Ownership and owners in ITIL® 4
- White Paper
- IT Services
- Service management
April 17, 2020 |
17 min read
- White Paper
- IT Services
- Service management
In ITIL v3 service management systems, the roles of service owner and process owner are very important. The key word associated with these roles is ‘accountability’, which is emphasized in their definitions.
ITIL v3 definitions:
The concepts of services and processes evolved in ITIL® 4. Services are now closely associated with products; processes are described in the context of management practices. Likewise, the process owner and service owner roles have changed; ITIL 4 conceptualizes product owners and practice owners.
This guidance paper will explore:
- how service ownership relates to product ownership
- how process ownership relates to practice ownership (if there is such thing).
It will discuss the evolution of ownership and owners in ITIL 4 and explain how the new concepts and ideas can be used to improve service management.
2. Product owners and service owners
2.1 THE CONCEPT
ITIL 4 introduced new, evolved concepts to describe how organizations transform resources into services and, eventually, into value. These changes resulted in new definitions for products and services.
A configuration of an organization’s resources designed to offer value for a consumer.
A means of enabling value co-creation by facilitating outcomes that customers want to achieve, without the customer having to manage specific costs and risks.
These definitions do not explain how products and services are related. To prevent confusion, two more concepts should be considered.
A person, or other entity, that is required for the execution of an activity or the achievement of an objective. Resources used by an organization may be owned by the organization or used according to an agreement with the resource owner.
A formal description of one or more services, designed to address the needs of a target consumer group. A service offering may include goods, access to resources, and service actions.
Putting these together, ITIL® Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition describes how organizations use resources to create products and provide services.“The services that an organization provides are based on one or more of its products. Organizations own or have access to a variety of resources, including people, information and technology, value streams and processes, and suppliers and partners. Products are configurations of these resources, created by the organization, that will potentially be valuable for its customers. […] Products are typically complex and are not fully visible to the consumer. The portion of a product that the consumer actually sees does not always represent all of the components that comprise the product and support its delivery.
Organizations define which product components their consumers see, and tailor them to suit their target consumer groups. Service providers present their services to consumers in the form of service offerings, which describe one or more services based on one or more products. […] Different offerings can be created based on the same product, which allows it to be used in multiple ways to address the needs of different consumer groups.”2
Figure 2.1 Service interaction and the band of visibility3
You can read more about the ITIL 4 taxonomy of products and services in Products and service taxonomy in ITIL® 43.
This taxonomy implies at least two possible owner roles: a product owner and a service owner
The product owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product that the development team produces. Product ownership entails establishing and prioritizing requirements and communicating them to the development team. In the context of these software development teams, it is the product owner who liaises and negotiates with the various stakeholders, including consumers. The concept of a product owner also applies to services and service owners.5
A role that is accountable for the delivery of a specific service.
These definitions raise several questions:
- Should the product and service owner roles be combined?
- If multiple services are based on one product, should each service have a different owner?
- If a service is based on several products, how do product owners of those products ensure consistent quality of the service?
Answers to these and similar questions depend on the organization’s:
- structure and operating model
- product and service architecture.
The key purpose of any ownership role is to ensure end-to-end accountability for the outcomes of the managed object.
In service relationships, outcomes are co-created through service delivery and consumption. Any ownership model that does not include responsibility for service consumer satisfaction is limited and fragmented. Such a model may introduce risks of engaging in development and improvement activities that are not focused on value (and are therefore likely to be wasteful).
When a staged, waterfall approach to the management of product and services is adopted, responsibility for enabling the service outcomes is usually assigned to delivery (dev) or operations (ops) teams (those who deliver and support services based on released products). Designers and developers are not involved in this work; their job is considered done when the product is deployed to the live environment and accepted by the delivery and operations teams.
Product owners focus on product development, not service delivery. Where this waterfall approach has been adopted by organizations for digital products and services, it eventually led to the well-known separation of dev and ops teams, management practices, and responsibilities. As the velocity of business and technology development increased, this separation became a serious obstacle and caused many conflicts.
Organizations aiming to achieve more with digital technology recognize the importance of the end-to-end management of the products and service lifecycle, including ideation, delivery, support, and continual improvement. The continual improvement of services leads to continual changes in products, which means that designers and developers are constantly involved in the ongoing service improvement. The line between product management and service management is removed.
“Products and services cannot be managed separately anymore, as services are impossible without products and products are useless if they enable no services.”6
2.2 PRODUCT AND SERVICE OWNER
In a digital service environment, there should be a role responsible for the full lifecycle of a product, as well as the service offerings and services based on the product. This role would include the accountabilities and responsibilities listed in Table 2.1. Although a technically correct title for this role is ‘product and service owner’, it usually is referred to as either a ‘product owner’ or a ‘service owner’.
|Managing the end-to-end product lifecycle, including the delivery of related services||Building effective and healthy relationships within the product team (in a product-based organizational structure)|
|Enabling the agreed service outcomes for key stakeholders||Building effective and healthy relationships between the internal and external teams involved in managing the product (in all types of organizational structures)|
|Ensuring the quality of the product and related services||Effectively using the organization’s management practices to manage the product and related services|
|Ensuring that the product and service management activities are compliant with applicable policies and|
- excellent knowledge of the product architecture
- excellent management and facilitation skills
- good knowledge of policies and regulations applicable to the organization, product, and services
- good knowledge of the organization’s management practices
- good knowledge of the provider organization and its operating model, structure, and strategy
- good knowledge of the technologies used in the product
- good knowledge of the technology and business context of the product and the organization
- good leadership skills
- good understanding of emerging technologies and the ability to balance innovation with customers’ requirements and compliance requirements
- good understanding of service consumers’ organizations, needs, and contexts
- good written and verbal communication skills.
