ITIL: What Constitutes Success?

Is it a blog? Is it a musing (that’s not “amusing”)? Or is it just a cheap attempt to pick the brains of others smarter than myself? Does it matter? Can I do anything other than ask questions?

My point (or at least my line of thinking while I plan a couple of ITIL-related Forrester reports) is that we spend a lot of time talking about what to do (or more likely what not to do) when "adopting ITIL," but how often do we talk about whether we have been successful in applying the concepts of ITIL, the processes, and the enabling technology for business benefit?

Maybe it is because we quote the mantra that “ITIL is a journey” and we can’t see a point in time where we can stop and reflect on our achievements (or lack of)? Maybe we segue too quickly from the ITIL-technology adoption project into the firefighting realities of real-world IT service management? Whatever the potential barriers to taking stock, where is that statement that describes what we have achieved and our relative level of success?

Looking at this logically (fatal mistake, I know), assuming (potentially a big assumption) that there was a business case for the “ITIL adoption project” where is the post implementation review (PIR)? Where can we look to see the realization of business benefits (I deliberately didn’t say “IT benefits” BTW)? I’m trying not to be cynical but, even if we forget the formalities of a PIR, how many I&O organizations can quantify the benefits achieved through ITIL adoption? More importantly what has been achieved relative to the potential for achievement? Where did we get to in our desired-future-state?

I appreciate that I am probably flogging the proverbial dead horse talking about the likes of PIRs. So how do you “sell” the resources spent on, and continued to be consumed by, ITIL-based I&O improvement activities back to the business? What would you say if questioned by your CIO, CFO, or CEO in the corridor? Would it be a blurting out of ITIL-based buzzwords and propaganda or do you have the ammunition at your finger tips to fire back on demand?

I’m not anti-ITIL; I just like to look at the reality rather than the theory. And, in this instance, I wonder whether I&O organizations do themselves a injustice by not fully understanding where they were, where they are, and where they could have been (and still could be). Importantly, this is understanding (and communicating) not in IT terms but in the context of delivering business benefits or value.

It’s an interesting question: “ITIL: What Constitutes Success?” What would you say? What have you said? Please let me know.


UPDATE: Two popular ITIL-related blogs:

Other ITIL adoption-related blogs include:

Getting Started With ITIL – The 30-Minute Version

What Next For ITIL?

Top 20 (OK, 50) ITIL Adoption Mistakes

IT Service Management Metrics: Advice And 10 Top Tips


Wrong Question


At the risk of appearing either overly cynical or too snarky, this is the worst question you could possibly ask!

How about this one?
"Do you help your customers have successful outcomes? If so, how?"

If the answer to that question is "no" or "I don't know", then you know where to go to work -- and it's not learning more ITIL!!
I have tremendous respect for the framework, but I don't force it to do tricks that it's incapable of.
Providing an answer the question just posed is one of those tricks.

If the answer is "yes", then we're getting closer to where we can ask the question at hand:
"How does ITIL help me do those things?" or "What does ITIL contribute to my efforts to serve my customer?"

If we want meaningful answers, we should start with a meaningful question.


P.S. I've written extensively on some of the fundamentals of service management (including addressing the question I posed) over at on HDIConnect [ ]

right question for ITSM

If you would change ITIL to IT Service Management, the "what constitutes success" is if the customers of the IT Service Provider receive value. For ITIL it does not work, the success of ITIL is the success of the framework...
So I agree with Ken as well,

but ...

ITSM would not get any traction... getting the word ITIL in there would give better traction in the market. :-(

Success for IT Service Management is if the customers are able to meet their goals in a more efficient and effective way through the services of the IT service provider.
in 10 to 15 years IT will be so fused into the business that I am wondering if we really will have a lot of service providers. IT Service Management = Business Service Management

and that will not apply to IT Service Providers that do only that... our outsourcers... business service management is the same as IT service management.
For me that will be a success of IT Service Management.

Thanks for the comments ...

All good points but I feel that my intended point has probably not been articulated well enough by me.

My post related to the fact that we lap up articles or blogs about what not to do when adopting ITIL but there is very little about measuring the success of attempts to adopt its concepts, principles, and processes.

It's like we read about gun safety, fire the gun, but don't look to see where the bullet(s) went. Did we hit the target or did we maim an unsuspecting bystander or ourselves?

So where is all the positive information that describes ITIL success (in the context of business needs)?

Ready, Fire, Aim...

Which is *exactly* why the question I proposed is so important.

Let's consider your gun example.
A gun is not a purpose, a gun is a tool.

What is the tool used for? There are *too many* potential answers for this -- many of them with a lot of *bias* built in.
Yes, "gun safety" is an important topic, but it lacks context and focus for anything but a "common sense" answer -- "Of course, gun safety is important to us... Sorry we killed a bystander"
Who is using this gun? Why? What are they trying to do?
Right now, we don't know.

