How to Overcome Resistance to ITIL

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Don't think you'll have resistance to the IT infrastructure Library (ITIL)? Think again. While CIOs may be ready to employ ITIL, it may take some convincing to bring others on board. In November when I interviewed Patrick Bolger, chief marketing officer of Hornbill, a provider of service-management software, about ITIL, one of the key points he made was to expect cultural resistance to ITIL from both business users and IT. He told me:

One of the difficult things for an organization to make progress with ITIL is securing backing from the business. Even within IT itself, I think you have a culture that's resistant to change. "We've always done it this way, so why should we change how we are doing it?" And from IT's customers within the organization, if they can shout loudly enough and get something today, then why would they want to do something that may make them wait longer to get access to an application?

This idea also comes out clearly in a list of the top 10 types of resistance to ITIL improvement initiatives on the GamingWorks blog. GamingWorks' top 10, gleaned from a survey of 250 ITIL practitioners and from ITIL discussion groups on LinkedIn:

  • No management commitment. This includes managers who offer only lip service to the importance of ITIL and those who withdraw commitment and/or resources when they become frustrated by a lack of clear results.
  • Saying "yes," but meaning "no." People who promise to follow a new ITIL procedure of use of a new tool but do not.
  • "ITIL will never work here." A general resistance to ITIL and/or a lack of belief that ITIL will make a difference.
  • No focus on continual improvement. ITIL is instead treated as a "plan, do, stop" project.
  • ITIL itself, rather than what it will achieve, is the objective.
  • IT thinks it doesn't need to understand the business to make a business case for ITIL.
  • Preference to follow current procedures rather than adopting new ones.
  • Not being able to demonstrate the value of ITIL to the business.
  • Throwing ITIL solutions over the wall and hoping people will follow them.
  • Everything has highest priority.


At least half of the list relates to pushback from IT and from business users. You can read many specific instances of these pushback scenarios by clicking through to a compilation of some of the points made by members of ITIL groups on LinkedIn. Some of the comments paint a pretty scary picture, but don't get too discouraged. They also offer some ideas on making ITIL work, many of which are echoed in my interviews with Bolger and other ITIL experts, a list of ITIL success factors from GamingWorks and a recent SearchCIO.com roundup of real-life ITIL experiences of organizations including Spectrum Health System and Canadian Tire Corp.


The title of my interview with Bolger pretty much says it all: "Taking an Incremental Approach to ITIL." Bolger told me Hornbill recommends "bite-size ITIL." He said:

We start with a tool, with the option to upgrade at any time. People are sill focusing on getting the basics right, so we sell them a tool that does incident, change, problem and service-level management. We say, "When you can prove you can operate more efficiently, you can get the go-ahead for more." We advise them not to talk about ITIL, which will probably raise some objections, but to talk about service improvement or "service first" or whatever they want to call it.

Laszlo Takacs, manager of service management at Canadian Tire Corp., one of the sources interviewed in the SearchCIO.com story, also suggests an incremental approach. Says Takacs:

Decide what areas you can get the biggest wins from and where your pain is. Once you define your major problems, look into the processes to get a foundation to start.

For many companies, incident, problem and change management will be the entry point to ITIL, as they can produce quick wins and visible results, something that all the folks represented in the various discussions agree is important to getting both user and management buy-in.


It's also important to involve business and IT in joint discussions to determine tangible ways ITIL can be used to improve the business. Getting people to look at business processes from different perspectives is helpful, learning what their coworkers do and how IT and business interact helps change attitudes, according to GameWorks. Such discussions will bring any resistance to the surface and should ultimately lead to acceptance and behavior change.


Other good ITIL advice:

  • Determine key performance indicators, again through joint discussions.
  • Baseline current performance levels before you start. Without a baseline, "you're trying to measure against a moving target," said Bob Mathers, a principal consultant for Compass Management Consulting.and one of the sources whom I interviewed for a story on ITIL last spring. Measure at a granular-enough level of detail so you can attribute changes to ITIL-enabled tools or processes, and focus on unit costs, quality and productivity.
  • Take time to understand your processes before spending a lot of money on software and ITIL consultants. Tracy Schroeder, vice president of information technology for the University of San Francisco and another of the sources from my story, recommended attending training sessions and using what you learn to analyze and document your organization's processes before making such purchases. The university didn't invest in a new tool until nearly three years into its ITIL initiative, although it now uses several tools from Service-now, a provider of on-demand service-management solutions,
  • Don't worry about moving all your processes to the latest version of ITIL. Spectrum Health Services uses elements of both ITIL version 2 and version 3, according to the SearchCIO.com story. Bolger believes ITIL neophytes should start with v. 2 to get more detailed operational information before moving to v. 3, which incorporates a more strategic approach to service.
  • Consider implementing ITIL with more formal governance practices such as project management, Six Sigma and COBIT.
  • Establish a functional service catalog to get a better handle on the costs of services offered. (Not everyone likes service catalogs. Chargebacks are often employed as an expense-control mechanism in conjunction with service catalogs. As I wrote last week, some experts believe chargebacks can lead to bad decisions because managers become more concerned about reducing their individual costs than doing what is best for the company.)
  • Demonstrate how ITIL saves money. David Mulcahy, director of Enterprise Operations for Kelley Blue Book, told me the company's IT organization was able to create a list of tools that could be eliminated with the move to ITIL. When I interviewed him last spring, nine "random" tools or systems had been cut. So in addition to the measurable reporting and visibility into day-to-day service-desk management and deliverables we gained with ITIL, we've been able to eliminate the license costs of those multiple tools, along with the costs of learning and maintaining them," he said.