Monday, 1 February 2010

The Rise of the Instant ITIL Expert

Back in November I presented a session at the itSMF UK's conference on getting the right people involved in your  ITSM initiative. One of the key themes was how do you tell the heroes from the villains within your organisation.

There seem to be a lot of self styled ITIL gurus around these days and it can be equally difficult to identify who to trust, so here is my personal opinion about just some of the types to be wary of.

The Retrospective ITIL Expert
This one claims that they've been using ITIL for years, but when pushed you discover they've only recently been  qualified and appear to know little about the history of ITIL or what it is really trying to achieve. Of course they'll then tell you that ITIL is only common sense and their practical experience trumps ITIL

ITIL by the v3 Book
This one argues everything against the specific wording of ITIL v3 and appears to be oblivious to the fact that just about anybody who was involved with v3 will cheerfully, in private at least, admit it has flaws and omissions. They rarely seem to be aware that ITIL existed before v3 or that rather like another well known book you can usually find an out of context quote to suit whatever position you chose to take.

The Flawed Theorist
Theory is good, ITSM deserves a better underlying theoretical model than it currently has. The theorist, however, is only interested in their own theory. That  almost nobody else agrees with it is not an indication that the theory night be flawed but of the stupidity of everybody else in the ITIL world. The rest of us are not capable of appreciating the intellectual superiority of their idea. More often than not their great new theory rests on the type of misunderstanding the Foundation exam was introduced to counter. When pressed to prove their theory they will retort it is up to the rest of us to prove them wrong.

The Expert in ITIL and nothing but ITIL
A close relative of the believer in ITIL by the book. These days they are often to be found in the training community. Their entire knowledge of subjects comes from what they know of ITIL.They appear unaware that much of the content and language of ITIL is a sub set of other specialisms. Mostly harmless.

The Wannabe
The wannabe was once forced to attend a workshop as part of an ITIL initiative. At the time they were quite happy to tell everyone what a waste of time it all was, but hey now they are an expert, especially if it means being able to get a job in consulting or training.

The Confidence Trickster
Nothing phases this one, they have absolute confidence in their own expertise and are only too glad to share it if you attend their training courses or reply to them off list. They often award themselves some grandiose but meaningless title . It doesn't matter if you are a newbie making an innocent mistake or a true guru passing on a hard learnt lesson, the confidence trickster will treat you with equal contempt. What they are not so great at it is showing any evidence that they've actually applied ITIL any where or have any real insight.

The Good Guys
As I said in my original presentation the odd thing is that there is a superficial resemblance between the heroes and the villains so why don't we remind ourselves of what you should be looking for in an ITIL expert.

It really is helpful if they can see their pre-ITIL life through an ITSM lens. That includes recognising the things they would have done differently had they known about ITIL at the the time, or even the things they would have done differently in the gap between knowing about ITIL and really understanding ITIL. They'll also be able to identify the things they did right that echo what ITIL says.

V3 Knowledge
The real expert will understand what has changed in V3 and how it relates to the history of ITIL. Of course they will also know about COBIT and ISO/IEC 20000.  They will be able to give you a cogent account of how v3 could be improved but won't lose sight of the benefits of the changes. Not only that but they'll be able to add real value because of their practical knowledge of integrating ITSM throughout various life cycles.

A real expert understands the need for an element of theory, but will also know how to apply and adopt  that theory.

Breadth and Depth of  Expertise
You don't want an advisor who only knows about a small part of the ITIL world, you want someone who can offer input across the full breadth of ITIL. But you also want some depth and a good sign of that is a previous relevant specialism.

True experts are always willing to learn and to improve. They are confident about what they achieved on their last assignment, but are already thinking about what they will do differently next time.

The true ITIL expert does have a certain arrogance, but it is based on demonstrable success. If they hold a strong  view they will explain why.


  1. Great descriptions James. I can think of one more we should add.
    The ITIL Extremest
    This individual believes that either you have to do everything ITIL or don't even bother. They fail to recognize the intentions behind the process or definitions and can not "adapt" to a middle ground working solution.

    I see a lot of these folks in the CMDB space. When progress is failing and I say "just go to paper" they have an emotional melt-down. They lack the ability to put "Theory" (as described above) into a tangible working benefit that can be matured.

    Good stuff,
    -Matt (aka @VigilantGuy on twitter)

  2. Thanks for the comment Matt, and for the positive tweet.
    The difference between the extremist and these types, even the theorist who they often resemble, is that the extremist usually has their heart in the right place. Sadly they can be great people to get the ITIL ball rolling in an organization, but a liability once interest takes off and you need to get things done.

    Equally as dangerous is the extremist's opposite who "adopts and adapts" ITIL to the point where they leave out everything that makes a difference.

  3. Good descriptions! You made me think about the essense of "expertise" in anything really, but certainly in ITIL.

    I think a true expert is a reflective practitioner that acknowledges (and respects) the bigger picture or context within where he/she operates.

  4. RABotha,

    In the original presentation, which was about internal ITIL experts, I wanted to capture something of that. The analogy was a bit laboured but I was trying to compare someone who follows a cook book recipe and the chef who can write a great recipe.

  5. James,

    I just found this article (it was linked to another blog I was reading) and enjoyed the descriptions. After attaining my ITIL Expert certification last year, I was a little worried about which of your categories I might end up fitting into... but was happy to see that the "Accidental ITIL" series of white papers I am writing matches up very well with the Retrospection/Good Guy category you described.

    In fact, your description in that category is probably better than the summary I have at the beginning of my white papers about reviewing my pre-ITIL life through an ITSM lens and discovering where ITIL best practices would have helped my project teams had we known about them at the time.

    Forrest Shue

  6. James,

    You article is spot on. I think I've encountered most in that list. Unfortunately,the "good guys" seem harder to find than the rest.

  7. Thank you for the insight. At one point or another suspect I may have been, and possible am all of the above (hopefully having graduated primarily to the more benefical types mentioned). My main issue now is how to reconcile the concept of a Service Catalogue (Brit spelling is intentional) with the many Request Fulfillment system vendors purporting to offer "an ITIL V3 compliant Service Catalog solution". It creates a lot of confusion among clients. How do we stop vendors from misusing such terms?

  8. Certification spread the knowledge and ITIL certainly does a good job in focussing on Best Practice. However, an ITIL expert would also need common sense and adaptability, something that cannot be taught. This is what essentially differentiates some individuals from the ITIL Expert community. One adopts and adapts ITIL, it's not a sticker that can be attached on an organization. The consultant needs to be clever enough to recognise constraints (cost being the number one constraint), risks and benefits, both short and long term. Ultimately, the important decisions are taken by the chiefs. Therefore, without their buy-in and commitment, an ITIL consultant can merely make suggestions. This should be recognised

  9. I just did some research on ITIL after reading about it in a job ad. Just sounds like they are trying to sell us something rather than provide us with knowledge. Buying these ITIL qualifications or courses or whatever is for there benefit, not ours