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Reader's manual: ITIL 4 Practice Guide


Reader's manual: ITIL 4 Practice Guide


  • Practice
  • ITIL

January 21, 2020 |

 16 min read

  • Practice
  • ITIL

This reader's manual is designed to help readers understand and use the ITIL 4 practice guides.

1. About this document

ITIL 4 has been created to help organizations meet increasing demands from the current complex digital environment. This reader's manual is designed to help readers understand and use the ITIL 4 practice guides. It provides an overview of their structure, content and key concepts. It also explains how the practice guides support ITIL 4's qualification scheme and associated publications.

1.1 ITIL 4 qualification scheme

The ITIL 4 qualification scheme comprises:

  • ITIL Foundation
  • ITIL Specialist modules:
    • Create, Deliver and Support
    • Drive Stakeholder Value
    • High-velocity IT
  • ITIL Strategist
  • ITIL Leader
  • ITIL Master.

To obtain the designation ITIL Managing Professional (ITIL MP), the professional must complete all modules in ITIL Specialist and ITIL Strategist. To obtain the designation ITIL Strategic Leader (ITIL SL), the professional must complete the ITIL Strategist and ITIL Leader modules.

1.2 The ITIL 4 core publications

The ITIL 4 publications which support the ITIL 4 qualification scheme include:

  • ITIL Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition
  • ITIL Specialist: Create, Deliver and Support
  • ITIL Specialist: Drive Stakeholder Value
  • ITIL Specialist: High-velocity IT
  • ITIL Strategist: Direct, Plan and Improve
  • ITIL Leader: Digital and IT Strategy
  • ITIL practice guide library.

Table 1.1 provides a summary of what is covered by these publications; Figure 1.1 shows how ITIL Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition and the ITIL practice guides underpin the more specialized publications.

Figure 1.1 The ITIL 4 publications

Table 1.1 Content of ITIL 4 publications

ITIL FoundationProvides an overview of the key concepts of IT service management (ITSM) and ITIL 4, including the service value system (SVS) and its components, the guiding principles, and continual improvement. ITIL Foundation also provides a brief overview of all 34 ITIL 4 practices. It does not refer directly to the practice guides, which are not examinable at Foundation level.
ITIL Specialist and ITIL
Provide guidance on specific domains of service management and the application of ITIL 4 in specific organizational contexts.
ITIL LeaderProvides guidance on leading an organization in a digital service economy.
ITIL practice guide libraryIncludes two layers of publications:
  • The 34 practice guides. A collection of guides with a common structure which describe the 34 ITIL 4 practices. These practice guides are referenced in all Specialist, Strategist, and Leader publications and may also contribute to ITIL 4 syllabuses. Note that selected content from the practice guides may be examinable.
  • Supplementary practice publications. A continually growing collection of papers which provide detail on methods, tools, and techniques; case studies, templates, and examples to help ITSM practitioners. These publications are not referenced in the ITIL 4 books, and their content is not examinable.

1.3 The examination syllabuses

Each ITIL Specialist, Strategist, and Leader syllabus is based on content from two sources:

  • the respective book (of the same name)
  • a selection of content from the practice guides.

Not all of the practice guides contain examinable content, and none of the practice guides are fully examinable. Refer to the individual syllabuses for details on the examinable content in each ITIL 4 qualification.

1.4 The ITIL 4 Practice Guides

1.4.1 ITIL practices


A set of organizational resources designed for performing work or accomplishing an objective.
These resources are grouped into the four dimensions of service management

Practices are important components of an organization’s SVS. They contribute to the service value chain activities and ensure that the organization achieves its goals.

ITIL Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition provides a brief overview of every practice. The other ITIL 4 publications describe how the practices can be applied in various contexts. Details of each practice are provided in the ITIL 4 practice guides.

Each practice guide provides structured information about one ITIL practice. Practice guides may be complemented by supplementary publications such as templates and detailed descriptions of methods and techniques.

