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Service Management and The Post Office Scandal

By Sophie Hussey May 15, 2024

Why Governance is Important

Picture yourself on a stage in a massive room at a conference at the ExCeL in London, about to take part in a panel discussion about The Post Office scandal and the links to service management.

Adding to the image you’ve got in your head, picture rows of packed seating in front of you, with additional people standing behind and along the aisles totalling somewhere in the region of 250-300 people in the audience, as the panel discusses  a topic of deep national concern.

Imagine looking to your left and seeing two more members of the panel gearing up to begin the discussion and to your right, another panellist and the session’s host standing at the lectern, ready to go.

This isn’t a hypothetical situation you’re imagining; it is where I found myself in mid-April of 2024 at The Service Desk and Support Show.

In the lead-up to the day, the panel met a few times to discuss the agenda and how we would approach the topic and share our thoughts and emotions relating to this topic. Its impact on those involved is so immense that it is nigh on impossible to find words to describe it as an outsider looking in. As a panel, we all felt nervous and anxious about discussing the topic – we wanted to ensure we treated the discussion with empathy and from a stance of support and caring for those individuals whose lives have been irrevocably changed by what happened.

I intended to remove my personal feelings about the topic and discuss how service management could/should/may have played its part during the issues, as well as bring the human element into the conversation. Before expanding on this, here’s some high-level information on what happened for those readers who aren’t aware of what happened:

  • Hundreds of people who owned and operated post offices were wrongfully investigated, prosecuted and convicted between 1999 and 2015 because of bugs in a computer system called “Horizon” The Guardian (Dec 2023)
  • 900 Postmasters were convicted
  • 3 out of 10 Post Offices closed due to the scandal
  • “Marriages broke down, and some families believe the stress led to serious health conditions, addiction and even premature death.” BBC News (Apr 2024)

There is so much to say about the role service management played during the issues with the computer system. Still, there is much we still need to learn about what happened (the public inquiry began in February 2021) and the full extent of how it impacted people throughout the UK and potentially individuals beyond those borders.

No assumptions of failings or gaps will be made here. Instead, we will focus on the purpose of service management and why governance is important.

“Governance and process often come across as cold.”

Governance, process, and procedure are often seen as red tape, bureaucracy, cold, not human-centric, or as unnecessary controls that stand in the way of delivering technology services or being Agile.

This could be nothing further from the truth.

Service management methodologies and standards exist to:

  • Provide support, guidance and boundaries that promote best practice behaviour and approaches
  • Drive consistency, efficiency, and effectiveness
  • Deliver value to both the technology function and the business as a whole
  • Protect the technology services being delivered
  • Foster and promote an environment for continual improvement, which includes Agile and Lean practices
  • Protect and support the human element needed to provide technology services

When it comes to process documentation, countless organisations have a solid set of service management processes written and saved in a central location that no one looks at or hasn’t been brought to life for technology colleagues.

It is a common assumption (read “mistake”) to think that having a written process based on global best-practice frameworks or standards, with document control saved somewhere on the company network, is enough. This approach and way of thinking lead to the viewpoint that governance and process are cold.

What you need to do is…

Understand what is needed in your organisation to manage technology services effectively

  • Start with some simple questions:
    • What processes and governance do you have today?
    • Is it working for you? If not, why not?
    • Does it add value?
  • Build a picture of what you want to achieve and then ask what you need from a standards perspective. Please consult us for more information on mandatory ISO requirements.

Lead with a human-centric approach

  • Speak with technology colleagues to understand their pain points, frustrations, and needs.
  • What controls are needed but won’t restrict throughput,and ultimately avoid process circumventionWho needs to be involved outside of the Technology function? Take a holistic and collaborative approach.
  • Bring people on the journey to drive service management excellence

Go beyond the bounds of basic process documentation

  • Not everyone receives information or learns in the same way. Create process documentation, videos and tutorials,
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Don’t drop the process once and leave it there, keep communicating as you evolve

So where do we go from here?

It is time to “futureproof service management”, question the status quo, and push the boundaries and comfort zones of service management best practice guidance and governance. We must bring processes to life for the humans whom it supports, bringing them on the journey to service management excellence.

What can you do?

  • Review your service management documentation and ask “Is this enough for people to be invested in this way of working?”
  • Augment the written process with:
    • Quick reference guides
    • Video tutorials and training
      • Can you use gamification?
    • Infographics
  • Regular process communication
    • It’s not a “drop and run”, regularly share hints and tips to keep bring the process alive
    • Provide lunch and learn sessions
    • Inspire future generations
    • Break information into bite-sized chunks (consider how information is shared TikTok, Instagram and other social media)
    • Collaborate and actively seek feedback from apprentices, graduates, new hires, etc.
    • Educate and get involved with STEM

If that’s not enough, please share this article with your colleagues, peers, and leaders so they can read it and act. Whilst we cannot go back and change what happened with The Post Office, we can drive positive change to how we approach service management processes and governance to avoid similar issues arising in the future.

Sophie Hussey has been working in the world of technology for nearly 25 years, following a technical career path before specialising in service management, and fulfilling leadership roles before stepping out to run her own consultancy business, Lapis Consulting Services. The consultancy works with clients to support the growth of their colleagues, drive service excellence and deliver value.

Sophie is passionate about supporting & developing others through leading with empathy and championing being authentic with the mantra “Be bold. Be brave. Be YOU!”. Sophie is an ITIL4 Managed Professional, ISO Committee Member, STEM Ambassador, Women in Tech Mentor & advocate.

To learn more about Sophie, connect through https://www.linkedin.com/in/sophiehussey/

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Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent

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