Unlocking VeriSM’s Potential – Challenges of Digital Transformation

Unlocking VeriSM's Potential

“Not another management framework!”

In a service-management field already crowded by a lot of delivery frameworks—DevOps, Lean, Agile, Waterfall, SIAM, and so on—yet another framework might not be all that welcome. So it’s a good thing that VeriSM™ isn’t “just another framework.” In fact, it’s not a framework at all.

So what is it—an approach? A philosophy? A model? The truth is that, to find out what VeriSM is really about, we need more than just an alternative word. We need to dig a little deeper.

Having a go at defining the why of VeriSM is worth it for one simple reason: if service managers have a keen sense of what VeriSM is most fundamentally, and what kind of invitation it’s extending to them (see below), they will be ready and able to unlock the potential of digital transformation.

It is digital transformation, after all, that has been the driver for VeriSM.

Beyond digital

The main driver behind VeriSM is digital transformation—but the response can’t just be digital, and in fact, it should not be conceived of as even primarily digital. And that’s because, like a stick, or a spear, or a wheel, the entire digital domain, as complex as it is, is quite simply an extension of the human capacity to manipulate the world around us. That is, it is a collective instrument for realizing human action. And the fact that this domain has required its own specialists who have already helped it transform our world in the most eye-popping ways doesn’t change this basic fact.

If, by contrast, we think of “digital transformation” as “transformation that is digital”, so that we feel we have to “keep up with digitization”, “digitize faster”, and so on—well, that’s a recipe for a non-solution that would keep IT specialists busy doing the wrong things. They would be delivering specialist individual solutions—individual transformations, but not Transformation.

Understanding the basic character, then, of the “digital” in digital transformation is key to grasping the scope of the Transformation that can be brought about if it is managed properly.

Ripple to wave

Digital transformation is already a significant enough force to knock the socks off any organization that doesn’t have a strategy, whether formal or informal, to respond to it. The longer organizations wait to come up with such a strategy, the more likely they are to be left in the dust. (“Organization” here means a public- or private-sector body that sells either services primarily or products with services.)

In a recent webcast, Claire Agutter asked how many of the organizations represented on the call had a digital-transformation strategy.[1] The answer was 20%. That suggests that, while digital transformation is having an impact on every aspect of organizations’ operations, as well as on so many facets of our day-to-day lives—culturally, socially, and politically—those same organizations are just now beginning to wake up to how high the stakes are.

And yet, as powerful as it is, the transformative wave is only beginning to form—it’s still just a ripple. A recent report from McKinsey estimated that “Europe is operating below its digital potential. Accelerating digitization could add trillions of euros to economic growth in less than a decade.”[2]

The report found that Europe and the United States were a long way from capitalizing on what it calls their “digital potential”:

Today, Europe operates at only an estimated 12 percent of its digital potential, compared with the United States’ 18 percent. In addition, there is enormous variation between Europe’s countries: while France operates at 12 percent of its digital potential, Germany is at 10 percent, and the United Kingdom is at 17 percent.

A couple of elements here are worth exploring: first, a (metaphorical) wave is unstoppable: you can ride it, or let it wash over you, but you don’t control it. Digital transformation is a wave in that sense because so many actors are engaged in the activities that generate it. Some actors are not coordinating what they do at all, some are coordinating them locally, and some thinking and acting with a broader focus.

An ideal strategy will seek to enhance that coordination until the wave becomes, not an organically unstoppable transformative force, but a collectively managed and controllable transformative force—a commercially and socially useful Mexican wave.

Unlocking VeriSM’s potential

The numbers cited in the above-mentioned McKinsey report hint at the scale of the problem at hand—but they say nothing in themselves about what the response should be.

There is a similar point to be made about the features of the VeriSM model. The model, as we have seen above, is not a service management framework. Rather, it sits atop whatever existing frameworks an organization is working with – Agile, Lean, SIAM, Waterfall, you name it – and it…does what?

That is the key question – and understanding this basic what is key to unlocking VeriSM’s full potential.

Let’s be clear from the outset: by “understand” we do not mean being able to list off features and stages, important as these are: we mean getting at the why of the VeriSM model.

Space does not allow us to list off these features. But an example will help illustrate the point: the four stages of development of a product or service:[3]

  1. “Define. Starting from customer requirements, the organization designs the service or product using a variety of methods to gather the customer’s technical, non-technical, or performance needs. The result of this stage is a service blueprint.
  2. Produce. This is the stage of building, testing, and implementing the service or the product based on the service blueprint (which takes place under agreed change management practices).
  3. Provide. The activities needed to keep the service or product (and outcomes) fit for purpose by protecting, maintaining, and improving.
  4. Respond. This is the activity of collecting, managing, and addressing customer feedback.”

What is striking about these stages is not so much their content, but just how high-level they are.