1.5 A common structure

All ITIL 4 practice guides follow the same structure, featuring five main sections:

  • general information
    • purpose and description
    • terms and concepts
    • scope
    • practice success factors
    • key metrics
  • value streams and processes
    • how the practice contributes to service value chain activities
    • the processes and activities of the practice
  • organizations and people
    • roles, competencies, and responsibilities
    • organizational structures and teams
  • information and technology
    • information exchange: inputs and outputs
    • automation and tooling
  • partners and suppliers
    • relationships with third parties involved in the practice
    • sourcing considerations.

The remainder of this reader’s manual explains the key terms used in the practice guides and the assumptions that were made when the guides were designed and written. This information will help readers to navigate and use the practice guides.

It is important to remember that, although each practice guide helps organizations to build a sound foundation in that particular practice, the guidance it contains is not exhaustive; there are always opportunities for further nuance and innovation.

2. General information

The general information section covers the following areas:

  • purpose and description
  • key terms and concepts
  • scope
  • practice success factors
  • key metrics.

2.1 Practice purpose and description

Each practice begins with a purpose statement. The purpose statement is a brief description of the role that the practice fills in an organization.

The purpose statement explains what may be derived from the practice, although the practical implementation of that practice may differ from what is described in ITIL 4, depending on the needs of the organization. Practices may be combined, split, or only partially implemented.

The purpose statement establishes the scope for the practice guide that follows, and the practice guide will cover all of the elements mentioned in the purpose statement.

The purpose statement is supplemented with additional descriptions of the practice. The purpose and description information align with the information that is presented in the ITIL® Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition publication, although additional detail may be provided in the practice guide. Table 2.1 provides some examples of purpose statements.

Table 2.1  Examples of purpose statements

Incident managementTo minimize the negative impact of incidents by restoring normal service operation as quickly as possible.
Problem managementTo reduce the likelihood and impact of incidents by identifying actual and potential causes of incidents and by managing workarounds and known errors.
Service level managementTo set clear business-based targets for service levels, and to ensure that delivery of services is properly assessed, monitored, and managed against these targets.

2.2 Terms and concepts

Each practice guide includes key concepts that are specific to the practice being described. This section usually also introduces key terms and definitions. Key concepts and the associated terms that are included in the practice guides are:

  • specific to the practice
  • important for fulfilling the purpose of the practice
  • applicable in most scenarios where the practice is applied.

Some examples are provided in Table 2.2

Table 2.2 Examples of terms and concepts

PracticeKey terms and concepts
Incident management
  • incident
  • escalation
  • workaround
Problem management
  • problem
  • known error
Service level management
  • service level
  • service quality
  • service review

Table 2.2 Example of terms and concepts

Key concepts may differ in their nature and in the structure of their description. Definitions introduced in the ITIL® Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition publication and the associated glossary are not altered but may be amended, with further commentary, in the practice guides. Definitions introduced in the ITIL 4 Specialist and Strategist publications also match the definitions provided in the practice guides.

2.3 Scope

The scope section provides a list of activities and responsibilities that are included in the practice. It also provides a list of adjacent activities and responsibilities that are not included in the practice, with references to the practices where these activities are described.

The ITIL 4 scoping of the practices should not be treated as definitive. Organizations should adapt these recommendations, based on their scale, structures, competencies, and other factors. ITIL 4 practices may be merged or further split when institutionalized in the organization.

For example, some activities included in the scope of the change enablement practice are:

  • planning individual change workflows, activities, and controls
  • scheduling and coordinating all ongoing changes
  • communicating change plans and progress to relevant stakeholders
  • assessing change success, including outputs, outcomes, efficiency, risks, and costs.

Examples of activities that are not included in the change enablement practice are listed in Table 2.3.

ActivityPractice guide
Costs control, financial evaluation of changesService financial management
Management of projectsProject management
Management of organizational changeOrganizational change management

Table 2.3 Example activities outside the scope of the change enablement practice

2.4 Practice success factors

Each practice guide includes a number of Practical success factors (PSFs).

