ITSM 101: 5 Ways People Misuse ITIL

Stuart Rance October 3, 2018
- 6 min read

If you follow Twitter and read blogs about IT service management (ITSM), as I do, you will probably have read lots of complaints about ITIL. And yet most of the IT organizations that I work with use it as the basis for how they run IT, and it seems to work very well for them. So why are there so many complaints?

Well, when I read the complaints, they almost always seem to be based on a distorted view of what ITIL is, or what it says you should do. So, before you complain too, think about my first five examples of ways that people misuse or misconstrue ITIL.

Ask yourself if any of them apply to the problems you’re dealing with, and you may discover that there’s something more constructive than complaining that you could be doing instead.

So how do people commonly misunderstand and misuse ITIL?

1. They Focus on Processes

Some people imagine that ITIL is about processes. They put a lot of effort into optimizing these processes, making them more efficient and ensuring that each one meets its goals. What they forget is that no process happens in a vacuum and if you want to be effective you need to think about the big picture and not just about what it says in an ITIL book.

ITIL should help you create value for your customers. What this means is that each and every time you improve a process it should be focused on making things better for those customers, not just on improving the process for its own sake. Ask yourself if you could explain the purpose of a pet improvement to your customers in terms that make sense to them. If the answer is “no”, ask yourself why not.

When working with my customers, I find it very helpful to document the high-level purpose of each process in terms that make sense to their customers. For example, “change management will ensure that changes flow from development to operations in times that meet business needs.” Then I can work with my customer to help them optimize their change management processes in a way that delivers what their customers want. Which is, in fact, exactly what ITIL best practice guidance tells me to do.


2. They Focus on Tools

The second big mistake I see is IT organizations that think an ITSM tool can deliver ITIL. They recognize that they are not managing incidents, problems, and changes as well as they would like, and they decide that the best way to fix this is to buy a new tool, which will solve all their problems.

Of course, this new tool provides remarkably little value, unless the organization first sorts out what they are trying to achieve, and what they will need to do to ensure that this is what the tool delivers. When a new ITSM tool is merely set up to support all the poor working practices that were causing issues with the old tool, it won’t be long before the organization starts to blame the new tool for problems that can only be fixed by putting in place better working practices.

A new ITSM tool will only help you improve if you have done the groundwork properly. Do you understand what improvements you need in your processes, relationships, skills, organization design, and other areas of ITSM? If you are really following ITIL guidance, then the answer will be a resounding “yes.”


3. They Only Cover Service Operation and Service Transition

Some people think that ITIL is just about managing incidents, problems, and changes. These things are important, but they can never be sufficient to ensure that you create value for your customers. If you don’t manage the full service lifecycle, then there will be essential areas that are lacking.

ITIL 2011 describes a service lifecycle:

  • Service Strategy is about understanding markets, engaging with customers, setting direction, defining a portfolio of services, and managing the finances needed to deliver the required value.
  • Service Design is about collecting detailed requirements and designing everything needed to ensure that new or changed services will meet the needs of customers.
  • Service Transition is about taking the design, building the new or changed service, ensuring it’s fit-for-purpose and fit-for use, and moving it to production while managing related risks.
  • Service Operation is about ensuring the service continues to deliver the expected value to customers and users.
  • Continual Service Improvement is about monitoring and improving everything you do in IT, not just processes, but services, skills, organization design, reporting, and every other aspect.

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4. They Assign One Person for Each Role Described in ITIL

ITIL describes many roles, for example each process defines the role of a process owner and a process manager, as well as many roles that are specific to that process. Some people think that every ITIL role should each map to a single job title, carried out by one person, so that’s what they aim for. Then they are surprised to discover that they have created an organization with far too many people trying to do similar things with far too little collaboration.

Let’s take a look at what ITIL actually has to say about roles, before it goes on to describe them.

“Roles are often confused with job titles, but it's important to realize that they are not the same. Each organization will define appropriate job titles and job descriptions that suit its needs, and individuals holding these job titles can perform one or more of the required roles.”


5. They Run Big ITIL Projects

Many years ago, before anybody in IT had heard of Agile, a typical ITIL project could involve a team of dozens of consultants who would take two years or more to document processes, configure ITSM tools, train staff, and “implement” the new ITIL solution. The first time anybody got any value out of the solution would be a few weeks before the end of the project.

However, even IT organizations that still use a waterfall approach to software development, no longer take this approach to ITSM improvements. Expert ITIL practitioners know that everything we do to improve IT services can be delivered in an incremental way.

So, first establish a shared vision of what you are trying to achieve. This will let you take a small step towards your destination. Then take what you learn from that first step to plan and execute the next one. Don’t try to document every step before you start, just keep learning and improving and you will keep getting nearer to your vision.


So that’s five ways that people commonly misunderstand and misuse ITIL. I haven’t finished with the list yet though – and there are five more examples to come in my next ITSM 101 blog. Please look out for that and if you have any comments or questions please let me know in the comments.

Read More: Tips on Getting Started with ITIL


Read other articles like this : ITIL, Service desk, ITSM, ESM, Request Management

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