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What has the business got to do with ITIL 4?

illustration of the Mars curiousity rover standing on a red planet against a red sky background

Setting the scene:

‘…The rolling green hills of England, the buttercups painted a golden yellow by the early morning sun, cows lying in glistening dew cloaked fields, the gentle buzz of a bee in the scent filled breeze... a stark contrast to the high-tech hum of the sterile air-conditioned Mission control centre for the MarsLander flight.

'…The countryside was the last thing on the mind of a team of senior business, IT and ITSM  managers. Deep in rural England they would trade in the tranquility of the comfortable green Earth that they know for the harsh, unforgiving, unknown environment of Mars. Challenging themselves to collaborate and apply ITIL® 4 principles in the MarsLander business simulation’.

Why? The organization is embarking upon a major business change programme. The comfort of their own, known business model, like that of so many other organizations, has been disrupted by technology. Digital disruption, Digital transformation, Digital optimization, call it what you will, it represents an unknown, challenging and unforgiving new environment – in which IT is a critical enabler... or barrier to the business change initiative.

Organizations must learn to deal with the unforgiving, harsh reality of business transformation and relentless change.

How on Earth, will ITIL 4 make a difference?


Especially now when there is a lot of questioning about the relevance of ITIL in today’s fast paced world of Digital disruption. New ways of working like agile and DevOps bring into question the relevance of ITIL. ITIL is seen as slowing things down. A suggested investment in ITIL therefore will be questioned. ‘Why should we invest’? ‘How will ITIL help us in our business transformation’?

These are questions we hoped to answer in this MarsLander workshop.


The Marslander simulation is an experiential learning workshop in which Business, Development, Operations, Suppliers – in fact the end-to-end stakeholders involved in ITSM - can be brought together to explore the benefits of ITIL 4 and how it aligns with other practices such as DevOps, Agile, COBIT, BRM.

At the same time the simulation can help develop collaboration and continual improvement skills AND can be used to capture concrete, pragmatic actions to take-away…..all in one day!

MarsLander – failure is not an option!

A ‘C’ level business manager played the business role in the simulation. Senior IT managers, process owners and ITSM professionals played the other Mission Control roles. Would the team be able to demonstrate the value of ITIL 4 to the senior business leader? Would the senior business leader apply effective governance to ITSM? Failing to do so would put the mission at risk!

The rest of this article explains what happened, primarily from the business owner perspective in the simulation.

The mythical ‘We’

The first exercise we did at the start of the simulation was the ‘collaboration’ exercise.

What behaviours will we see that demonstrates effective collaboration’?

We did this to demonstrate the importance of the guiding principles, as ‘Collaborate and promote visibility’ is a core guiding principle for developing an effective end-to-end capability.

The team agreed a flip-over of behaviours, however, as the business manager realized, nobody had named ‘Understanding shared goals’ as a desired behaviour!

Then as the Mission launched and new business requests, feature updates, technical changes, issues and events entered the simulation they promptly ignored the list of behaviours, and started operating in SILO’s. ‘We were so focused on the practices and processes we overlooked the behaviours’!

Who owns these behaviours’? I asked at the end of the simulation round.

We do’ was the answer.

Who is this mythical ‘We’?

‘... Where was the ‘we’ when people were ignoring the behaviours? Where was the ‘we’ in correcting behaviours? Where was the ‘we’ when IT was ignoring the business’? Where was the ‘We’ when the business were throwing things over the wall and insisting everything has the highest priority’?

Silence. As the business and IT delegates looked at each other.

<BEEP> the systems monitor signalled another mission event.

What is the role of managers in coaching these behaviours? What is the role of each individual in giving feedback on these behaviours’?


“Changing behaviours requires ownership, practice, effort, recognition, feedback and often coaching – a process doesn’t do this”.

Progress iteratively with feedback

At the end of the first simulation game round the team reflected on what had happened. What went well, and what needs improving?

We used the ITIL 4 SVS (Service Value System) to facilitate the first reflection session.

ITIL 4 Service Value System

Below are the issues that need improving.

