Are you another ITIL Lemming? Get MOFFED here!
A subjective view on the Microsoft Operational Framework (MOF v4)
In a Universe filled with twinkling stars, new stars are born every second. Some literally shine for billions of years – including our own small yellow Sun – others only shine for a fraction of this time and go out with a gigantic bang, or die without a making a single sound. In an industry filled with frameworks, methods and best practices we seem to be able to observe a similar pattern. Some frameworks make it to the top and become accepted as the norm, other frameworks are struggling for a place of existence and may eventually get there, or just vanish from the stage altogether leaving not a single sound or trace of evidence behind. One framework that doesn’t seem willing to take either side of these extreme positions is the Microsoft Operational Framework, or in short “MOF”. It just sits there comfortably in the twilight zone not striving to shine, but also not twitching a single muscle telling us it’s going to leave the stage any time soon. I guess it’s time to put MOF in the spotlights, to understand its twilight position a bit better and gaining a better understanding and knowledge of its place and value amongst the plethora of frameworks, methods and best practices.
The Microsoft Operational Framework (MOF) goes back quite a number of years, at least 10 that I personally have some knowledge of. MOF has seen quite a number of transformations in the last decade, and just like many other frameworks has adopted a flexible organic life-cycle approach to planning, delivering, operating and managing IT services and its supporting IT infrastructure.
The goal of MOF is: "To provide guidance to IT organizations to help them create, operate, and support IT services while ensuring that the investment in IT delivers expected business value at an acceptable level of risk." [1.0 MOF Overview].
I guess this goal should look pretty much ‘standard’ for those already familiar with frameworks like ITIL and CobiT. Like most other (IT) Service Management frameworks the words ‘guidance’, ‘value’, ‘expected’, and ‘risk’ also take pivotal positions in MOF’s overall architecture. So, does MOF make a difference, does it deserve a place in (IT) Service Management framework Universe? I believe the answer to be ‘yes’, otherwise I wouldn’t be spending my time and energy writing this article. Get yourself another cup of coffee, or tea, or something stronger (commonly known as energy drinks) and read on, as you’re about to enter the Doctor’s space/time machine!
I’ll have to admit that Dr. Who’s TARDIS is a fantastic machine that somehow also got stuck in Service Management Space; hence we’re discussing “Time And Relative Dimensions In Service Management Space” – or short TARDISMS. A quick count of Service Management related frameworks and methods gave me the number 42 – okay maybe a little bit less, but 31 doesn’t seem to sound quite right and as much fun as the number 42. After all, 42 is the ‘only’ answer to Life, the Universe and everything else [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams]. Although Microsoft (read one of their operations consulting leads) seems to place frameworks like MOF, CobiT, and ITIL in the same dimension, I personally have to disagree with this picture. In my opinion CobiT is mainly about answering the question “what” needs to be done, MOF drifts in the twilight zone of “what/how” and as far as I’m concerned ITIL basically still dominates the “how” dimension. Sorry ITIL! Yeah, I know, a lot of you will disagree with me here, but I like heated discussions. Overarching it all sits ISO/IEC 20000 which simply says “thou shall” and takes a similar position as Star Trek’s famous ‘Q’ space.
You feel lost? That’s perfectly natural, as this is exactly what’s happening in (IT) Service Management space as we speak. Once upon a time (indeed a very long time ago) we all spoke the same language, and all followed the same framework called Total Quality Management (TQM), then this guy called Nimrod came along and spoiled the game for everyone. Doesn’t “Nimrod” sound exactly like some type of acronym or mnemonic dug up from a prehistoric opal mine? Well, with some imagination it does... to me... it does... it really does... really!