Practical success factor
A complex functional component of a practice that is required for the practice to fulfil its purpose.

A PSF is more than a task or activity; it includes elements from all four dimensions of service management. A PSF can also be defined as ‘a key sub-practice’. The nature of the activities and resources of PSFs within a practice may differ, but together they ensure that the practice is effective. Table 2.4 gives some examples of PSFs for various practices.

Table 2.4 Examples of practice success factors

PracticePractice success factors
Incident management
  • Detecting incidents early
  • Resolving incidents quickly and efficiently
  • Continually improving the incident management approaches
Problem management
  • Identifying and understanding problems and their impact on services
  • Optimizing problem resolution and mitigation
Service level management
  • Establishing a shared view of target service levels with customers
  • Overseeing how the organization meets the defined service levels through the collection, analysis, storage, and reporting of the relevant metrics for the identified services
  • Performing service reviews to ensure that the current set of services continues to meet the needs of the organization and its customers
  • Capturing and reporting on improvement opportunities, including performance against defined service levels and stakeholder satisfaction.

2.5 Key metrics

Organizations need appropriate methods for determining the degree to which a practice is achieving its objectives, or how well the practice (or some part of it) is contributing to the SVS.

Each practice guide provides ways to measure the success of the practice through the use of key metrics.

A measurement or calculation that is monitored or reported for management and improvement

When using the practice metrics, consider the following points:

  • The effectiveness and performance of the ITIL 4 practices should be assessed within the context of the value streams that each practice contributes to. However, the practices’ potentials are defined by their design and the quality of the resources, which can be measured and assessed in any context.
  • Metrics are insufficient for assessment and decision-making. To be used as an indicator, a metric must have a pre-defined target value and may also have a tolerance. Each organization will define its own target values and tolerances; these cannot be taken from ITIL 4 or any other publication.

ITIL 4 provides sample key metrics (that may be used as indicators) and related measurement suggestions for each ITIL 4 practice. These are not prescriptive and should be adapted to each organization’s objectives and practice design.

Table 2.5 provides examples of key metrics for various practices. More details on key metrics can be found in the measurement and reporting practice guide.

Table 2.5 Examples of key metrics

PracticeKey metrics
Incident management
  • Time between incident occurrence and detection
  • User satisfaction with incident handling and resolution
Change enablement
  • Average time of change realization per change model
  • Business impact of change-related incidents
  • Stakeholder satisfaction with realization of individual changes
Service level management
  • Percentage of SLAs that are overdue for review
  • Customer satisfaction with service reporting
  • Service improvement productivity indexa

a (N+C)/(O+C) – see the measurement and reporting practice guide for explanation and examples.

3. Value Streams and processes

This section covers the following areas:

  • the contribution of the practice to service value chain activities
  • the processes and activities of the practice.

3.1 Value stream contribution

Each practice guide includes details of the practice’s contribution to the service value chain. This is based on the overview provided in ITIL® Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition .

Although the most common contributions of the practice to the service value chain are described, the list is not exhaustive. The heatmap provided in each practice guide should not be treated as implementation guideline and should be adapted to the architecture and SVSs of each organization.

3.2 Processes

Each practice guide includes processes and activities that may be necessary to fulfil the purpose of that practice. Some examples of processes for particular practices are given in Table 3.1.


A set of interrelated or interacting activities that transform inputs into outputs. Processes define the sequence of actions and their dependencies.

Table 3.1 Examples of processes

Incident management
  • Incident handling and resolution
  • Periodic incident review
Problem management
  • Proactive problem identification
  • Reactive problem identification
  • Problem control
  • Error control
Service level management
  • Management of SLAs
  • Oversight of service levels and service quality

Some practice guides also include descriptions of procedures, which outline commonly recognized and recommended ways of performing processes.


A documented way to carry out an activity or a process.

The processes and procedures described in the practice guides highlight areas that organizations may find beneficial and may inspire an organization to redefine its own process and procedures. However, if adopted, they should always be adapted to the organization’s architecture, needs, and objectives.

