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“ITIL doesn’t work!”

Have you ever heard someone say “ITIL’s rubbish, it just doesn’t work”, or something to that effect?

I was talking with a client recently and they said something very like this, but went on to explain that previously ITIL was seen as an end in itself in their organisation, whereas now they’ve changed their focus so that it is a means towards an end, helping to achieve a vision of providing the best experience for IT’s customers. They had found that this change had been liberating and effective for both management and staff alike.

This sums up Silversix’s observations made over years in management and consultancy: ITIL can be a very successful tool, but you have to be clear on why you are wielding the tool (i.e. what you are trying to accomplish), and how you’ll know when/whether you’ve been successful.

While adopting ITIL processes and getting them to a level of ‘maturity’ has helped a lot of organisations, many end up with the sense that ITIL has failed them. I have no doubt that some IT departments will have spent an absolute fortune implementing ITIL processes and tools and achieved very little. This is generally because of IT’s habit of leaping to solutions before properly understanding the problems.

When Silversix begins a consulting engagement, we always establish several key elements up front, including:

  • The objectives – what are we trying to accomplish, what problem are we trying to solve?
  • The measures of success – how will we know we’ve been successful?

Only then do we start to seriously consider solutions, drawing on ITIL if we need to, in combination with good people management and organisational change management practices.

The fact is that ITIL does ‘work’, but often it has just not been applied in the right way and for the right reasons. I believe that any ITIL-based initiative can be made more successful by IT managers consistently focusing on outcomes, and avoiding the temptation of leaping straight into solution mode.

Focus on outcomes

For IT managers it is very easy to leap to solution mode. It’s easy to be seduced by the prospect of saving time by not diligently ensuring you are selecting the right solution, especially since you might well get lucky and choose the right solution anyway. But this ignores the probability that you’ll pick the wrong solution and waste a lot more time later fixing things up.

There’s also the fact that producing a deliverable is easy to measure (‘look, we did it!’) and easy to claim a success for just implementing a particular solution (whether or not it actually achieved anything).

This has been compounded by the fact that many IT managers are drawn to the new ‘shiny thing’ and jump on it like a cat. They just want to buy a package that will magically solve their problem. This approach may have worked for them previously, in the era when simply delivering any attractive new technology was seen as a bonus to IT’s customers. It does not work so well now, and it does not generally work with ITIL.

From the ITIL perspective the propensity to ignore measurable outcomes may have been reinforced by the sales teams of ITIL consulting firms and ITSM toolset vendors encouraging the belief that their ‘solution’ will make everything better, you just need to sign here on the dotted line.

This is all avoidable by making a clear point of making needs and outcomes the focus, rather than solutions and deliverables. You can deliver a sound ITIL based Incident Management process, but actually achieve very little because the problem/objective was not clearly defined up front and therefore the solution was not tailored to solve that problem/achieve that objective.

If however, you have a clear outcome agreed up front, such as ‘improving the satisfaction of our customers with IT support’, you can then:

  • Ensure there are measures in place and take a baseline measure.
  • Tailor your efforts to the outcome, including sanity checking deliverables against the outcome you are seeking and not overlooking things like organisational change management.
  • Measure at the end and compare to the baseline.

You should always get key stakeholders to discuss and agree the desired outcomes up front anyway, otherwise you run a high risk of disappointing at least some of them, and maybe all of them.

The successful IT leaders of tomorrow (and even today) will be a lot less prone to the tendency to ignore outcomes and jump straight to solutions. They will take just a little longer to make sure the solution is the right one. They will end up achieving a lot more for IT and the business and they’ll be a lot more successful in their careers. And they will see ITIL as a tool that can yield great results if it is used the right way.

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