Practical Tips for Addressing the “Watermelon Effect”

This post looks at the "watermelon effect". What it is, how to address it, and practical tips to help.

Watermelon Effect in IT

Most IT service management (ITSM) professionals will have heard or read about the increasing importance of their IT organization in enabling employee and business productivity. Words like “outcomes” and “experiences” are now commonplace in ITSM best practice pieces and ITSM tool vendor marketing. However, all this focus can be overly forward-looking such that longtime issues with performance measurement are overlooked.

Of course, there’s a need to look forward to the improvements that will better serve employees and the business. But, it’s also important to realize that there are probably more issues within the status quo than the IT organization currently sees. The root cause of this “issue blindness” needs to be understood and addressed. It’s similar to problem management, where, while the IT service desk is reactively handling incidents, different capabilities are required to remove the root causes of the repeating issues.

So, IT organizations need to understand and address what’s causing their inability to see the various issues that continue to adversely affect employees and the business operations they enable. They need to understand and address what has been termed the “watermelon effect.

What’s the “watermelon effect”?

While the watermelon effect might sound nice, it’s a problem that no IT organization – or any other service-based business function for that matter – wants. The imaginative name describes when an IT organization consistently achieves its agreed performance targets, including service level targets. Still, employees are dissatisfied with their IT services.

Just like the outside of a watermelon, the performance dashboard looks green. All the service level targets have been met, as stated in the internal reporting packs. However, some employees or end-users likely have a different perspective of IT performance based on the services they consume. Because of the issues they experience with their IT services, their view of IT’s performance is red – like the inside of a watermelon. Unfortunately, though, the performance metrics employed by IT only show the surface of the watermelon, and the employee issues continue to go unnoticed and unaddressed.

How to address the watermelon effect

As with most significant issues, the watermelon effect can only be addressed once all those affected know it exists. This is the first step in tackling the watermelon effect – appreciating that traditional IT metrics can fail to reflect what’s most important to employees.

IT organizations might think that the laser focus on operational efficiency is enough. However, efficiency doesn’t equate to effectiveness. In the case of the IT service desk, an issue might be addressed swiftly (with the associated ticket closed). However, the issue is still present for the end-user. The IT service desk was operationally efficient, but the outcome wasn’t as was needed, i.e. the provided support wasn’t effective.

In the face of the aforementioned “all green” dashboard, it can be challenging for an IT organization to appreciate the gap between the IT and end-user perceptions of IT’s performance. However, they must to address the watermelon effect.

10 practical tips for addressing the watermelon effect

  1. Appreciate that there’s likely a difference between the respective service provider and end-user perceptions of IT performance, i.e. the green and red views of the watermelon effect. It’s important to appreciate that how a service looks at the point of creation might differ from the view at the point of consumption.
  2. Understand the likely root cause(s) of the “perception gap” based on industry insight – with the limitations of traditional IT metrics (and service level targets) a probable culprit and experience measurement and management as the most popular solution (along with a cultural change that focuses on outcomes and transparency).
  3. If needed, undertake some initial “quick and dirty” research to understand more about the issues end-users are facing. This isn’t to identify improvement opportunities. Instead, it’s to demonstrate the need for change and experience-related metrics (and to help start the relationships that will eventually facilitate improvements to “what matters most” to end-users).
  4. Identify and involve the right business stakeholders. From those who can help elicit change (in particular, the introduction of experience management) at an organizational level, through those who will prioritize and benefit from changes, to those who will receive related reporting.
  5. Try to look forward rather than back. It’s important to not get bogged down in the many issues that have likely been present for years (the proverbial “skeletons in the closet”). Focus on the needed improvements rather than making excuses for what’s wrong.
  6. Initiate changes with specific goals in mind. Don’t just try to improve things or introduce experience management and XLA targets to “make a difference.” Instead, it’s important to focus on what will address the watermelon effect.
  7. Appreciate that change and the introduction of experience management will incur additional costs. This includes the cost of creating a solution, such as introducing experience measurement and management capabilities, to better understand the watermelon effect and its root causes. Plus, the costs of the individual improvement projects that result from the captured experience data and insights.
  8. Manage people’s expectations. This need is twofold. First, there are the expectations of what the IT service provider should and can deliver. Second, there are the expectations of what change can be achieved and when. Improvements will not happen overnight, so ensure that your plans reflect this. 
  9. Recognize that XLA targets will change over time. This agility allows your organization to be focused on the priorities that will minimize the watermelon effect.
  10. Appreciate that experience-data-driven change needs experience data to measure success. Think of the use of experience management data and insight to minimize the watermelon effect as a feedback loop. Don’t just make changes and hope that they make the desired difference. Instead, continue to use the experience data to measure the extent of success and to drive course correction as needed.  

If you would like to learn more about addressing the watermelon effect, see the additional resources available here.



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