ITIL V3’s Product Manager for Service

POSTED BY : Sr. Director - MS Azure CoE
Thursday, January 24, 2013

There is an interesting role named as ‘Product Manager’ in ITIL V3 (Appendix B-2) which says it is a key role in Service Portfolio Management and states some of the responsibilities of this role as (just bulleted it; it is descriptive in the book):
• Responsible for developing and managing services across the lifecycle
• Responsible for managing services as a product over its entire lifecycle
• Recognized as the subject matter experts on Lines of Service (LOS) and the Service  catalogue
• Responsible to bring coordination and focus to the organization around the Service Catalogue, of which they maintain ownership

Although one could interpret (sort of justify or oppose) the whole concept in multiple ways, I thought of getting the ‘community’s’ view on this for the better. Posted this in one of the yahoo groups (where we have some prominent ITIL/ITSM personalities like Randy Steinberg, Jan Van Bon – to name a few) and asked if someone could help me understand a few things:
• Aren’t products and services 2 different things with different characteristics (mostly opposite)?
• E.g.: when I buy a product the ownership is transferred to me, but for a Service the ownership is with the provider even after I’ve bought it.
• What is meant by managing a Service as a Product?
• Where do we draw lines between this role and the Service Manager role?

A member of the group explained it as below:
“In the context of ITIL, the products and services that are provided to customers are the same. As Gartner says – “the products of an IT organization are the services that are provided to its customers”. This definition of products is different from a COTS software product that you may purchase from a software vendor which maybe a technical component of the customer facing IT service.

What is meant by managing a service as a product is to manage a customer facing service as a traditional product manager would and includes the financial, service portfolio, and demand management aspects that are part of the ITIL v3 strategy section. Product management is a business planning and customer alignment role that may develop business plans, business service requirements, and service portfolio/catalogue plans.

The service manager role in ITIL v3 is more who coordinates/ manages the overall technical and operational processes for the service(s) of an IT organization, and works close together with the product manager. You’ll find that the service manager role is more established in most IT organizations, while the product manager role is somewhat a new IT role that is being developed because of the emphasis on Customer/Business alignment…”

A noble thought!

I tried to understand it in my own way…

‘Manage’ being a broad term, if not clearly defined in a context, may lead to various interpretations and sometimes misunderstandings. Even ‘operations’ is a part of management of a ‘Service’, isn’t it?

May be, we need to read the whole thing in the book as:
“When it comes to strategizing ‘IT Services’, some of the methods/techniques/practices (as explained in the books) used for strategizing ‘Products’ could be borrowed and applied, so that there is better business and market alignment of the ‘IT Services’ in question.”

One of the many things that could have been done better in the V3 publications!

The whole reason for stressing on the differentiation of a ‘Service’ and a ‘Product’ within the context of ITIL was the plain fact that one of ITIL’s primary intent is to ‘manage’ IT as a ‘Service’ than as a ‘Product’. It is about bringing in the culture of ‘Service’ to the ‘Provider’ organizations so that the ‘Customer’ does not worry about specific costs and risks of maintaining a ‘Product’ (which, in case of a product, gets transferred to the Customer when he buys one).

The moment one say ‘manage a service as a product’, the whole point of a ‘service culture’ may get diluted and the IT service provider will go back to the ‘product maintenance’ mentality which is one thing ITIL is trying to change; isn’t it?. IT guys will again start talking ‘Technology’ language to the customer thinking what they provide is a ‘Technology/Product’.

At the same time I was happy with the ‘noble thought’ above, because it is about strategizing and packaging best practices of ‘Products’ that can be applied to ‘Services’ which is advantageous at the same time ensures that this does not hamper the basic spirit of ‘Service Culture’ of the ‘Providers’.

But now, more questions bobbed up in my mind …
• Is it impossible (or really difficult!) to have roles defined without overlapping responsibilities?
• If overlap is necessary or unavoidable, can’t we put conditions under which, only one role is responsible at a time for the overlapped responsibilities?
• When you say ITIL is ‘descriptive’, should it create/leave room for interpretations?

There is no wonder why sometimes ITIL becomes its own enemy!

People either ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’, don’t they? Let me know your thoughts…

Disclaimer: The view expressed herein are those of the author and Microland expressly disclaims any liability arising from its publication on our website.

Benil George P J
Sr. Director - MS Azure CoE
Infrastructure Management