Simplicity and complexity
I keep saying to most people around me: “less is more” and this is precisely where I derive the main benefits from Microsoft’s Operational Framework. Whereas most frameworks and methods praise themselves on the high number of areas, clusters, processes, stages, functions, roles and God knows what else, MOF takes the easy route, and I like that – a lot! Surely everyone must agree with me that ITIL has become way too academic in its language, and any person with an IQ of more than your average baboon will either read some ITIL summaries or follow a distance education course. Not many sane people are going to read the full ITIL books or sit the new ITIL v3 classroom delivered courses, but some may pick up (or rather download for free) MOF as it’s relatively easy to follow, seems to make a lot of ‘practical’ sense and most importantly of all uses a nice and very consistent structure in all its documents. This is definitely an area where ITIL has dropped the ball. I still can’t make head nor tail of ITIL’s structure. It all seems a bit messy and incomplete. Maybe that’s why ITIL is talking ITIL v3 Refresh Refresh (no, I’m not stuttering). I guess they – read OGC/APMG – may get it right eventually, but some other frameworks and methods are currently in hot pursuit, so better get your act together and do it fast, because many professionals are getting tired of wasting 1000s of dollars on something that’s of a less than average quality.
It’s elementary my dear Watson!
So, what’s MOF? Well, basically it’s a collection of Word and Excel documents that are freely down-loadable from http://www.microsoft.com/mof. Microsoft has even made the job extremely easy for us as you can select the one-click download, after which Bob somehow seems to become your uncle again. Uncle-Bob-space seems to have an unlimited supply of Uncle Bobs! Anyway, the MOF documents are properly ordered in dot-zero versions (phase docs) and dot-sequence-number versions (service management functions).
Here’s the full list of phase docs and service management functions (SMF) docs:
1.0 MOF Overview
2.0 Plan Overview
2.1 Business IT Alignment SMF
2.2 Reliability SMF
2.3 Policy SMF
2.4 Financial Management SMF
3.0 Deliver Overview
3.1 Envision SMF
3.2 Project Planning SMF
3.3 Build SMF
3.4 Stabilize SMF
3.5 Deploy SMF
4.0 Operate Overview
4.1 Operations SMF
4.2 Service Monitoring and Control SMF
4.3 Customer Service SMF
4.4 Problem Management SMF
5.0 Manage Overview
5.1 GRC SMF
5.2 Change and Configuration SMF
5.3 Team SMF
6.0 MOF 4.0 Glossary
7.0 Mapping of MOF Versions (Excel spreadsheet)
The good thing about this structure is the alignment with for example the MOF Foundation Exam, in which you can basically get away with reading the MOF Overview and the four dot-zero phase documents. Furthermore this structure allows for separation of those stakeholders that only need a high level overview of MOF and its potential (dot-zero docs) and those that require more detailed insight and knowledge of MOF (dot-sequence number docs). Personally I believe this is a very strong feature of MOF as it supports an approach where you only have to read the documentation on a need-to-know basis. Have fun reading those 2,000 pages of ITIL v3, I rather read 100 pages of MOF thank you very much! Providing information on a need-to-know basis is definitely a factor that can help speeding up adoption, adaption and use of MOF within the business and IT environment.
After a 3-day public ITIL v3 Foundation course many students provide feedback in the form of “too much content for 3 days” and “my brains feel numb”. In contrast MOF provides feedback like “enlightening” and “seems quite practical and common sense”. You draw your own conclusion! Personally, I can only say that I’m glad I’m in a position where I have a lot more time to convey my ITIL v3 knowledge and skills using a system of distance education principles combined with academic resources (see http://www.csu.edu.au and http://www.itmasters.edu.au). I don’t like marketing, but distance education (in the right format) works so much better than public classroom “crammed” training!
Please note that the MOF v4 one-click-download is just one of the many resources that are currently part of MOF-download-space. If you’re after quick start guides, action plans, ISO/IEC 20000 integration documents, or other cross integration guides, then those are also available and – best of all – free!
Hyperspace, subspace, wormholes and travelers
In my humble opinion MOF consists of (thank you: “only”) four key parts, which are phases (hyperspace), service management functions (subspace), management reviews (wormholes) and roles (travelers). Yeah, I know, I’m a geek and love science fiction, but somehow making these silly analogies helps me to remember stuff, as the soggy brains aren’t getting any younger.
The four key phases have 3 tangible “real” dimensions known as “Plan”, “Deliver” and “Operate”. The 4th dimension behaves more like our dimension “time” and is tightly interwoven with these other three more tangible dimensions, and is known as the “Manage” phase.
