How to choose an ITIL/ISO 20000 Incident Manager: 5 main characteristics

If you take a look at ITIL, there will be hardly any details about people who should be responsible for the processes or functions while you implement them. OK, ITIL defines some responsibilities, whereas ISO 20000 does not say a word about it. So, using ITIL to get a feeling for what the, e.g., Incident Manager should do is good idea. But, the problem you will have goes beyond his job description.

Namely, incident management is the most exposed process towards your customers, and therefore, particular care should be taken when deciding who will perform the job of Incident Manager. In this article, I will give you an overview of what kind of person you should look for to perform that job.

What’s the background?

The Incident Manager is quite a busy person. Requirements and expectations on his performance are coming from both sides, users as well as from inside the organization. So, he is:

  • an interface between business and operational activities,
  • the user’s ally when incident resolution get stuck, and
  • the organization’s “driving engine,” ensuring that incidents are resolved in agreed time and with desired/needed quality.

The Incident Manager can be a new hire or someone from inside the organization. Someone coming from outside is clean from internal politics and relationships, as well as without a “past.” What happens inside the organizations is that people carry a burden of the events that happened previously, and they influence people’s future behavior. On one of my engagements when we had to set up the ITSM organization (including the incident management process), I heard (from my point of view) too often argumentation like: “You know, once he did this and some other time he did that…,” and that influences (strongly) relationships and co-working inside the team. It’s not easy to manage such a team, particularly if someone was strongly involved in situations that others remember as a bad experience.

On the other side, someone coming from inside the organization is familiar with the services, processes, and people involved. So, the “warming up” phase will be significantly shorter.

The characteristics

Imagine you need to hire a person to fulfill the Incident Manager role. What kind of person will you look for? Based on people, more precisely – Incident Managers, I met so far, here are five characteristics you need to look for:

  • Communication – which goes in various directions: with the incident management team, service desk, rest of the IT organization, Service Level Manager (SLM), Business Relationship Manager (BRM), users or customers… etc. Such skills include being knowledgeable on the subject matter, as well as having strong soft skills.
  • 360-degree view – incidents are rarely simple. The most common situation is that, while trying to resolve incidents as quickly as possible, different technologies and services have to be considered or several (specialist) teams must be involved. Putting them together and managing all interfaces (technological as well as organizational ones) is usually a demanding task.
  • (Quick) Decision maker – simply, he doesn’t have time to “take a deep breath” and make all possible analyses and evaluations. Incident management deals with users of the services. Once the incident happens, users face difficulties or unavailability of the service – meaning, their efficiency is affected and they want to be productive as soon as possible. So, quite often the Incident Manager has to decide quickly in which direction to proceed.
  • Business oriented – (particularly) ITIL emphasizes integration of business and ITSM (which is logical), that sets one of the requirements towards the Incident Manager. A business-oriented mindset will help to understand how technology supports business and what the customer’s view is of the company’s services (i.e., a balance between internal and external view).
  • Manager – although we could argue that the Incident Manager should be a leader, I have seen that Incident Managers are doing 20% leadership and 80% management. Incident management is usually quite an activity-intensive process and requires skilled manager to keep everything under control. I met many Incident Managers with less technical expertise, but strong managerial and organizational skills.

Mr. Everything

The Incident Manager is involved in many technical issues, services, processes, and communication with different kinds of people. That sets requirements regarding his capabilities at a high level. It’s not a bad idea to involve the Human Resources (HR) department while finding an Incident Manager. The point is that the Incident Manager is a person where technical expertise is just a small portion of the capabilities. This is where HR can’t help you. But, for the characteristics mentioned in the previous section, HR is an excellent help.

The Incident Manager is leading the team, which is on the front line with users. That sets efficiency targets very high. But, it also brings a lot of stress in daily activities. Stress is a source of many further difficulties that can have an effect on incident resolution. Poor quality of work during incident resolution causes decreased quality of work or even new incidents. And, that’s how the spiral goes on and on and on… the Incident Manager has strong influence on such a spiral – to prevent it or to speed it up.

To see how your organization satisfies ITIL, i.e., ISO 20000 requirements, use this free  Gap analysis tools.

Advisera Branimir Valentic
Branimir Valentic
Branimir is an expert in IT service management (consultancy, training and tools), IT governance (training and consulting), project management and consultancy in IT and telecommunication. He holds the following certificates: ITIL Expert, ISO 20000, ISMS Lead Auditor and PRINCE2.