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Author  Phil Hearsum, ITSM Portfolio Manager, AXELOS

July 2, 2014 |

 4 min read

  • Blog
  • IT Services
  • Service desk
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  • ITIL

Before any discussion about ITIL's "adopt and adapt" approach, it's important that we dispel some ITIL myths.

The principal myths state that ITIL is:

  • Useful for large organizations only
  • Bureaucratic
  • Time consuming
  • Non-Agile
  • Prescriptive.

Traditionally, ITIL's community of practitioners recognized that the guidance provided in the best practice framework was not a doctrine or a manual to be followed exactly to the letter. Instead, the core principle of applying the framework in a business or organization was - and still is - "adopt and adapt".

In other words, ITIL doesn't prescribe what you must do, because you know best what your business is, what it does and what it needs to achieve. ITIL is there to give you the set of paints and the business is the canvas on which you will create your own ITSM "masterpiece".

When you first start on the ITSM journey it is understandable how some people will look to ITIL's core books for clear guidance on implementing something within their organization and the temptation is to stick rigidly to the guidance. It is beholden on us to demonstrate how this guidance can be tailored to their individual needs and to encourage this as their maturity and confidence grows.

ITIL doesn't pretend to be a set of edicts that answer all IT problems a business or organization faces. All businesses are different and ITIL can provide the flexibility needed for every business' requirements.

What to do with "adopt and adapt"

The principle of adopt and adapt works with your existing systems as well as being flexible enough to handle any new developments your business introduces.

For example, with change it often comes down to your organization's level of risk appetite. If you want to create a more agile approach to change you can instigate a greater volume of standard changes to your IT environment; ITIL allows for that, on the proviso that you understand the risks you're taking.

Adopt and adapt is often the most rewarding element of applying ITIL to IT Service Management. To draw an analogy, when following a recipe to make a good curry for the first time you might end up with a dish that's either (for your tastes) too hot or devoid of flavour; the next time, you adopt and adapt to get it closer to your taste preference. Someone else's taste may be very different and they need to decide what works for them, and this is how ITIL should be applied.

Adopting and adapting to the needs of the Service Desk

Adopting and adapting ITIL is less of an issue than dealing with an entire organization as you are concentrating on a smaller subset of processes.

As a central point of contact for support and access requests, the Service Desk is much less involved in IT strategy and design and will have their own tools to help you adopt and adapt. Most tools for managing processes tie up with ITIL and have the necessary flexibility to use adopt and adapt.


If there is a sticking point, it is often with the perceived sacred parts of ITIL, such as the role of the Change Advisory Board and how that works within the adopt and adapt approach. Also in the area of roles and responsibilities, it is often seen as an inhibitor for small organizations where ITSM professionals have to cover a multitude of roles and functions. It's important to know which roles are less complementary and to avoid allocating both roles to one person. For example, it's preferable that problem and incident managers are not blended into one role, when the principles are not mutually beneficial.

However, if you have limited resources, and those resources need to be responsible for a variety of things, ITIL is not certifying what's right or wrong and there's no rigid, immovable standard that you must obey.


The adopt and adapt principle of ITIL is the building block for how ITSM holds together and the aim of AXELOS is to continue producing a flexible framework that works for ITSM practitioners. Our job is to maintain ITIL's core principles and your job is to adopt and adapt them to meet your needs, based on your thoroughly unique businesses and individual risks.

For further reading on this - and a set of useful questions to ask yourself before implementing any best practice recommendations in your organization, see Ken Gonzalez's blog post "Best Practice: are we missing the point".

ITSM is about enabling the business to achieve its goals. Through ITIL, we are there to enable the business; therefore it needs to be both adoptable and adaptable to every business, complete with all their wonderful quirks and characteristics.