Developing outside-in capabilities

Developing outside-in capabilities

The new ITIL® Practitioner qualification will be aimed at developing some new skills and capabilities for ITIL professionals. In this blog I’d like to focus on one specific skill that I think needs to be included: ‘How to create an outside-in view and an understanding of customers’, and explain why it is desperately needed.

Paul WilkinsonAt GamingWorks we have been doing ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) workshops around the world for the last 10 years, with literally thousands of different organizations attending. Every year we get the same results again and again… and again. Despite the massive investment in ITIL certification these issues keep coming back, signifying that something else is needed in the ITIL training area.

One of the exercises we do, using the “ABC of ICT worst practice cards”, is the ‘Customer Exercise’. Small teams of four or five people are given a set of ABC cards and each individual is asked to choose three.

‘If we gave this set of cards to your customer which three cards would he or she choose that most typically represent a) the worst practices he or she experiences and b) is what their IT organization NEEDS to change?’

ITIL is the objective, not what it should achieve - GameWorks ABC CardThese are five of the top 10 cards chosen GLOBALLY:

  • No understanding of business impact and priority
  • IT is too internally focused
  • IT thinks it doesn’t need to understand the business to make a business case
  • ITIL is the objective, not what it should achieve
  • Plan, Do, Stop… no real continual improvement culture.

I then ask people: ‘Are these the cards that you THINK the customers would choose or do you KNOW they would choose these cards?’ 95% of the answers are ‘This is what we THINK they would chose as we have never asked them.’ – yet more than 90% of them have adopted ITIL to improve customer service!

It begs the question: ‘How can you adopt ITIL to improve customer service if you don’t know what the customers want improving?

ITIL is the objective and not what it is trying to achieve

Another symptom of this mis-match and failure to grasp the essentials of what it is all about is this: I ask people how many are ‘doing ITIL’ and of the more than 10,000 people I have asked about 85-90% of the hands go up. I then ask ‘put your hands up if you can tell me the definition of a service’. About 5% of the hands go up and these are usually trainers and consultants.

I then tell them that a service is ‘a means of delivering VALUE to Customers by facilitating OUTCOMES they want to achieve without the ownership of specific COSTS and RISKS’. These are the only four words EVERYBODY needs to be aware of: ‘Value', 'Outcomes’, ‘Costs’ and ‘Risks’ (VOCR). But more importantly, in the context of YOUR organization.

People should ask themselves: ‘Why are we doing ITIL?’ Some organizations have a business driver of availability, continuity or compliance – managing risks. Some need to focus on costs, doing more with less and see ITIL as a means of achieving this. Some want faster and more reliable deployment of new, innovative IT solutions to increase business value and need effective release deployment.

Many people attending ITIL training or adopting ITIL have no idea why their organization is adopting ITIL other than ‘to be more efficient and effective’. If I ask what will that look like and what metrics demonstrate this they usually answer ‘we will be more effective and efficient’.

The small teams then discuss all the cards they chosen individually and,as a team, select a top card. ‘Which card has the most negative effect on business value and outcomes or causes the most damage and wasted costs and risks’ – discuss examples and present the findings.

From the global workshops so far these are the top findings relating to the impact of our ABC worst practices on the business.

These are top impacts discovered:

Impact on 'Performance' of worst practices - GamingWorks card

I then ask: ‘Is this an acceptable business risk?’ – the answer is usually ‘NO’, although some teams find this ‘acceptable’ because ‘otherwise the business would say something’!

Does the business know these figures, are they actually reported in these terms?”


If you did actually report in these business-related metrics would they find it acceptable?’


I rest my case!

Then we usually explore with the teams ‘which bits of ITIL would solve these problems?’ for example ‘No understanding of business impact and priority’.

People say ‘ BRM’, ‘Demand management’, ‘Service Catalogue Management’, ‘ Service Portfolio management’, ‘Change management’, ‘Incident management’, covering a range from strategic  through to tactical  and operational “Have you checked with the customer which of these areas – strategic, tactical, operational – concerns them the most?”


Are you adopting these ITIL processes?”

Yes, change and Incident management.

Why just those?”

That’s what the ITIL consultant told us we should start with.


Very often the ITIL journey map, or the approach chosen, has no relationship to a business pain problem and the metrics produced by the chosen process has no link to the business.

Why is this? A top chosen card…

Internally-focused - GamingWorks ABC card

As I said these cards are chosen consistently year in year out. It is time to break out of this internal focus.

For more information, visit the ITIL Practitioner section of our website.

Current rating: 5 (1 ratings)


11 Jun 2015 Rui Soares
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Yes, balancing outside-in with the corresponding capabilities to support what customer needs. Goes well with agile and lean approaches fostering more communication and validation.

I think that as part of IT services gets more "easy" to make or buy, the need for getting closer to what who pays really needs becomes more critical for IT folks who want to stay relevant.

No longer enough doing a good job without confirming it is the right thing to do (never was but customers knew little of IT didn't they?).

I think in this case the cards are right. I hope the current efforts help creating the environment for this. Practitioners need to get out of ITIL super-power coats.
3 Apr 2016 ianclayton
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As someone who has worked with the business in recent years to refine my understanding of outside-in, serving on their worldwide advisory board, its so encouraging and refreshing to begin to see the term outside-in aside a conversation on ITSM and ITIL. At last. Seems like now might be a good time of me to resurrect the Outside-In Service Management course...
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