Imagine you lead an organization. Now imagine you want to improve how things get done.

It’s a redundancy, because if you lead an organization and haven’t identified something that can be done better than it’s being done right now, you’re coasting. As a business leader, your job isn’t to make sure things get done. It’s to build an organization that makes sure things get done; then to make sure the organization constantly gets better at what it does.

Here’s your challenge: Improving how something gets done is mostly beyond your control.

Say, for example, you decide ITIL (a popular version of what constitutes good IT practice) isn’t just in your organization’s future, it is your organization’s future.

Now what?

ITIL is a process framework. It provides an organized catalog of the processes IT has to master to be considered competent at what it does. To implement ITIL, you need to:

  • Select: Decide which processes are most critical to your organization’s success right now.
  • Assess your current level of competence in those processes.
  • Focus: Determine how the six process optimization parameters rank in importance (fixed cost, incremental cost, cycle time, throughput, quality, and excellence).
  • Target: Optionally, set specific quantitative criteria for what constitutes successful improvement.
  • Design the future state (ITIL doesn’t prescribe a single “best practice” for each process, understanding there is no such thing).
  • Plan: Figure out how you’re going to get from here to there.
  • Implement: Follow the plan until you’ve made if from here to there.
  • Iterate: As an alternative to designing, planning, and implementing, identify the weakest process link, fix it, and repeat until the process is in good shape.

Except that when I said “… you need to,” I meant the organization needs to. As its leader, at most you should be part of selecting, assessing, focusing and targeting. After that, your ability to influence is indirect.

Which leads to a skill all business leaders need to develop if they want to be effective at effecting change. To coin a phrase, call it Leadership Intervention Points analysis (LIP).

Leadership intervention points are, as the name suggests, the places a leader can intervene without micromanaging or otherwise violating the system of delegations that comprises the organizational chart.

Imagine IT’s capacity planning process is an improvement target. Now imagine that as CIO you decide to personally involve yourself in future state process design and implementation planning.

Now imagine your head of IT operations isn’t completely and utterly pathetic — something that had better be true, because otherwise IT’s biggest challenge is your ability to recruit, select, hire, retain, and promote talent.

Your personal involvement subverts the authority of the person you put in charge and disenfranchises the staff who should be responsible for making things work. You’re telling everyone what to do — delegating tasks instead of goals (if it isn’t clear why this is undesirable, you seriously need to read Chapter 3 of Leading IT: (Still) the Toughest Job in the World).

Worse yet, it prevents you from setting goals and targets, because once you tell everyone how they’re supposed to do their work you take away their autonomy … having prescribed the means, you now have to accept whatever ends they cause.

And worst of all, you’ve put yourself in the position of having to manage the process personally from this point forward. After all, you’ve made it clear that how everyone goes about planning capacity matters to you personally, so if you don’t supervise how they do it … not just the result … you’ll puzzle everyone.

Compare this situation to what happens if you give it some LIP. As it happens, in our consulting work we’ve identified the 150 or so factors that drive IT organizational effectiveness, including the thirty or so that comprise a CIO’s LIPs and their interconnections. Tracing through these interconnections it becomes clear that a CIO wanting to improve capacity planning, or any other operational process has just two LIPs to work with. They are: training, especially process management training; and culture, especially the establishment of a “culture of process.”

That’s it. CIOs can make sure their managers know what it means to manage a process instead of, or as a complement to managing the work. And they can do quite a lot to make operating through well-defined processes “how we do things around here.”

It might not seem like a lot. Luckily, though, it’s more than enough, because with those two factors in place, the processes will take care of themselves.

Or, more to the point, everyone in IT will make sure the processes are in place to take care of everything that needs taking care of.