Choosing the best Service Management framework for the Business

An interesting question

AXELOS recently posed a question on their website Community Area.  It was a Founding Members Challenge.  Aimed at promoting discussion and debate, the question posed asked about how you would give a new person “Barry” some advice when considering whether ITIL ® was the best framework for the business?  So let’s consider the question more, as it is one that I have been asked many times, as I am sure other practitioners have.

As a framework of IT Service Management processes, best practice, and guidance, there is no doubt that ITIL can benefit IT infrastructure and operations organisations. Anecdotally despite the hype around other approaches and methods, it appears that ITIL adoption rates continue to rise.  Why then do we still hear that [insert number] % (who knows?) of service management implementations fail to deliver the hoped for benefits.

ITIL is a means, not the end

ITIL is the objective NOT what it should achieve.  An ITIL certificate is not enough!  Barry mustn’t underestimate the attitudes, behaviours and culture (ABC) as Paul Wilkinson (Gaming Works) tells us.   One of the top issues is that IT often fails to understand that pivotal to its success is recognising the needs of the business/customer and being able to vocalise how the implementation of service management can improve service delivery.

Worryingly, we hear about organisations claiming to be implementing ITIL (an impossibility); ITIL is a merely guidance, a framework of advice for implementing service management processes.  What seems to be the issue then is our apparent lack of understanding of what we are hoping to achieve and how ITIL can help with the pursuance of those objectives.

We need to understand how ITIL can help deliver services to the business. Pivotal to our success, is recognising the needs of our business and being able to articulate how the implementation of service management can improve service delivery – with direct and measurable benefit to that business.

Using – not ‘doing’ ITIL

We need to be clear about what this is for, not “doing ITIL” but rather “using ITIL”.  There isn’t a single organisation anywhere on this planet that has implemented an ITIL process from 0 maturity to optimised maturity in 1 go…. therefore, by definition ITIL is nothing more than a Continual Service Improvement approach. And that is a phrase I have coined from who knows…? (they all start to merge) so let’s say Kevin Holland, Paul Wilkinson or Stephen Mann!  Start by reading the ITIL Continual Service Improvement book Barry and instead of adopting massive ITIL projects embed ITIL from day 1. improving your work IS your work. CSI should be a core capability of IT organisations.

We are very good at the education and the theory as can be confirmed by however million ITIL certificates. We are poor at translating the theory into practice, the knowledge into results; which is why experiential learning helps.

Remember Barry, it isn’t process for process sake.  Understand why you want to implement each process, consider:

  • The benefits to be gained from using this process
  • Issues that need fixing
  • Opportunities to add value to IT and the Business
  • Quick wins
  • Prioritise the processes that can make a long lasting improvement

It’s all about business value

ITIL processes alone will not give success.  It’s all about recognising value.  When asked as a consultant or trainer in the classroom I always say…’I’m not being flippant… you choose!’ but be clear of the benefit you will gain versus the cost of implementation. Test the value of what you do and how you do it! Most IT organisations succeed with the most commonly adopted processes (Incident, Problem and Change Management) but then it gets too difficult and they need to talk to their customer and the task to engage in Business Relationship Management appears too difficult.  Frankly, often we are afraid of asking the customer their view on what we do for fear we will hear things we’d rather not know.  This is risky, organisations that do this end up making ‘improvement’s that are not warranted nor required.  All too often, we see Plan, Do, Stop! (Now that is a Paul Wilkinson “ism”).

Another question to ask is this. ‘Who decides if this process is delivering value?’ Very often this is not known. If you know who is responsible ask them ‘what are the indicators that demonstrate this process is delivering value?’…….usually there is silence, and if you know what these indicators are, does everybody involved in the process know this?  Very often we see huge amounts of reports and sometimes literally hundreds of KPIs.  Go and ask. ‘Who uses this metric? What decisions and actions do they take based upon this? If nobody knows then don’t report it!

Don’t forget the people!

And then there are the people issues.  Failing to recognise the importance of creating a good basis for organisational change.  Basically adopting ITIL means changing the way people work, in other words changing behaviour. People do not like to change their behaviour. They must either feel a sense of urgency. ‘I must change otherwise…’ or they must have answered the question ‘what’s in it for me? Or us? If these questions are not answered, then resistance will occur. Resistance is a fact of any change in working practice. This means the need to change people’s approach therefore, this must be consciously managed.  Don’t try implementing something new to an environment where people are critical to success without coupling it with a change management piece.  And no, I don’t mean ITIL Change Management!  I mean people and organisation change management, preferable by using a technique like PROSCI’s ADKAR.

So what needs to be done to get this right? ITIL has definitely helped to improve ITSM maturity but there is still so much to do despite all of ITIL’s content and all the exam passes.  Recognise that the ITIL books only ever take you part of the way.  Recognise that training is only part of the jigsaw too.  ITIL training can potentially be seen as teaching people how to pass the exams (and understanding the processes) but it often changes little in terms service and customer-centric IT delivery

Understand what it is, and what it isn’t

Be clear on what ITIL is all about, especially the importance of people.  Ensure that as well as thinking about process and tools you plan how you will manage the cultural and organisation change issues.  Ignore these at your peril!

Be realistic about existing ITSM process maturity and improve them gradually.  Establish a baseline and use the CSI model to help you keep your thinking on track.  The new ITIL Practitioner guidance sensibly tells us to ‘start where you are’.

Evaluate technology only after you’ve addressed goals, people, and processes. Remember ‘a fool with a tool is still a fool’.  The fanciest looking service management tool in the world won’t help you if you don’t have people on side and process and roles and responsibilities mapped out.

The long haul

Consider the overall vision including short, medium, and long term goals. Planning beyond the technology implementation.  You need to be in it for the long haul.

Regularly communicate ITIL’s value and involve the IT and non-IT stakeholders. Perhaps not using the term ITIL will help!  Not that there is anything wrong with ITIL but customers don’t really care about your framework of choice.  Measure your success and compare back to your baseline.  Reward staff and keep on reminding your customer about how success in IT is translated to success in terms of business productivity. Keep talking to them and think about outcomes.


ITIL® – “ITIL® is a (registered) Trade Mark of AXELOS Limited. All rights reserved.

Michelle Major-Goldsmith

Michelle Major-Goldsmith

Michelle Major-Goldsmith is Lead Architect for the Service Integration and Management Professional Body of Knowledge and a founder member of the SIAM Foundation BoK architect team. In 2017 the team were awarded Thought Leaders of the Year by the itSMF UK. Michelle has been a committee member of various forums for many years including itSMF WA Branch and AXELOS global best practice working group. In 2010 she was awarded the UK itSMF Trainer of the Year award. In 2017 she was awarded the Service Management Champion of the Year by itSMF Australia and in 2018 shared the award of itSMF Thought Leader as well as being listed as one of the top 25 service management people to follow on Twitter.