Plan, Do, Stop! Why ITSM Implementations Fail

You learn something every week. My big learning moment this week was when I sat in on a panel debate hosted by Michelle Major-Goldsmith at the Service Desk Show at Earls Court. The panel, made up of Paul Wilkinson (Gaming Works), Kevin Holland (UK Public Sector) and Stephen Mann (Forrester) debated the success (or otherwise) of ITIL adoption in IT organisations. It was alarming to say the least.

First the good news: in a recent survey of 491 members of the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF), Forrester found that ITIL beneficially improved service productivity (85%), quality (83%), business reputation (65%), and cost savings (41%). However over 50% of service management implementations fail! I’ve captured some of the discussion and key points to share with you as well as our own experiences working as service management consultants out in the field.

One of the top reasons is that IT professionals often fail to understand that, pivotal to our success, is recognising the needs of our business and being able to articulate how the implementation of service management can improve service delivery – with direct and measurable benefit to the business. To bring this message home Paul Wilkinson challenged to twenty or thirty ITIL Experts in the audience to define “a service” – pretty basic stuff taught on the first day of an ITIL Foundation Course. None could!

A SERVICE is a means of delivering VALUE to customers by facilitating OUTCOMES customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific COSTS & RISKS. *

Around 85% of the people in the room claimed to hold a Foundation certificate in ITIL Service Management. About 20% of the group offered that they held advanced qualifications. Yet many of them indicated that they were not seeing value from their training investment.

I’ve written before about training and education being different facets of learning. It’s the difference between know how and know why. Education is giving out information and communicating to your students. Training is about putting the knowledge into practice and building skills. Sadly this confirmed our fears – very few organisations engage suitably qualified organisations to help show them how it’s done.

Paul provided an interesting anecdote about the CIO who wanted to recruit service management people but (sensibly) refused to do so based on a CV of ITIL qualifications; instead he directed the recruitment consultants to, ‘Send me a CV that describes how the candidate delivered valuable outcomes to his/her customer’. Rather than the usual piles of CV’s, he had just a few to select from.
So who is to blame for this appalling mismatch of aspiration and achievement? In, short – all of us!

  • IT staff – just wanting the certificate without thinking about how to use the knowledge gained to deliver value back at the workplace.
  • The line manager – failing to support the after training experience by providing opportunities to test and develop the knowledge gained in the classroom.
  • The CIO – who didn’t explain how the training would support the organisation’s vision and strategy. ITIL certification becomes a tick box exercise and frankly a waste of the organisation’s s money!
  • The Training Providers – who teach by rote, focusing on the exam and not able to offer real-world experience.
  • The official ITIL Accreditor and the Examination Institutes – for the format of the syllabi and examinations.

ITIL processes alone will not deliver success. It’s all about recognising value. Be clear of the benefit you will gain versus the cost of implementation. Test the value of what you do and how you do it!

Most IT organisations succeed with the most commonly adopted processes (Incident, Problem and Change Management but then it gets much more difficult when they need to talk to their customer. Engaging in Business Relationship or Service Level Management is beyond their skill levels. All too often we are afraid of asking the customer their view on what we do for fear we will hear things we’d rather not know. This is risky! Organisations that do this end up making ‘improvement’s that were neither warranted nor required.

Paul concluded paraphrasing W. Edwards Deming, all too often we: Plan, Do, Stop!


* Quote from ITIL Core Guidance Service Lifecycle books, copyright Cabinet Office 2011