MOF is like a game, and you’re only allowed to move from one dimension to the next using wormholes, oops, I meant to say “management reviews”. The picture below is mind-boggling simple, yet extremely powerful, as it makes you understand MOF in the wink of an eye. For example it’s telling me that I can’t start building stuff, as long as my project plan is not properly approved as part of a “project plan approved management review” exercise. Well hey, that makes sense, as we need to make sure out project objectives are adding value to the business, are cost-justifiable, and risk managed, hereby taking into consideration and evaluating items like functional specification, master project plan and master project schedule. Whereas ITIL v3 talks Service Transition, MOF simply talks Project Management. I believe MOF is on the right track here, as I’ve always considered ITIL’s Change and Release-and-Deployment Management as Project Management sub-processes/activities in disguise. Why make it complex if you can keep it simple? MOF keeps it simple!
Source: MOF v4 (http://www.microsoft.com/mof)
Where was I? Oh, yes, subspace and travelers. It may be clear from the picture above that MOF identifies a number of Service Management Functions (SMFs) for each of the MOF life-cycle phases. For example the phase “Operate” covers the Service Management Functions “Operations”, “Service Monitoring and Control”, “Customer Service”, and “Problem Management”. Each of the Service Management Functions is explained high-level in the dot-zero documents and in detail in the dot-sequence-number documents, and believe me there’s a lot of detail provided that’s missing in other – some say more popular – frameworks . All the work-flows that seem to be missing (lacking) in ITIL v3 are provided as part of MOF, so if you don’t know where to start with ITIL, then MOF provides a fantastic alternative framework or can (simply) be used as add-on/plug-in to ITIL, CobiT or any of the others. I rate MOF’s tangibility factor to be quite high, and surely that must be one of the weakest factors in most other service management frameworks. MOF seems to exist on a plane between framework and method, and hence takes more than one twilight position in the realm of service management space. It sits there, and for now, lonely, uniquely, and somewhat distantly (is distantly actually a word?).
MOF-space is filled with travelers, I mean people actually performing the various MOF related activities. Whereas most of these people actually travel, they move from one position to the next, MOF roles don’t. Roles describe packages of activities with related responsibilities, accountability, authorities and dependencies. So travelers with the right skills, knowledge and attitude can simply step into a role that fits them best – enjoy the scenery and all those touristic activities – perform a well registered hand-over (well, at least describe their journey on face book) and move on to better places. I guess I’m saying that roles create the basis for consistent high-level quality processes without the organization being fully dependent on so called “irreplaceable” individuals in the organization.
Everyone is replaceable, absolutely everyone! We all die one day, the world will keep spinning, the Universe will keep expanding and cooling down, so get your roles and processes in place, and the organization will live to see another day! Sorry for being so blunt – it’s my Dutch heritage – something I can’t seem to get rid of. MOF roles rock! They really do. Somehow I would like to combine CobiT’s ARCI (Who’s Accountable, Responsible, Consulted, and Informed) charts with MOF’s role descriptions and the world would become a far better – more organized – place. Surely functions and roles must be ITIL’s weakest point, if not the single point of failure. Most organizations that I’ve seen have no issues whatsoever developing ITIL processes; they have issues assigning the various activities to roles and functions. It’s often not what needs to be done, but who is actually doing it where a lot of ITIL implementation pain is felt. MOF creates a whole lot more clarity – approximately 2 Universes in size – when it comes to mapping roles to processes. That’s another chicken in the basket for MOF (I so like the Muppets: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgbNymZ7vqY).
