The Road to ITIL Maturity Can Be Rocky

Ann All

With its emphasis on "continuous" improvement, ITIL is a journey, not a destination. Maybe this is why so many IT organizations seemingly struggle with it. They're like the impatient dad who wants to get on the road, eschews taking breaks and hates having business executives constantly asking, "Are we there yet?"


This came out clearly in my recent interview with Patrick Bolger, chief marketing officer of Hornbill, a provider of service management software. Hornbill collaborated with Ken Turbitt of the Service Management Consultancy Group to prepare a survey on ITIL adoption, a copy of which can be obtained by registering here. Hornbill advocates an incremental approach to ITIL, one that builds upon early wins and business buy-in, and doesn't begin with the idea that ITIL can solve all of your service ills. He said:

You need to be realistic. Think big, but start small. Be realistic in terms of where you are today, what you want to achieve in a short time period. Don't underestimate the cultural resistance you're likely to face, and don't forget continual service improvement is what it's all about. If you haven't got the metrics in place to measure where you're going, what you're achieving, what's still going wrong and what you need to address next, then you're unlikely to keep the ball rolling.

Hornbill's survey found that few companies are moving beyond incident management, problem management and change management, suggesting that companies are not moving toward the service lifecycle approach stressed in version 3 of ITIL, which was introduced in 2007. Starting with a clear service strategy is tough for many organizations, said Bolger:

... Things like service design, the concept of actually thinking in advance what kind of availability a service will need, how many customers will subscribe to it, that all makes perfect sense. But in a lot of organizations, there just isn't that type of a strategic planning process. ...

It's better to baseline your biggest pain points and focus on improving those first, he said:

When you're logging problems and predicting stuff and becoming more proactive, then you'll see a significant benefit. As you do it, baseline where you were before. Then you can say, "We need to set up a service catalog. And underpinning that needs to be a CMDB (configuration management database)." Now you can begin to progress your maturity levels, and underpinning it all the way has to be this continual service improvement. I think that's the mistake most organizations make. It's like the ball rolling uphill. You have to have some measures in place, like a block that stops the ball from rolling backwards. So define what you've got in place and what metrics you are going to use to determine the improvements you're making. When you've figured that out, you can plan the improvements you still need to make.

Bolger's remarks dovetail nicely with recommendations from Lee Marshall, a guy who refers to himself on his blog as an "ITIL geek." In a recent post, he uses Shakespeare's "Hamlet" to illustrate five phases of a typical failed ITIL implementation before wrapping with his suggestions for avoiding a similar tragedy. In Bolger's scenario, an overly gung-ho approach is just as damaging as an indifferent one. He describes a fictional company that forces ITIL training on too many people and hires too many consultants.


To successfully move ITIL implementations beyond incident, problem and change management, Marshall says IT must focus on service. He advises:

IT must demonstrate the value it offers to the organization and the best way to start this is to clearly define what IT does for the business. Do this by building an actionable and relevant IT service catalog that clearly articulates all the services that IT provides. ITIL provides basic guidance in this area but engaging someone who has successfully implemented a service catalog in an organization similiar to yours is my recommendation.

Marshall's other suggestions:

  • Enlist the CIO to serve as an executive sponsor for the ITIL initiative.
  • Run the ITIL implementation as a formal project, to ensure it gets maximum visibility.
  • Communicate the benefits of ITIL to all areas of the business, and do it repeatedly using a variety of methods. He notes: "Experts claim that a person needs to see something seven times in seven different ways before the message sticks."
  • Look for quick wins in each stage of an ITIL implementation project.
  • Prepare for pushback. He recommends using the approach to change management espoused by John Kotter, author of business best sellers "The Heart of Change" and "Leading Change."

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