The traditional conversation flow is an example of Inside-Out thinking and is *completely backwards*.
We start from "what do we do" and try to work our way to "who" and "why".
If that ever works out well, it'll be because it's either a happy accident or divine intervention.
Neither of these is reliable or predictable, at least for good, consistent results.

It's also not an either/or proposition.
If you look at any/all of what I or @ianclayton have talked about regarding Outside-In thinking, you'll notice that we have *never* said that Inside-Out thinking is bad or unnecessary.
It does need to be tempered with Outside-In thinking to avoid the recurring problems and cognitive traps that we continue to suffer through. We don't do nearly enough of it.

Stephen, we need to redirect these conversations towards the customer perspective and not just play along with the common sense that is prevalent in IT.
I think that if there were lots of examples of "ITIL success (in the context of business needs)", I think we'd hear people trumpeting their success from the highest rooftops! (justifiably so, I'd say)
Further, I'd be willing to bet that any examples of really good wins that might be trumpeted aren't solely based upon ITIL guidance -- it's ITIL + "x".

Let's start with the customer and what they're trying to do. How do/can we help them?
For once, let''s try to answer this question properly and see where it takes us.
I think that if we really do, by the time we get to making decisions about what tools and frameworks are required to help us do that, the task will be much easier... and we'll likely make better choices!

Let's use the frameworks and tools we have at our disposal as the real resources they were intended to be, not the reason why we're doing things.


Organization X had implemented several ITIL processes. It is an organization that grows through mergers and acquisitions. That always caused a lot of issues in IT to merge the different IT organizations and the IT infrastructure. After the implementation of ITIL the next merger was significant easier for IT and noticeable more efficient by the customers of the IT organization. This was not the original reason for implementing ITIL, but it did show its value to the customers.
Biggest value to this organization: winning back the trust of the customers. Some maybe not an outside in example, but definitely clear value and success ....

Customer and Business Outcomes


Forrester needs to put a "Like" button by comments - all of KenGon's and Peter's comments would have a like by them (sorry Ken, I know you so much more by KenGon than Ken :) )... I see ITIL as an input, not a process or output, to what an IT org, internal or commercial, is trying to accomplish. So the success factor, and measurement, should be around; Did we make the customer experience better or more efficient? Did we save the money we said we would? Did we avoid a compliance penalty by leveraging bits where applicable? and then asking REALLY? REALLY? And ultimately, the person writing the check for any investment in ITSM should have written that check with a sense that there would be some return; Happy Customers (Quality, Efficiency, Effectiveness), Greater Agility, Compliance, etc... Putting my business had on; Do I spend this 1 million dollars or 1 million pounds (for you) on ITSM, or do I invest in marketing, transformation (new markets, new products), etc... To me, that's how you measure success. If success is measured merely against a set of books or International Framework- then it is being measured incorrectly and not by the stakeholders that matter....

There - is this some love? :) Have a great weekend

ITIL Value... Business Value=Success

This is a great topic and thanks for resurfacing it... When any of us are measured AND held accountable we tend to work with a greater sense of urgency. I've seen too many people associated with an "ITIL movement" that didn't have any clear measurements in place that demonstrated value in the work they were doing. Value seemed to be measured by how many 'gates' got put in place or how many people got certified or how many training sessions were held or how many people attended the meetings... etc..

With every process there is opportunity for improvement but how often are we taking some time to evaluate whether we should even embark on improving that process.. what value will it provide after our improvement efforts are completed? So back to taking baselines and planning, approving, executing on a plan that may/may not deliver results. Measuring the impact of the efforts.. And when the efforts don't provide improvement, circle back and re-evaluate... when it does, then replicate across the environment..

ITIL has good stuff... but too often too much 'philosophy/discussion/best practice' focus ensues and we lose sight of our current responsibilities, our unique business, our unique demands and we need to understand what is the most appropriate action to take to improve the 'business' situation... and that may or may not be improving an ITIL defined process..

My .02123492 (ok to round up/down)

ITIL is a tool for improving

ITIL is a tool for improving ITSM like a hammer is a tool for building a house.

An ITIL implementation project is as daft as a hammer implementation project.

And measuring the ROI of ITIL is as daft as measuring the ROI of a hammer.

Here's how you implement ITIL: "attention everybody! As of today ITIL is our benchmark framework for ITSM, now get back to work"

ITIL Compliance is Not Defined

Hi Stephan,

Thanks for the article. To your point, one of the long time criticisms of ITIL is that it does not have a clear definition of what it means to be "ITIL Compliant." What this means is that 1) You don't really have a clear understanding of when you're "done" implementing any piece of ITIL and, 2) Anyone can set "the bar" for ITIL implementation as high or as low as they wish (and the reality is that many enterprises set the bar VERY low).

Because there is no clear "ITIL compliance criteria," there is no definition of "success" when you implement ITIL and, therefore, you can simply write the acronym "ITIL" on a piece of paper, hang it on your wall and claim victory. This fact represents a loophole in ITIL that has been and will continue to be taken advantage of by some leaders.

I hope this adds value.

My Best,

Frank Guerino
The International Foundation for Information Technology (IF4IT)