Inflation and deflation
It is dark matter and dark energy that will either keep the Universe in a state of never-ending inflation, or the whole thing will start collapsing again and we’ll all end up in the big-crunch – I mean really, really big – in which case you can say bye-bye to all your Bermuda holidays. I guess something similar applies to all service management frameworks, including MOF. Either the total mass of benefits outweighs the total mass of potential issues, in which case there’s enough reason for MOF to maintain its own unique position in service management space, or too many issues cause the framework to die a slow or less painful sudden death. MOF has definitely many strong benefits, of which ease of use, quick ROI and low TCO, its life-cycle approach, its great structure, its simplicity, its project focus, and its practical focus are just some of the main ones. So why is MOF still relatively unknown outside of Microsoft’s empire? I guess there are three main reasons that may explain this phenomenon. The first one is the perception that MOF is yet another go of Microsoft to rule this tiny world we all live on. I don’t believe this to be true, rather I believe that MOF is a sincere attempt of Microsoft to add needed structure and processes to the plethora of IT they’ve made and are still making available to the world. Managing complex IT environments needs a structured approach supported and surrounded with the right process and people. If IT fails, then who gets all the blame? MOF is a form of risk mitigation that Microsoft has put in place. With the right people (roles) and processes in place IT will fail less, and hence Microsoft gets a better name in the market! The second reason is ITIL’s dominant position in today’s IT environment, but it doesn’t mean it’s the best stuff around. They were the first to market and had a great marketing machine behind them, called Government. I guess it’s a bit like VHS and Beta-max, and we all know that Beta-max was quality-wise way ahead of VHS, and look what’s happening to all your VHS tapes right now. I believe the third and final reason to be the most challenging one and this is also related to our VHS analogy. Assuming we’re all taping on VHS (yeah sure...) then why would I invest in yet another technology? I already speak the VHS language and already have quite a lot of VHS (ITIL) skills and knowledge. This creates a real dilemma!
MOF has adopted a language that is very different from ITIL’s Esperanto, but that doesn’t make the ITIL Esperanto any better, or does it? I guess it’s always possible to map MOF’s peculiar language to ITIL’s peculiar language. Where MOF talks ‘Customer Service’ we can still talk ‘Service Desk’ in our organization, but use the plethora of processes and work-flows that MOF offers to us. Be aware that ITIL also keeps changing its language, so who is to say they are right and MOF is wrong. ITIL’s Help-desk is now a Service Desk, but MOF actually talks Customer Service, which is way better aligned with the core principles of Total Quality Management (TQM).
I guess MOF has more to offer than most organizations (read senior managers) are aware of. After breaking down the walls of perception, the garden that’s called MOF is actually quite a nice one and a lot easier (and cheaper) to maintain than ITIL’s garden.
So, what’s next?
This question is actually more difficult to answer than it seems. Assuming the organization is aware it needs to change, it needs more structure, it needs processes, and potentially has many more reasons to adopt and embrace a service management framework, be it MOF or framework X, I would visit two similar organizations – one using MOF, the other using framework X – and have an in-depth chat with management. Look at items like Return on Investment (ROI), Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), ease-of-implementation, ease-of-cultural adaption and adoption, transparency (business to IT and vice verse), and overall integration with other business-and-IT processes and systems. Sounds like quite a lot of work huh? I never promised it would be easy, but throwing away millions of dollars on a less than optimal framework ‘solution’ is also quite painful.
Anyway, you can always start to download the free MOF framework and start flicking through some of the pages, follow a 2 or 3 day course with a provider that actually knows what they’re talking about (make sure they’re ITIL, MOF, CobiT, and ISO20K certified so they actually understand the differences and benefits of each of these so called ‘solutions’) or best of all just visit an organization that actually uses MOF or uses framework X with MOF add-ons. As long as there’s a clear and valid reason to change, doing anything is better than sitting on your bum!
In a Universe filled with twinkling stars, new stars are born every second. Stars follow a life-cycle of which many span billions of years, some only last a few million. IT services also follow a life-cycle and move from planning to delivery through to operations. At some stage, when the IT service is no longer deemed valuable to the business – it also – reaches its end. The Microsoft Operational Framework (MOF) can be compared to a practical almost ‘turn-key’ IT service management solution which allows you to manage the life-cycle of your IT services so optimal benefits can be harvested, minimal investments have to made, and risk is managed to acceptable and agreed levels. It all sounds almost too good to be true! I challenge you: seriously consider the many valuable aspects of MOF and don’t become another ITIL lemming!
Live long and prosper