“These were issues that delegates also recognized in REALITY”!

The team then agreed 3 priority improvements before playing the next round.

In effect the team was developing skills for ‘progress iteratively with feedback’ a core capability for the outer layer in the SVSmodel - ‘Continual Improvement’.

Improvement needs:

  • Demands/Opportunities to value: The business team were throwing requirements over the wall for ‘new’ innovations, without any clear insight into the total backlog of opportunities and demands and insisting these had the highest priority.
    The BAU (Business As Usual) manager in the simulation didn’t want her work to be ignored so started insisting all operational issues had the highest priority.
    • As a business we didn’t have enough visibility to make informed decisions about what value was required’!
  • Guiding Principles‘Collaboration’: The business did not ‘share goals’, did not ‘ensure the right people with right knowledge and decision making authority are engaged in meetings to ensure the smooth flow of work through the value chain’, yet these were the agreed behaviours in the ‘collaboration’ exercise.
    • New behaviours are more than simply declaring the new corporate values on posters on the wall’.
  • Governance: Governance was based on ‘Who shouts loudest’ (lack of trust in IT to make the right decision) it was not based on a balance of Value, Outcomes, Costs, Risks (VOCR).
    • Our priorities were not based on balancing benefits realization vs risk optimization….let alone prioritization of resources for improvement work’!
  • Value: IT did not know, or use VOCR (the definition of a service) to prioritize, IT did not know the critical business goals or timelines – despite the fact that this was named as a core behaviour for ‘collaboration and promote visibility’. The business did not confirm that goals were known and priority mechanisms aligned to the goals.  
    • We in IT dived into the technology and were too internally focused, we didn’t manage the trust of the business and show that we understood their goals’!
  • ‘Co-creation’:There was no real ‘co-creation’, it rapidly became a ‘them and us’ with both parties trying to get an impossible amount of value through the value chain when there are too many demands/opportunities to fulfill .
    • ‘This is a fact of life! This will never change, this is exactly what we face in our daily work, we can only do this is we effectively communicate and collaborate’’!
    • We in the business know our own goals and priorities but these are not always clear to IT, nor how to deal with conflicts’.
  • Collaborate and promote visibility: Neither IT nor the business had visibility into the complete backlog of demands/opportunities. These are NOT just business demands and opportunities. There are also events, incidents, problems, legacy systems AND service improvement initiatives such as ‘optimizing and automating’ capabilities and removing waste.
    • We have a lot of hidden work, which limits our ability to effectively prioritize our portfolio on value optimization and allocate scarce resources appropriately’.
  • Guiding principles‘Focus on Value’: It soon became clear that business ‘behaviour’ and lack of Governance was also part of the problem. ‘ITIL4 is NOT an IT thing’! was a key business discovery. Prioritization against Value Creation (e.g: new business features and demands) + Value Leakage (e.g: incidents, problems) and Value Improvements (e.g: automated detection & recovery, service improvements).
    • The business MUST help ensure balanced prioritization (In terms of COBIT (a recognized IT governance framework within the organization) benefits realization, risk optimization, resource optimization)’.
  • Continual Improvement: It was also clear to the business ‘start where you are’ is a core guiding principle.
    • If we look at where we are we recognize many of these barriers prevent ‘more and faster demands and opportunities through the value streams’. We cannot allocate resources to a major transformation or implementation of ITSM practices so we must ‘progress iteratively with feedback’, we cannot improve everything so we must focus on improvements that deliver the most value (‘Focus on value). To ensure we always make the right balance in prioritization of scarce resources we must ‘collaborate & promote visibility’.

The business manager had to leave early to attend a board meeting. ‘We will schedule a meeting for Monday to take these learning points forward into our business change program. There are a lot of valuable takeaways from this’.

From Theory into Actionable takeaways

At the end of the day the team had realized the simulation goals.

The Mission was a success!

How had they achieved this? By reflecting and improving each round, evaluating the measured results and re calibrating priority mechanisms. Too much focus on ‘new innovation’ had caused Customer satisfaction to drop. Image and reputational damage would prevent new business and innovation. Priority shifted to ‘Customer satisfaction’.