Illustrative workflow maps are provided for some simple processes1. Figure 3.1 shows an example of a workflow map for the problem control process.

Image of Figure 3.1 showing workflow of the Problem Control Process

Figure 3.1 Workflow of the problem control process

This section also includes a list of the inputs, activities, and outputs for each process. The change lifecycle management process is shown in Table 3.2 as an example.

Table 3.2 Inputs, activities, and outputs of the change lifecycle management process

Key inputsActivitiesKey outputs
  • Change requests
  • Change models and standard change procedures
  • Policies and regulatory requirements
  • Configuration information
  • IT asset information
  • Service catalogue
  • Service level agreements (SLAs) with consumers and suppliers/partners
  • Financial guidelines and constraints
  • Risk information
  • Capacity and performance information
  • Continuity policies and plans
  • Information security policies and plans
  • Change registration
  • Change assessment
  • Change authorization
  • Change planning
  • Change realization control
  • Change review and closure
  • Change records
  • Change schedule
  • Change review reports
  • Changed resources and services

4. Organizations and people

This section describes the following areas:

  • roles, competencies, and responsibilities
  • organizational solutions and teams (specific to the practice).

4.1 Roles, competencies, and responsibilities

The practice guides do not describe the practice management roles such as practice owner, practice lead or practice coach. The practice guides focus on specialist roles specific to each practice. The structure and naming of each role may differ from organization to organization, so any roles defined in ITIL should not be treated as mandatory, or even recommended. Remember, roles are not job titles. One person can take on multiple roles and one role can be assigned to multiple people.

Roles are described in the context of processes and activities. Each role is characterized with a competency profile based on the model shown in Table 4.1.

Table 4.1 Competency codes and profiles

Competence codeDescription
LLeader. Activities and skills associated with this competence include decision making, delegation, overseeing other activities,
incentives and motivation, and evaluating outcomes.
AAdministrator. Activities and skills associated with this competence include the assignment and prioritization of tasks, record keeping,
ongoing reporting, and basic improvement initiatives.
CCoordinator/Communicator. Activities and skills associated with this competence include the coordination of multiple parties,
communication between stakeholders, and the running of awareness campaigns.
MMethods and techniques expert. Activities and skills associated with this competence include the design and implementation of work
techniques, the documentation of procedures, consulting on processes, work analysis, and continual improvement.
TTechnical expert. This competence focuses on technical (IT) expertise and expertise-based assignments.

The competence profile for each role is formed of one or more competence codes shown in Table 4.1, arranged in order of importance. For example, ‘MC’ means ‘main competency: methods and techniques expert, secondary competency: coordinator/communicator’. Examples of competency profiles for various roles are provided in Table 4.2.

Process activityResponsible role(s)Competency profileSpecific skills
Process: Management of service level agreements
Definition of customer requirementsService owner
Service designer
Service architect
Relationship manager
CTAGood knowledge of the service consumer’s business

Good knowledge of the service provider’s portfolio

Communication and coordination
Visibility analysisService owner
Product owner
Service designer
Service architect
Supplier manager
Technical expert
TCBusiness analysis

Risk analysis

Good knowledge of the service provider’s portfolio
Drafting an SLAService designer
Relationship manager
Service owner
CATGood knowledge of the service provider’s portfolio

Good knowledge of the products, including their
architecture and configuration

Business analysis

Table 4.2.1 Example competence profiles

4.2 Organizational structures and teams

The practice guides may describe organizational models for the practices, if there are recognized, common solutions in the industry. However, these are only examples; each organization should design its structures and teams according to its own architecture and objectives. This also applies to the naming of teams. Some examples are given in Table 4.3.

Table 4.3 Examples of teams and structures

PracticeTeams and structures
Incident managementTiered versus flat team structures
Problem managementProblem manager as a job titlea
Change enablementChange authority teams

a Depending on the needs of the team structure, someone could act as a problem manager for some of the time, or someone could be hired specifically to be a full-time problem manager.

