5 popular misconceptions about ITIL®: ‘ITIL is a standard’, and other folk stories

5 popular misconceptions about ITIL®: ‘ITIL is a standard’, and other folk stories

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Recently, we investigated the misconceptions around ITIL in order to better understand and address the common challenges when adopting ITIL. We asked our community members to share their stories. To our delight, our members did not stop at listing the challenges, but followed-up with great ITIL success stories. We will share our findings in the months to come, but I wanted to give you a sneak preview of the topics we will cover.

Misconception #1: ITIL is a standard to adhere to

ITIL is sometimes treated as a standard, which it was never meant to be. The guidance was never intended to be applied rigidly. The service management improvement initiative was not designed to be treated as a big bang project, where the capabilities described in ITIL are considered as a block of processes, roles, and procedures to be ‘implemented’ as close to the ‘letter of ITIL’ as possible.

Kaimar KaruThis approach inevitably leads to huge waste, and is unlikely to succeed in improving the value of the services delivered to the customer due to the unnecessary cost and additional work it generates. There is rarely a meaningful explanation of why the organization has taken this approach, beyond “because ITIL says so”, which is hardly a business value-focused justification, and is certainly not a persuasive argument that might bring others on board. The end result, most likely, is an amalgam of highly complicated process models that nobody follows and a painful muddle of procedures that mask the absence of customer focus.

Our advice has always been to adopt a service management mindset, and to accept the guidance as a set of flexible guidelines to be adapted to the specific requirements of the organization.

Misconception #2: ITIL is only for big companies

The belief that ITIL is only useful for big organizations comes with three sub-components:

  • Firstly, judging by the five books of the ITIL lifecycle suite, it would be easy to conclude that following all that guidance to the letter will lead to an unfathomable mountain of bureaucracy
  • Secondly, there is a fear that to do anything ITIL will be expensive - from publications, to training, to external consultants. It is not uncommon to see business cases for ‘ITIL implementation’ that run into tens of millions of pounds, stretching over four years, resulting in maturity level five processes. On paper, that is
  • Thirdly, because each ITIL process specifies a corresponding role, there is a temptation to create a new job for every role. This would necessitate expanding the service provider’s payroll by a few hundred people because existing employees are busy with their BAU work, and cannot be distracted by a new implementation project.

In our forthcoming series of blog posts, we will discuss the difference between roles and job titles, and show how to cover the required roles without having to hire an armada of new people.

Misconception #3: ITIL is incompatible with other practices

ITIL is losing its relevance, apparently.

It’s because of the Cloud.

Or Agile.

Or DevOps.

Or anything else that does not seem to align with the ways organizations have adopted ITIL in the past.

This belief is often accompanied by the search for a silver bullet – a framework or a methodology or a philosophy that is the answer to all questions, doesn’t require a significant change in working practices, and doesn’t require additional guidance from outside its own hermetic cosmos.

Organizations that follow this ‘one or none’ approach get a reputation for undergoing a major initiative every three to four years, a cycle often triggered by the arrival of a new CIO. A resistance to change builds up over the years. Senior employees treat every new initiative as a passing fad.

We will look at the ways ITIL can be combined with other complementary guidance.

5 popular misconceptions about ITIL: ‘ITIL is a standard’, and other folk stories - AXELOS Blog Post

Misconception #4: ITIL is for internal use only

Sometimes it is believed that as ITIL is a framework for IT service management, it follows that it should be adopted by the service provider alone; the customer is a spectator awaiting the delivery of the world’s best services, supported by world’s most mature processes. Surely, it is for the service provider to figure out what their customer values, without bothering the customer with these trivial questions – and the inability to do so is just an indication of missing skills and ignoring a standard.

(A variant of this misconception is that ITIL is only concerned with particular aspects of IT operations, and is not relevant to anything beyond how best to keep the lights on).

When these beliefs prevail, the real value of the ITIL framework is not realized. The concept of the service lifecycle and the holistic view across capabilities, processes, and services is not internalized. Attempts to improve services remain isolated initiatives, providing glimpses of brilliance but predominantly adding pain. Considering services as something that are ‘done to’ customers, without involving them in each stage of the service lifecycle, is likely to lead to a fundamental disconnect between the service provider and their customer, resulting in strategic outsourcing decisions in the case of internal customers, or a swift change of service providers in the case of external customers.

Misconception #5: ITIL is primarily about processes

ITIL describes the capabilities required for delivering services as a set of 26 processes and four functions, divided between five lifecycle stages. Sometimes, this is literally interpreted as requiring separate teams for each lifecycle stage, (or even each process). This can include a separate prioritized queue of work for each process, with very little interaction between teams. While specialization is an important enabler for growth, viewing processes in isolation can lead to organizational silos with wildly different incentives. A common question rooted in this approach is “Which process should I implement first?” While certainly a fair question, there can be no single answer.

Organizations that emphasize the maturity of individual processes over a holistic view across the lifecycle phases, and the processes within, will end up with textbook local optimization and KPIs that result in green reports but red-faced customers.

See our ITIL section for more information.

In subsequent posts, we will look at how to address these challenges, and to ensure service management initiatives focus on delivering value to the customer.

More blogs in our ITIL Misconceptions series

ITIL® Misconceptions: “ITIL doesn’t require any formal training, it is just common sense or a tool that will fix it all.”

ITIL® Misconceptions: “ITIL is incompatible with other practices.”

ITIL® Misconceptions: “ITIL is only for big organizations.”

ITIL® Misconceptions: "ITIL is for infrastructure or production only."

ITIL® Misconceptions: “ITIL requires too many people.”

ITIL® Misconceptions: “ITIL is a standard to adhere to”

ITIL® Misconceptions: "You don’t need to worry about culture when adopting the ITIL framework."

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AXELOS ITIL Misconceptions Quiz - The Results

ITIL Misconception Quiz - The Results

We asked our community what they thought the most common misconceptions about ITIL are - see the full list of our ITIL Misconceptions Quiz questions along with the answers and results.

Download the results >