Trust based management – a SIAM viewpoint

Ultimately, the majority of management comes down to trust. The alternative is command and control and an excess of non-productive management time.  Take a non-IT, home based example -  you are having a new kitchen fitted and there is a plumber and an electrician working at the same time:

  • Would you stand in the centre of the room continually asking each of them in turn what they are doing and if they had told the other? 
  • Would you ask them to down tools at regular intervals to report back to you on progress, what they had achieved and what was yet to be done? 
  • Would you ask them to report on each other’s progress?
  • Would you not allow them to talk to each other and have to come through you to communicate?

Of course not, that would slow progress considerably, limit cooperation between the trades and take up most of your time.  The result wold probably be adequate at best.  However, if you let them ‘get on with it’, trusting that they know what they are doing and drop in at the end of the day to find out how the work is progressing, you would probably find that you get a better end result. 

Of course, there is a risk that they will disagree, that something will go wrong and you won’t find out until much later or perhaps that they will jointly make a decision that you don’t particularly like.  However, there is also the probability that they have come across a problem and solved it between them without you being needed or indeed ever noticing.  There is also the likelihood that they have used their combined experience to make small changes to your plan which improve the design or make savings for you.

The customer must be clear about what it is that they need from service providers and be able to articulate that in such a way as it can be specified and measured.  In my experience, the biggest issues in delivery disputes revolve around the interpretation of contractual obligations and mismatched expectations between customer and provider. The customer writes the specification based on a number of assumptions that they take for granted based upon their own ecosystem.  The provider reads the specification based on their experience in other contracts, which may be based on different assumptions.  Both sides are trying to do the right thing, but until the assumptions are aligned there will always be a disparity of understanding and the required level of trust will not develop.

The situation described here is typically based on the relationship between two parties – the customer organization and the service provider.  When we move into a multi sourcing environment, the picture gets far more complex.  Not only does the customer have to develop trust between themselves and each provider, but the providers need to develop trust between each other.  This is difficult enough in any situation, however when you consider that many of the providers will have bid for the work being carried out by at least one other, that their management will still be looking to expand their influence (and hence income) with the customer and that they may well disagree with the approach taken by another partner, you have a recipe for chaos.

The customer must be clear about what it is that they need from service providers and be able to articulate that in such a way as it can be specified and measured. 

The idealistic end point for a SIAM ecosystem is that all parties trust each other enough that you seldom have to refer to contracts. They should be working together towards common goals and all should benefit equally from the arrangement.  The question is, how do we get there?

Of course, there is no silver bullet, but below are some hints from my experience.  The majority work best if they are incorporated into your thinking from the outset, however, they can be incorporated at a later period, although they will usually take longer to have a positive impact if the relationships are not established.

  • The customer organization and the service integrator need to be able to articulate what success looks like
    Too often they can tell you when something is wrong and while that is helpful to a point, unless they can tell you either why it is wrong or what they are looking for, the providers will have to keep trying different approaches until they find something acceptable.  This is more akin to a game of battleships than good management.  When everyone in the ecosystem knows what success looks like, they understand what they are aiming for and decisions become much easier.  Each party can work out their part, there is less confusion, fewer disputes and a better chance of trust developing

  • Each party must be able to understand what is expected of them
    As stated above, contractual terms are open to interpretation and that is where the differences of opinion begin.  The best approach I have used in SIAM engagements are multi party workshops where each service provider and the customer are represented.  The overall goals of the engagements are set out clearly by the customer and service integrator, the delivery model is explained and the handoffs between the providers are agreed jointly between all parties.  The governance model is also outlined and the mechanics agreed jointly.  The output is an overall operating handbook and RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed) chart/ or matrix, which all parties sign up to.  It is a difficult process and it can take some time to cover all the areas, but the effect is that key stakeholders from each provider understand that they are expected to work together at an early stage. This builds relationships as it encourages those involved to see the others as people rather than the representatives of rival organizations. 

    Be warned however, the operating manual needs to be kept up to date as things change, and if a service provider changes you will have to repeat the whole exercise

  • Measurement should be based on business outcomes rather than the inputs of individual service providers
    This is particularly difficult but highly effective if done correctly.  Value chain and value stream analysis are useful techniques for articulating what needs to be done to achieve an outcome and therefore what is required by each party at each stage.  The whole ecosystem is therefore measured equally rather than individual targets based on inputs which fosters the ‘Well we did our bit, so it’s not our fault’ mentality when something goes wrong.
    The challenge however is that often the actual definition of business outcomes is very difficult to clearly articulate.  Experienced SIAM practitioners can help here, but the process needs to be driven by the customer organization.

  • Senior stakeholders from all parties need to be engaged on a regular basis to understand, and contribute to the strategic direction
    Many failures in trust stem from short term thinking.  An understanding of the bigger picture helps parties to make the right decisions in context.  There are times when a provider may have to do something which gives them more work and benefits another provider further down the value chain.  In isolation this may seem counter productive, however if the provider understands that this enabling piece of work will allow them to fulfil a vital part of a new project, the sentiment is much brighter.  Similarly, if the whole process is being measured and the improvements will lead to a gain share arrangement for all the parties involved, there is incentive to work more closely together to maximise that benefit.

Management of multi parties, particularly those that are competing against each other, is always going to be difficult.  The more you try to control each discreet element however, the more difficult you will make it.

Takeaway tips by Martin Neville

My takeaway tips are:

  • Be clear about what success looks like - ensure all stakeholders are on the ‘same page’.
  • Define expectations for each stakeholder clearly - consider multi-party workshops define RACI clearly and keep operating manuals up to date
  • Ensure measurements are based on business/customer outcomes – experienced SIAM practitioners can help develop these
  • Ensure senior stakeholders from all parties are engaged on a regular basis to understand, and contribute to the strategic direction - promote ‘gain share’ arrangements and establish a ‘one team culture’.

Trust underpins an easier working environment and that takes effort from all sides.  To gain trust everyone needs to be open and willing to ‘let go’ of things they are used to controlling and that is not always easy. In my blog I have outlined just four approaches I have found useful, but there are many more. 

Good luck!

About the author

Martin Neville started life as an accountant and fell into IT almost by mistake.  As a result of having no technical skills to speak of, he often takes the ‘outside in’ viewpoint and can ask the idiot questions that no technically trained person would ask.  He has been in Service Management for over 20 years, initially for the UK government and latterly for Tata Consultancy Services.  He has been involved with SIAM for many years, leading implementations across Europe.  He is an author for the SIAM Professional Body of Knowledge and an examiner for EXIN on the SIAM professional qualification.

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