These skills and competencies should be used across the full lifecycle and all steps of the service journey. Therefore, by updating the ITIL v3 definition of service owner into the context of ITIL 4, a new definition
can be derived.
|Proposed definition: Product owner|
A role responsible for managing one or more products throughout their entire lifecycle. This includes the management of all services based on the product.
2.3 POSITION IN AN ORGANIZATION
In digital organizations, the product owner role should be defined for business products and services and include IT and non-IT components and activities.
Where an organization’s dev team and ops team are separated (and their service relationships are basic or cooperative), they can be considered separate organizations with their own service value systems (SVSs) and portfolios of products and services. This means that the role of product and service owner is still relevant for every part of the relationship network.
The product and service owner role is important enough to be supported by a formal position. In organizational structures that are built around products, product owners are likely to manage the product teams. In function-based organizational structures, a formal product (and/or service) management team may be formed, and product owners would have to manage cross-functional activities and form cross-functional teams. However, assigning the role to the manager of a functional team is not recommended because it is likely that this team would receive more of the product owner’s attention than others.
2.4 PRODUCT AND SERVICE OWNERSHIP: SUMMARY
In a digital organization, establishing a product and service owner role to focus on the end-to-end management of products and services is useful. The person in this role should ensure that the organization’s products and related services enable the expected value for key stakeholders. This role is usually more effective in a product-based organizational structure, but it can be adopted by function-based organizations.
3. Practice and process ownership
3.1 From processes to practices
Before 2019, ITIL focused on service management processes. All areas of service management were described as processes. Having adopted the ISO definition7, ITIL v3 defined processes as follows.
ITIL v3 definition: Process
A structured set of activities designed to accomplish a specific objective. A process takes one or more defined inputs and turns them into defined outputs. It may include any of the roles, responsibilities, tools and management controls required to reliably deliver the outputs. A process may define policies, standards, guidelines, activities and work instructions if they are needed.
ITIL v3 also recommended that practitioners should focus on all types of the organization’s resources and capabilities, as Figure 2.2 shows.
Figure 2.2 Examples of capabilities and resources8
ITIL v3’s process-based architecture led to organizations focusing mostly on the processes and controls and neglecting the other areas listed in Figure 2.2.
In ITIL 4, resources and capabilities are described as ‘the four dimensions of service management’. It is emphasized that organizations should effectively manage all four dimensions in order to achieve their objectives and create and deliver products and services. Processes are not enough; every ‘management’ is more than a workflow, more than a set of activities. So, management practices have been introduced, and every ITIL practice guide addresses all four dimensions of service management.
3.2 Process owners and managers
ITIL v3 differentiated between the process owner and process manager roles.
ITIL v3 definition
The process owner role is accountable for ensuring that a process is fit for purpose. […] It is accountable for ensuring that their process is performed according to the agreed and documented standard and meets the aims of the process definition. This role is often assigned to the same person who carries out the process manager role, but the two roles may be separate in larger organizations.9
The process manager role is accountable for operational management of a process. There may be several process managers for one process, for example, regional change managers or IT service continuity managers for each data centre. The process manager role is often assigned to the person who carries out the process owner role, but the two roles may be separate in larger organizations.10
3.3 How do these roles change with the introduction of practices?
Process owners ensure the effectiveness and continual improvement of the process or, more correctly, of the area of management. It is, for example, a role responsible for the effectiveness and continual improvement of incident management in the organization. To fulfil their responsibilities, the process owner cannot focus purely on the workflow. They would need to address the resourcing, teams, involvement of third parties, effectiveness of automation, quality of information, and many other aspects. A good process owner is, in ITIL 4 terms, a practice owner.
Every ITIL practice guide contains information about multiple processes which are specific to that practice. These represent workflows that may be planned and performed simultaneously but that cannot be defined as steps in one process. All processes within a practice contribute to the fulfilment of that practice’s purpose; they are parts of the practice, so are within the scope of the practice owner’s responsibility.
3.4 Practice owner
The practice owner role would typically include the accountabilities and responsibilities listed in Table 2.2.
