Tuesday 6 December 2011

The 3 Secrets of ITIL Success

One of the most talked about blog posts this year has been Stephen Mann's Top 50 ITIL Adoption Mistakes. I don't know why I've even bothered to put the link in, because you've almost certainly read it already. 

The bulk  of those 50 mistakes are symptoms of ITSM failure, not the root causes. Not making those mistakes doesn't necessarily guarantee success.

Looking back on my twenty odd years of experience in ITSM it strikes me that what is really interesting is the truth of a statement Ivor Evans made many years ago.

"There are only a few ways to succeed with ITIL but many ways to fail"

When I look at the ITSM initiatives I've seen succeed they have all had the same three basic characteristics in common. 

So what are they?

Timing and  Context

The secret of both great comedy and great ITSM is timing. The secret of many great ITSM initiatives is that they were launched at just the right time to exploit favorable tides and winds in the life of the organisation. Conversely many projects that were essentially sound have floundered because the time wasn't right. So what is the right time? 

Here are some pointers:
  • There is a burning bridge such as a merger/de-merger - preferably one with direct implications for the whole organisation, not just IT
  • The organisation is in a  period of positive disruption, for instance following the appointment of a new CEO
  • Key stakeholders are already pressing for change, especially customers and suppliers
  • Senior management have a bigger agenda that ITSM happens to align with.
Don't believe the "We succeeded because we got senior management buy in" line, the number of ITSM projects that can really claim to have created that senior management buy in can probably be counted on one hand. What the successful ITSM initiatives do is latch on to agendas that senior management have already bought in to.

People and Partners

Without exception the successful ITSM projects I've seen have owed a large part of their success to one or more key individuals who:
  • Understood the organisational culture
  • Managed according to the real world needs and resources not a fictional project plan
  • Remembered they were employing consultants and tool vendors because of their past experience and listened to their advice rather than using them as a bottle washer.
  • "Got" ITSM but without being ITIL bores
  • Cared, but made hard decisions when they had to
The same criteria could be applied to their key partners in the business, in their suppliers and  their advisers, whether consultants or tool vendors. 

And the third?
  • Training? Useful but not essential
  • New ITSM tool? Useful but not essential
  • Consultants?  Useful but not essential
  • Having me on their team.....pure coincidence, I'm sure*
There isn't a third. That's it. But no one would read an article on "The 2 Secrets of ITSM Success"

*for my US readers I should point out this is an example of self deprecating British humour.I like to believe that having an adviser  like myself who can inspire new ways of thinking, bring an external perspective to break up endemic group think and challenge well intentioned but flawed ideas is actually pretty much essential to success. I'm also grateful to Ivor for pointing out my spell checker had replaced "deprecating" with "depreciating" and for providing me with the exact wording of his quote.


  1. When will the ITIL influenced ITSMers realize its not about implementing anything at all! In fact thats where I start when it comes to why things fail. ITSM is about IT and SM - or the application of service management as created by the product marketers of the 1970s and 1980s to the challenges of an IT organization.

    Now why would anyone do that? because they have realized they are a service business, not a process factory, or an IT organization performance managed as a service provider organization. As such, they now need a service management system (read holistic approach) to offering, contracting, delivering and supporting information systems as services.

    If ITSMers care to do their homework, and by that I mean find and read the real sources of service management, they will find the customer first and foremost in the thinking.

    So I suppose what I am trying to say is most 'projects' fail because they are projects with an implied start and end. They embody some genetic trait IT folks have to implement something. This encourages inside-out mechanical thinking.

  2. Ian,

    Did I use the I word without realising it?

    As you well know I'm broadly in agreement with you. I actually tried quite hard to use alternative terminology that embraces both the reality that for the first half of my ITSM career the entire industry was fixated on implementing ITIL v1 processes, and the view that ITIL projects have inherent flaws (as I've blogged already on this site


    I suspect there could be some interesting research to be done on the fate of highly lauded ITIL implementations a year or so after the key movers have moved on to work for consultancies or vendors.

  3. Yep. I have seen the same situation. But maybe there are three separate things needed to make a successful change, I think you just listed these as two:

    1) There is the window of opportunity
    2) Management has seen the light
    3) There is the one key person who really commits to the work of getting things done


  4. Aale, If you mean business management has seen the light then yes, I saw that as a key provider of the window of opportunity rather than a separate factor, but yours works as a list of three.

    I agree it only takes one key person to make it happen, but lots of people can stop it happening.

  5. You share the nice information about the company business.You create the lifestyle luxury.

    Bedrijf verkopen & Management buy in