5. Information and technology

The information and technology section covers the following areas:

  • information exchange
  • automation and tooling.

5.1 Information exchange

In each practice guide, the information and technology section describes the key information used by the practice. The lists are not exhaustive, but include the most common inputs to the practice. Some examples are give in Table 5.1.

Table 5.1 Examples of key information used by practices

PracticeKey information about the practice
Incident management
  • Architecture and design of services
  • Partners and suppliers information, including contract and SLA information on the services they provide
  • Policies and requirements which regulate service provision
  • Stakeholder satisfaction with the practice
Change management
  • Services and their architecture and design
  • Proposed changes, including:
    • expected benefits for the consumers and the organization
    • user stories
    • estimated time and cost of change realization
    • regulations affecting the change
    • lessons learned from similar changes in the past
Service level management
  • Ongoing service delivery, including information about:
    • the current operational status of services
    • incidents
    • planned and ongoing changes
    • user and customer satisfaction

Table 5.1 Examples of key information used by practices

5.2 Automation and tooling

Each practice guide includes recommendations on automation and tooling. These recommendations are mapped to the process activities within each practice against the available means of automation, key functionality of the tools, and impact of the automation on practice effectiveness. ITIL 4 does not recommend specific tools nor describe the tools and functions attributed to specific vendors or solutions. As an example, Table 5.2 shows some recommended automation solutions for the change lifecycle management process.

Table 5.2 Examples of automation and tooling recommendations

Process activityMeans of automationKey functionalityImpact on the effectiveness of the process
Change registrationTicketing and workflow systems

Backlog management tools

Kanban boards
Enabling and controlling workflow for changes

Prioritization of backlog and workflow management

Workflow visualization
Very high, especially for large volumes of changes
Change assessmentTicketing and workflow systems

Collaboration tools

Resource planning tools
Formalization and structuring of the assessment,
providing more accurate and solid data for authorization
Medium to high, especially for processing
complex changes manually
Change authorizationTicketing and workflow systems

Collaboration tools
Quick and remote traceable approvalHigh, especially for delegated change authority
of high velocity changes

6. Partners and suppliers

The partners and suppliers section covers the following areas:

  • relationships with third parties involved in the practice
  • sourcing considerations for the practice.

6.1 Partner relationship management

Very few services are delivered using only an organization’s own resources. Most, if not all, depend on other services which are often provided by third parties. Relationships and dependencies introduced by supporting services are described in the practice guides for service design, architecture management, and supplier management.

It is important to ensure that dependencies on third parties do not limit practice performance. This section may include recommendations on agreements, information exchanges, system interfaces, responsibilities, and other solutions that can help to establish effective and beneficial relationships with partners and suppliers when certain components of a practice are outsourced.

This section is included in the practice guides where there are generally recognized, effective solutions specific to that practice.

6.2 Sourcing considerations

Most practice guides outline which of the relevant practice’s capabilities, roles, and resources may be outsourced, with an explanation of the risks and benefits of outsourcing in each case. These recommendations aim to help organizations, but cannot be treated as a model to follow. Sourcing decisions should take many internal and external factors into account; it is impossible to provide a universal solution.

7. Important reminder

Most of the content of the practice guides should be taken as a suggestion of areas that an organization might consider when establishing and nurturing their own practices. The practice guides are catalogues of things that organizations might think about, not a list of answers. When using the content of the ITIL 4 practice guides, organizations should always follow the ITIL 4 guiding principles:

  • focus on value
  • start where you are
  • progress iteratively with feedback
  • collaborate and promote visibility
  • think and work holistically
  • keep it simple and practical
  • optimize and automate.

More information on the guiding principles and their application can be found in section 4.3 of the ITIL® Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition publication.

8. Acknowledgements

Axelos Ltd is grateful to everyone who has contributed to the development of the practice guides and this manual. These materials incorporate an unprecedented level of enthusiasm and feedback from across the ITIL community. We will continue develop these publications based on the ongoing feedback from the readers.