There was a continual alignment to changing business goals. Each round was characterized by ‘Co-creation’ and a ‘Focus on value’.
At the end of the day we asked ‘what did you apply today in this simulation that you NEED to take away and apply in your organization’?

These are the takeaways of translating theory into practice. The next step in the learning process is to translate these into actionable takeaways that Business & IT commit to:

  • Practice the new behaviours (e.g: ‘Collaboration’) and hold each other accountable. (Feedback aimed at improving, not feedback as blame).
  • Respect and use the same language as our customers, using business goals, drivers and business terminology and avoiding too much ‘technobabble’.
  • Define the value streams for the different types of work and think about value stream owners who ensure effective prioritization mechanisms (Governance).
  • Focus on creating and retaining TRUST by demonstrating CREDIBILITY (measure our performance in business terms) – understand and prioritize on what impacts business reputation.
  • Align IT goals to business goals for the business change program and BAU demands. Ensure we have effective governance (prioritization and decision making) and visibility (to be able to make fast decisions (Evaluate, Direct, Monitor).
  • Categorize opportunities and demands against VC+VL+VI. (Value Creation + Value Leakage + Value Improvement). ‘If we do not ensure that continual improvement is a core capability we will NOT be able to improve the amount, the speed and quality needed by the business to enable the business transformation’.    
  • Co-ownership of priorities. (IT needs to be able to prioritize Problems and improvement that prevent Value Leakage and improve the ability for more Value Creation, but must develop better business knowledge to justify these improvements).
  • Adopt the concept of standard, pre-approved changes. So that scarce skills and resources focus on more Value Creation work.
  • Explore more at the ‘automate’ side of ‘optimize and automate’. Automate manual activities, reduce toil, and automate to improve velocity.
  • Utilize vendor capabilities more. Look more for partnership. Explore emerging technologies to optimize and automate to deliver value for both ‘us’ and the ‘vendor’. Exploit problem management to reduce repeat issues, waste and identify areas for improvement.
  • Expand the Service desk capabilities for first call, request fulfillment, self-service and pre-authorized changes to enable specialist teams to work on more ‘Value Creation’ demands and opportunities that enable the business change.
  • Improve testing. Look at ‘Test Driven Development’ foster a culture of ‘first time right’, ‘never pass a defect downstream’ and ‘build quality in at source’ to minimize the Value leakage. These must also be behaviours we practice and give feedback on.
  • Apply ‘Continual improvement’ – ‘This flip-over represents our first visual list of improvements agreed by the end-to-end stakeholders’ (collaborate and promote visibility). ‘We will prioritize  together with the business’- (‘progress iteratively with feedback’, ‘focus on value’). 

At the end of the day nobody was saying that ITIL 4 is too abstract, and too high level, nobody was saying we need to wait for the next set of training and certificates before we can start, ALL agreed a practical, pragmatic adoption of ITIL 4 principles and the SVS (Service value System) to ‘co-create’ with the business a ‘Continual improvement’ capability with a renewed ‘Focus on value’ and a recognized need to ‘collaborate and promote visibility’.

It sounds more like common sense’ said one, ‘yes, then why aren’t we already doing it’ said another.

Read more AXELOS Community blog posts from Paul Wilkinson

ITSM the next generation: To boldly go where no ITIL® has gone before! - Part 1

ITSM the next generation: To boldly go where no ITIL® has gone before! - Part 2.

Scenario: Progress iteratively with feedback

Read more AXELOS Blog Posts from Paul Wilkinson

Best practice in IT, ITSM and the ITIL Update

Adopting a value-based, outside-in approach to ITIL

Cyber security simulation: a crucial learning curve for organizations

Making the Guiding Principles live! - Designing for User experience?


Current rating: 4.7 (3 ratings)


13 Aug 2019 Martin Andenmatten
Alternate text
Great contribution. And the mission with Marslander is just the right kind of training to learn practices together with Business Service Management.
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