ITIL 4 and the Operational perception

IT service manager considering ITIL issues while holding pen against lip

As usual, reading an article by Paul Wilkinson, is always a refreshing experience with food for thought. That wasn’t any different when I started reading his AXELOS blog on "the evolution in ITSM part 1".

However, when reading the following paragraph, I experienced a ‘fundamental question’ moment.

This is the extract from Paul’s blog, which made me take a step back and reflect.

"I see ITIL® 4 – the latest evolution of the guidance – becoming a more strategic part of how IT service fits within the overall strategy of a business, along the lines of portfolio management and aligning ITSM with governance. While some might see ITIL as having a purely operational role, this perception is addressed in ITIL 4."

A lot of questions popped-up whilst reading this. Two of them were relevant.

Why is it perceived as operational? Will it work now?

So let’s dig in the first ‘why is it’ question.

When I came into the world of ITIL, it was called ITIL v2. And there was Service Support and Service Delivery which took you by the hand to grasp what ITSM was all about.

I learned afterwards there were several books released, but they all disappeared in the mist of oblivion.

I was fully awake when ITIL v3 came into existence. I even had a minute role during the creation phase as reviewer of Service Operation. One of the remarks I had during the review, was that I missed context to fully grasp the opportunity of the upcoming release. When I got all five books, I liked the lifecycle concept and how it linked the books potential to guide organizations in their quest to become a better service provider. As a side note, I must admit I never fully grasped the Service Strategy book.

I was fully aware when ITIL 2011 was published. This time I even understood Service Strategy. The introduction of Business Relationship Management extended my horizon to further improve the service ecosystem big time. I was looking forward to meet people beyond the realm of IT and become a better version of myself. It worked, but not to the extent which I expected.

Then there was the next boost in evolution, with the Practitioner Guidance publication in 2016. I loved what it brought on the enablement table and how the guidance endorsed the CSI approach with a toolbox that was down to earth, pragmatic and usable. Even more important for me, people got the centre stand. This is, in a nutshell, my experience of how the ITIL framework evolved over the years.

So why is it that today ITIL is perceived as an operation-only framework?

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that ITIL’s coverage goes far beyond operation. It makes me wonder what is needed to open the remaining doors and increase the potential of developing that better version of your organization. Let me share a few experiences to make my point.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to speak at an event. The topic covered expressed my view on Service Management and how being agile could make it better. As I want the attendees to stay sharp, there is the occasional question I throw into my talk. One of them ‘who uses the Service Design Package (SDP) to structure the service creation/delivery effort?’ raised a massive zero hands. I consider the SDP the service identity card of any product that is created. It is one of the core components in the service lifecycle guidance, assuring that the service requirements are built-in.

A later question ‘who knows the Practitioner Guidance?’ gave the same zero hands.

Why is it that even hands-on guidance does not trigger the attention of the service management community? By far the most comprehensive guidance, with guiding principles on how to ‘do’ service management, how to include communication, how to follow-up, how to manage people in a transition, did not go mainstream. Confusing.

This brings me to my second question.

So will it work now? Will ITIL4 be able to address this operational perception?

The previous version had the potential as well, but apparently failed to change the perception and use of ITIL.

What is so fundamentally different this time that Service Management practitioners, which is pretty much everyone participating in the value stream, will provide the consumer an experience they expect when the service is consumed? Now I can imagine some of you thinking: ‘that is operations, because that is where consumption takes place!’ I beg to differ. The whole experience of consumption starts with the creation, the realization and the transition of that service into operation. If in any of these steps, things go wrong, future consumption will be impacted. At that point, there is nothing operations can initially do other than remediating, taking the hit. At times, it makes me wonder if the wall, that boundary between operations and ‘the rest’ is not so imaginary after all.

This raises an underlying question. Will ITIL be able to reach everyone involved? One of the elements, which made it challenging up to now, is the way the ITIL certification model works. How is that? Here are a few reflections.

I’ve given a fair amount of foundation trainings. Rethinking how I experienced them, there was a common storyline in all sessions. Involvement of the students was higher the closer I got to Service Operation, because the audience could connect with that part of the lifecycle. But by the end of the session, they understood their capability to excel was not only related to working hard making operations run smoothly. It was also related to being involved early in the design process. Yup, even terms like proactivity started to make sense for them. So why not make the foundation level more focused, creating that momentum to involve everyone? I can imagine a 2 day session, whereby on day 1 there is a common building block covering the Service Value System. That is the core for everyone. Day two will focus on the one (or more) of the six value chain activities, to allow the attendants to grasp what is important for them in their daily work and understand dependencies. How is that for T-shaping resources?

But I guess if you’re tagged with an operations badge, these insights fade fast once you’re back into the BAU mode. Having the certificate, that is the goal managers send people on training for, or not?

If we want to ensure that ITIL breaks out of the operational mode and delivers more end-to-end value, and make it an ‘all-in’ experience, how will we take the management tiers of the organization into the equation? In my opinion, we currently have a huge lack of guidance for them. ITIL Practitioner covers many of the things managers and leaders of transformational programmes should know and be able to do, but ITIL Practitioner was poorly adopted. What structured approach will ITIL4 provide to get them involved? I can’t imagine a traditional ‘foundation certification’ will be the way to go. Maybe an idea would be to link a management enablement session to the ITIL Strategic Leader, so there is a clear understanding of their role in the service governance?

I see the potential value reading the ITIL4 foundation book. Will I be as excited as I was when I got my hands on the Practitioner Guidance? Well, I’m looking forward to what will follow before giving an answer to that question. How will the books make it a guidance for that ‘all-in’ approach? Even more importantly, how will we as the service management community evangelize the ‘all-in’ experience? Or to put it in the words Deborah Burton expressed on our Belgian itSMF session on DASA and DevOps, ‘these are exciting times for ITSM’. I could not agree more. And if this excitement will converge into new insights when the core ITIL4 books are published, I will share my findings.

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Comments

1 Jul 2019 Anshoola Jaiswal
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Highly descriptive and in depth about the base subject
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