Table 2.2 Accountabilities and responsibilities of the practice owner role
Designing, effectively fulfilling, and continually improving the practice
Defining, planning, and continually improving the practice’s resources across the four dimensions of service management
Fulfilling the practice purpose and practice success factors
|Ensuring that all relevant teams effectively and |
efficiently adopt the practice
Satisfying key stakeholders
|Managing the effective ongoing operation of the |
practice in the context of the organization’s value
streams (often delegated to the practice manager
Effectively supporting all relevant value streams
Adhering to policies and standards that are defined as part of the practice
Key skills and competencies for the practice owner role include:
- excellent knowledge of the practice, its context, and emerging trends in the industry
- good written and verbal communication skills
- good knowledge of other ITIL management practices
- good knowledge of the organization and its operating model, structure, and strategy
- good knowledge of the organization’s product architecture
- good knowledge of the policies and regulations applicable to the organization and relevant to the scope of the practice
- good knowledge of the technologies used by the organization
- good leadership skills
- great management and facilitation skills.
Practice owners can be supported by practice managers (or practice coordinators). There are two typical approaches to delegation, which can be applied together or individually, depending on the organizational context:
- The responsibility for the ongoing management of the practice in the context of the organization’s value streams can be delegated to practice manager(s) so that the practice owner can focus on the practice’s architecture, improvements, and effective integration into the organization’s SVS.
- Most of the practice owner’s responsibilities can be delegated to practice coordinators, who are responsible for the practice in certain parts (typically territories) of the organization. Practice coordinators may exercise significant flexibility, especially when territories have unique features that make adapting the practice necessary.
By updating the ITIL v3 definition of the process owner role into the context of ITIL 4, a definition for ‘practice owner’ can be derived.
Proposed definition: Practice owner
The practice owner role is accountable for ensuring that a practice fulfils its purpose. This includes managing the practice resources in all four dimensions of service management, effectively integrating the practice into the organization’s value streams, and continually improving the practice.
3.5 Practice and process ownership: summary
In ITIL 4, practices and practice ownership describe what has been done by effective process owners for years. A good process owner (ITIL v3) is a practice owner (ITIL 4). However, a practice owner is responsible for all four dimensions of the practice, not just the processes and workflows. A practice owner is accountable for fulfilling the practice purpose and satisfying relevant stakeholders. This includes effectively integrating the practice in the organization’s value streams.
The evolution of ITIL introduced new and updated terms and concepts, including a new product and service taxonomy and a new practice-based approach to management. These changes triggered changes in the definitions of the key roles, such as process owner and service owner. They reflect the shift from fragmented, control-focused service management to the holistic, value-focused management of digital products and services. For many organizations, the evolution of the process owner and service owner roles to practice owner and product owner respectively is natural and demanded by the overall evolution of the organization.
About the author and contributors
Antonina Klentsova is an experienced ITSM manager and consultant in the international environment, as well as an ITIL expert, organi- zational system coach, and trainer. She is a pioneer and one of the founders of the ITSM community in Belarus. Antonina created the Ap- plyArt method and is passionate about the synergy of best practices in diverse industries such as art, IT, and coaching. As an ITIL 4 author, she also contributes to the ITIL 4 practices and white papers.
Oleg Skrynnik is a managing partner at Cleverics. Oleg has worked in IT for more than twenty years, mainly in management positions. He is experienced in establishing and transforming IT departments in large companies. He applies his professional experience in consulting projects and shares the lessons learned with attendees of his training, masterclasses and business simulations. Oleg co-founded itSMF Russia and is a recognized speaker and author. He won first prize at ITSM in Russia in 2014 and 2017 for his articles and wrote the book DevOps – A Business Perspective, on which the EXIN DevOps Foundation exam is based.
Roman Jouravlev works at AXELOS as a portfolio development manager, responsible for the continual development of ITIL. He joined AXELOS in 2016 after working for more than 15 years in ITSM, mostly in Russia, as a trainer, consultant, quality manager, and (many years ago) service desk manager. Roman has authored and translated several books and many articles on IT service management.
Axelos. (2020). ITIL®4: High-velocity IT. TSO, London. Axelos. (2019). ITIL® Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition. TSO, London.Peftieva, Tatiana. (2020). Products and service taxonomy in ITIL® 4. Axelos. Available at:
- Axelos. (2011). ITIL® Service Strategy, 6.8.2. TSO, London.
- Axelos. (2019). ITIL® Foundation: ITIL 4 Edition, 2.3.1–2.3.2. TSO, London.
- Peftieva, Tatiana. 2020. Products and service taxonomy in ITIL® 4. AXELOS. Available at: https://my.axelos.com/resource-hub/guidance/products-and-service-taxonomy-in-itil-4
- Axelos. (2020). ITIL®4: High-velocity IT, Figure 2.10. TSO, London.
- Axelos. (2020). ITIL®4: High-velocity IT, 4.1.3. TSO, London.
- Peftieva, Tatiana. (2020). Products and service taxonomy in ITIL® 4. AXELOS. Available at: https://my.axelos.com/resource-hub/guidance/products-and-service-taxonomy-in-itil-4
- ISO 9000:2015 defines process as ‘set of interrelated or interacting activities that use inputs to deliver an intended result’.
- Axelos. (2011). ITIL® Service Strategy, Figure 2.4. TSO, London.
- Axelos. (2011). ITIL® Service Strategy, 6.8.2. TSO, London.
- Axelos. (2011). ITIL® Service Strategy, 6.8.3. TSO, London.