not those that produce contra-productive behaviour
·         “Uniting against a common enemy can bring IT and the business together”
·         “We need to focus on opportunities rather than problems - be proactive not reactive”
·         “Change will not happen unless you can see ‘what's in it for me?’"
·         “The problem with many KPIs is that they can be gamed or manipulated.”

5.       Organizations’ degree of freedom  

Unsurprisingly, the answers to this question varied greatly, depending on the kind of organization. In a military organization there was very little room to manoeuver, while in a more administrative public organisation things were (unconsciously?) very loosely organized. Some organisations were positioned midway.

·         “There’s a disconnect between how managers think that things work, and reality”
·         “Processes [descriptions] have to followed, or changed”

6.       Participants’ appetite for heroic behaviour

Most participants thought that they were pretty heroic. None admitted to being cautious.

7.       Guerrilla IT tactics

Justified deception: One of the participants misled the business by saying that something simply wasn’t possible to realize, referring to complication (and fictitious) technical reasons.

Messianic IT: The phenomenon that an IT hero (not one of the participants) gathered a ‘following’ of users who always used his services instead of the regular channels to the department. The downside is that when the hero leaves the organization, much knowledge is lost because nothing is documented (this would undermine the hero’s position).

8.       Rebel’s resolutions

Although the participants thought that the time was well-spent, concrete resolutions for what to do when they got back to work, were thin on the ground. There was a nodding of heads when some people mentioned the reinforcement of how important behaviour is, and the realisation that the business needs to be included in all things ITSM.


Some of the references below were explicitly mentioned during the workshops, others I have added after the event.

Motivation (Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose)
> YouTube ‘RSA Animate – Drive’, Daniel Pink

Persuasion (Reciprocation, Social Proof, Commitment and Consistency, Liking, Authority, Scarcity)
> YouTube ‘Science of Persuasion’, Robert Cialdini

Charisma (Presence, Power, Warmth)
> YouTube ‘Olivia Fox Cabane: Build Your Personal Charisma’, Olivia Fox Cabane

Rebels at work
> www.slideshare.net/Foghound/corporate-rebel-ebook, Lois Kelly

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