In part 1 of my series on ITIL® 4, we discussed the changes in the language of ITIL—a language that we’ve all gotten used to over the last decade or more. While our language became common thanks to ITIL, the specific connotations and denotations were sometimes difficult to understand. ITIL v3 and the 2011 revision are voluminous and detailed, despite being “descriptive, not prescriptive.” Just looking through any online discussions of ITIL shows hundreds of “Should I call this X or Y?” questions, and as many different answers as there are people in the discussion.
Partially in order to avoid this type of tail-chasing, and partially to clarify the non-prescriptive nature of the framework, ITIL 4 contains seven guiding principles, a slight condensation from the nine articulated in ITIL® Practitioner Guidance, published in 2016. These principles are meant to elevate our understanding and discussion of service management from the arcane and lay down broader parameters within which there is more clarity and less room for nitpicking and bureaucracy.
The principles are laid out succinctly in ITIL® Foundation, ITIL 4 Edition and begin by taking the focus off process and placing it squarely on value, specifically value for stakeholders. If it can’t be mapped to stakeholder value, the organization might well want to consider why it’s being done and whether it’s worth doing at all.
If it can’t be mapped to stakeholder value, consider why it’s being done and whether it’s worth doing at all.
This does not, however, mean that we need to start over and completely reinvent everything we do; in fact, the second principle tells us to start where you are. What are you already doing that is value-focused? Make sure you incorporate and leverage that as you go forward.
The next guiding principle is clearly a nod to the Agile and DevOps ways of doing things. It has us iterating progress and getting frequent feedback rather than doing large improvement projects that consume resources and often do not produce the desired or expected results, especially in light of changing conditions and circumstances. This principle says that small improvements done frequently are better than large improvements done periodically, which consume greater time and effort.
How is that frequent feedback gathered? By keeping work visible and collaborating across teams and boundaries, as the fourth guiding principle tells us. This principle specifically calls out hidden agendas and emphasizes the value of trust. Although not explicitly mentioned in this principle or its brief explanation in the Foundation book, collaborative and visible ways of working also tend to discourage the creation of silos—those confined areas of unshared knowledge and expertise that exist in many organizations, and which stifle progress, confuse workers, and ignore the goal of value to the organization and its stakeholders.
To further illuminate the stance that broader thinking is better than narrow, the fifth principle tells us to be holistic in our thinking and our work. We need to recognize that the services we provide are interdependent and interconnected. Working on one aspect of a service might produce exactly the opposite of the desired result by getting things out of sync and out of flow. This includes people, process, and technology, as well as the agreements that are made within the organization and the interactions among all of these. An organization consists largely in the relationships among its parts. When those parts are not working together, the organization suffers.
It’s good “common sense” to keep it simple. The sixth guiding principle says that and adds practical. Don’t add clutter and confusion. Don’t measure unnecessarily (i.e., don’t capture metrics just because you can). Stay focused on outcomes, always keeping stakeholder value in mind.
The seventh and final principle advocates for optimization and automation. Eliminate waste, and use technology to its best effect.
These guiding principles don’t tell the whole story of ITIL 4 of course, but they do define the direction and thrust. They are intended to keep us focused on the right things. Many of us who studied ITIL v3 could name all the books and many or all of the processes. If you are going to remember something essential to ITIL 4, let it be the seven guiding principles.
Looking for more ITIL education? Service Management World offers a pre-conference workshop and several sessions on ITIL.
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Roy Atkinson is one of the top influencers in the service and support industry. His blogs, presentations, research reports, white papers, keynotes, and webinars have gained him an international reputation. In his role as senior writer/analyst, he acts as HDI's in-house subject matter expert, bringing his years of experience to the community. He holds a master’s certificate in advanced management strategy from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business, and he is a certified HDI Support Center Manager. Follow him on Twitter @RoyAtkinson.