This high-level character is in keeping with the “guardrails” concept that comes up so often in presentations on VeriSM, and its relation to governance. “[G]overnance overarches every activity, keeping a strong focus on value, outcomes, and the organization’s goals.” Governance capabilities are “used to communicate the organization’s strategic vision and requirements to everyone in the organization.” Thus it is possible to use Agile, Lean, Waterfall, “as long as you stay within the guardrails of those SM principles”.[4]

Thus VeriSM gives “product and service teams the freedom to work in the way that’s most appropriate for them…It’s a much more liberated way of working.[5]

At the level of the organization, there is a “management mesh” that is “based on…all the best ways of working and adding new elements as needed”:

The management mesh… provides a flexible approach that can be adapted depending on the requirements for a particular product or service.[6]

Beyond the formulaic

Having looked at these sample features, it is most useful to ask, not what they can do in and of themselves, in the manner of “Take these four simple stages, and hey presto!”. Teams looking for a frameworky framework that sets out a clear path for their department or organization, with regular milestones and pointers every step of the way would, then, be better served by other, more-prescriptive approaches.

Rather, we can ask more usefully, bearing in mind how high-level the four stages above are, for instance, and the character of the “mesh” and the “guard rail” metaphors: What’s going on with VeriSM? What kind of intention does the choice of features, and of the descriptions that convey them, signal?

Open-endedness, trust, and all that jazz

VeriSM sits atop the current crop of service-management frameworks, playing a loosely coordinating role. Various attempts have been made to describe this role.

This VeriSM has been said to be a kind of “glue”,[7] because it can hold together a range of existing practices—the implication being that the VeriSM glue doesn’t just stick these practices together, but transforms them into a new whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The only problem, then, is that we’re stuck with the idea that the things are being held together – and so, fixed in place. But in fact, the idea is that they should themselves be transformed by the new style of thinking and doing that VeriSM invites us to adopt and inhabit.

So we need a description that captures the dynamism that VeriSM has the potential to inject into service management.

This dynamism is captured more fully by this description, in which VeriSM is a musical conductor:[8]

A one-word metaphor to explain VeriSM could be the word “Conductor”; the conductor of the orchestra. Any (service provider) organization consists of people; the musicians. The musicians play instruments; the tools and technologies. And every musician plays its part based on the music in front of them with all the notes; the processes and procedures to work from.

So here we have movement and dynamism, for instance. But we still have to ditch the idea that all the musicians play along “based on the music in front of them with all the notes”, which are “the processes and procedures to work from”.

“To work from” is on the mark; playing along to a pre-determined score, no matter how innovative it is, is off the mark. What we need is open-endedness—that is, structured improvisation: a jazz orchestra.

And the conductor can’t just be a conductor, marking time and leading the various sections of the orchestra through the various movements of the piece at hand. Rather, they must also be a musical director.

That involves, crucially, conveying the feel of the repertoire to be played. They must trust the musicians with a far greater degree of creative discretion than would be the case in a traditional orchestra.

The invitation to autonomy

Thus, as we think about the various characterizations that have been used to describe VeriSM’s relationship both to existing serve-management frameworks and to managers themselves, a picture begins to emerge of the fundamental intention of the authors, built, among things, around  references to “freedom” on the part of service-delivery teams[9] to the nods to “principles and culture.”[10]

And what we see is that the choices the authors of VeriSM have made are ultimately an invitation to users to achieve a level of autonomy of thought and action that will already be liberating to many, even though it may take some practitioners outside their comfort zone.

VeriSM is, at bottom, then, a statement of trust in service providers, and an invitation to adopt a sometimes loose style of thinking and doing rather than a narrowly prescriptive or rigid framework.

“No other approach which fulfills this need”[11]

Make no mistake, then: while the explanatory materials on VeriSM are keen to emphasize that it is not replacing one or another management framework, and that it is building on what a lot of these frameworks have to offer, it is its very recognition of the maturity level of service management, freed up as it now is from the constraining domain of IT, that has led to a signal advance on what has been available up to now in this space—on what has been, to put it bluntly, a void.


For more information about VeriSM you can discover what VeriSM can do for you as a professional or as an organization. Alternatively, if you’d like to take a look at VeriSM certifications, please go to the VeriSM program page.



[1] “BCS provides an introduction to VeriSM™” with Claire Agutter.

[2] Digital Europe: Realizing the continent’s potential.

[3] Understanding VeriSM, a New Service Management Approach

[4] “BCS provides an introduction to VeriSM™” with Claire Agutter.

[5] Ibidem.

[6] EXIN VeriSM FAQs

[7] Ibidem “’Don’t try and re-write the existing frameworks, as this would not add any value, but instead provide us with the ‘glue’ to bring all of the different practices together and help us make sense of them.’”

[8] What is VeriSM?.

[9] Understanding VeriSM, a New Service Management Approach

[10] “Successful digital transformation isn’t just about technology but having the right principles and culture in place”.

[11] VeriSM Global website.