Valar Morghulis, service management professionals.*

If you're reading this blog, chances are pretty high you're a nerd. Therefore chances are also high you're at least aware (or a fan) of author George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire now adapted into the dark and stormy HBO series: Game of Thrones. Now, chances are slightly less high you're the kind of fan who has crafted a dragon headdress made out of construction paper in anticipation of this weekend's premiere of season four, but I digress…

Whether you're a (big) fan or not, much can be learned from the trials, tribulations, betrayals, deceptions, swords, and sorcery surrounding the characters of the "known world" as they jockey for the right to rule the seven kingdoms and sit upon the iron throne. And you needn't speak Dothraki to be able to understand the (fairly non-spoilery) lessons below culled from Game of Thrones, and practice them in the game of service management:

  • No character (or company) is safe. If there's anything George R. R. Martin hates, it's predictability. In a cloud of constant disruption, men and women alike perish because they weren't proactive in their planning, didn't take the whole picture into consideration, trusted too quickly, or favored individual wants over the needs of the many. And sometimes, they do everything right, adhering to honor and duty, and still wind up on a stake. Readers and watchers can never relax, and neither can service management professionals in today's ever evolving landscape of increasing expectations and demand. In the game of service management, you too must evolve. What made you successful yesterday will not necessarily work tomorrow; the world has changed, that safety net is gone. You may do everything right, and you still may fail, but you certainly will fail if you do nothing. 
  • Know your goal, but focus on the journey. Like implementing a seamless service catalog, or selecting the best ITSM solution, seizing the iron throne doesn't happen overnight, and it seems the players who are overly concerned with the end result experience more difficulty than those who focus on, even enjoy, the journey to power. Daenerys respects the process; Viserys did not. Achieving your desired end result, be it a fully orchestrated and centralized service request portal, or consolidating seven service desks down to one, is going to take time, patience, and iteration. Understand your maturity (location), your tools (army), your strengths (dragons), your weaknesses (does Daenerys have any?), consistently revisit them throughout your campaign, and tweak your strategy accordingly.
  • Powerful things can come in small packages. Tyrion Lannister is my favorite character, and despite his small stature, he is arguably the one to watch amid all the turmoil. Early on he understood he was never going to win with might, rather his mind, and his wit; strengthening those is where he focused his attention and it's gotten him very far. After all, "a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge" What does your technology management department need to keep its edge? Better tools? Standardized services? A common language? Figure out where your power and your potential lies (this will be unique to every organization) and nurture it; this too will get you very far. Tyrion can also be considered a disruptor. He's small, he's different, he's witty, manipulative, and knows the landscape in which he plays better than most; he's not that dissimilar from a disruptive, agile, up-and-coming new vendor. Whether you’re a big gun or small player, it's best to keep a watchful eye on Tyrion Lannisters lest they usurp your throne, or your customers!
  • It's not about the battles, it's about the war. When assessing his position in the War of Five Kings, Robb Stark announces "I have won every battle, yet somehow I'm losing the war." Some service management professionals must feel the same way, as the data from our annual Forrester/itSMF USA survey proves that classic firefighting processes reign supreme in maturity self-assessments. It's not about how many incidents you can attend to, or how many problems you can manage (the battles), it's about eliminating incidents and disjointed change management altogether, allowing more time to focus on continuous delivery, seamless change, release management, DevOps, and service portfolio management (the war)…devoid of incidents. Perhaps if the Young Wolf and his military team had focused on more strategic process management he wouldn't have found himself in such a mess?

And so, service management professionals, let's heed these lessons from old gods and new, and reign in a new season of service management (dragon costume: optional).



*In High Valyrian, Valar Morghulis means "all men must die;" it is a customary greeting in the land of Essos. 

**“Dragonfire” in High Valyrian, and the word Daenerys uses to command her dragons to breathe fire.

Note: I have not read all the books (only book one), and so my analysis is based on the storyline of the HBO series. I welcome any critique, insight, or comments!