The Value of Values
Business and IT management both encompass a multitude of differing activities. Some events are predictable and therefore can be dealt with by applying predetermined processes, procedures and protocols. Other events however are less predictable, and require on-the-job judgement and decision-making.
Frameworks and standards offer guidance in the form of processes as to how activities could be executed, but how do practitioners make on-the-job choices? Behaviour is influenced by many factors, including:
- Carrots and sticks
- Knowledge and skills
- Work environment and available resources
- Personal physical and mental condition
- Beliefs and thought-patterns
Beliefs or values are the most deep-rooted but also the most influential factors.
Values as guiding principles
Schuberg Philis is a good example of an organization that has invested heavily in values as guiding principles. This innovative IT outsourcing services company in the Netherlands states: “Anyone can do anything within our organization as long as it is in line with our guiding principles”. Their twelve principles are:
- Love – The fully human organization
- Leadership – “We are All In”
- Out of our comfort zone – Redefine possible
- Vulnerability – True power
- Customers – It’s a privilege to serve
- Alignment of strengths – Making weaknesses irrelevant
- Chemistry of relationships – Lifelong and life-changing
- Game-changing collaboration – …in a no manager culture
- Our promise – 100% – whole world opportunities
- Whole world opportunities – We want to be part of it
- Exponential technologies – The power of IT
- Fearless learning – It starts with curiosity
They give their employees a high degree of autonomy and carefully select people who fit into their culture. Schuberg Philis has proved to be successful and the Harvard Business School published a case study about their culture and governance style. Their values were not created as an explicit part of a top-down business plan. In fact they only wrote them down after 15 years of operation, as a way of making the implicit explicit.
Schuberg Philis attribute much of their success to their choice of one single KPI: 100% customer satisfaction. In focusing on this KPI, they intuitively balance the various values and make decisions that just feel right. Much of this reminds me of the three factors that Dan Pink extols in his book ‘Drive associates with personal satisfaction and success at work: autonomy, mastery and purpose’. The freedom to take decisions, the pleasure of doing something better each time you do it, and the satisfaction of realizing that your work is achieving something worthwhile.
Agile software development
Part of the Agile movement’s success can be attributed to the power of formulating a set of values and principles that help practitioners assess a situation and make effective choices. The Agile values were formulated in 2001 in Utah in terms of certain things that take preference over other things:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
It should be emphasized that while there is value in the items on the right, the items on the left are deemed to make a bigger difference in uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.
IT service management
In 2013 in Nashville, the Service Management Congress formulated values in a similar way, but more specific to IT service management than to the software development domain that the Agile manifesto addresses:
- Individuals and community over institutions and businesses
- Trust over control
- Sharing and knowledge over ownership and content
- Ingenuity over process
- Outcomes over services
Business information management
Given that IT service management is about how the IT service consumer and IT service provider interact and co-create value, it would be amiss not to consider the values that help the IT service consumer be a competent IT dancing partner.
The ASL BiSL Foundation is a non-profit membership organization with guidance (the BiSL® framework) for IT service consumers. Members of the ASL BiSL Foundation have given some thought to the values that guide business information management, in other words the domain according ISO/IEC 16350 that is responsible for all of the tasks and activities that are aimed at supporting the end users in the use of applications, and aimed at acting as the customer of the IT organization. The results of the initial exploration include values such as:
- Focusing on business benefits over technological features
- Focusing on information over IT services
- Responding to diversified demand, not pushing standard IT supply
- Preferring workable solutions today over perfect solutions tomorrow
- Being the business’ trusted partner, not their order-taker
These preliminary values will be discussed and improved at the ASL BiSL Foundation’s annual conference in December in the Netherlands, after which a Business Information Management Manifesto will be published.