The ITIL® framework is the most widely-used framework of best practices for IT Service Management (ITSM).
Many project managers deliver IT components to our projects. And the service régime that starts when we hand them over will often dictate the value of the products we’ve created. Because of that, Project Managers need to be mindful of this in designing our products, delivery, and handover.
And, whether you are an IT Project Manager or not, you may find yourself delivering IT-related projects. These may be in the form of hardware, infrastructure, software, or service processes as a part of your projects. So, that means you need a basic understanding of ITSM and, in particular, of ITIL®.
Therefore, in this feature article, we’ll explore what ITSM and ITIL® are. We will see how ITIL® is structured, to give you a basic understanding of its principles. And we’ll find out how and why it is relevant to you.
And, finally, we’ll speak to one of ITIL’s founders,
Here’s a short video that summarises a lot of what follows.
This article is a broad introduction to ITIL®. We’ll cover four topics, and end with a conversation with one of the founders of ITIL®, Ivor McFarlane.
An engine’s performance depends on how effective its lubrication is and how efficiently the fuel and air flow into it. It’s the same for an organization.
An organization’s performance depends on the services that keep it running. And one of those services is Information Technology: IT. How well its people and processes can use computing services and access data will impact how well they can work.
ITSM does four things. ITSM:
ITIL itself has a definition of ITSM:
“The implementation and management of quality IT services that meet the needs of the business. IT service management is performed by IT service providers through an appropriate mix of people, process and information technology.”
So, ITSM focuses on the needs fo the organization and of the people within it: the ITSM customers. To do this, ITSM needs to align the IT with the organization’s goals and operating model. But it must have a focus on the end-user, so that it is:
So ITSM serves the organization, it’s people, and its own customers. It does this by contributing to business performance by delivering high quality IT services. And, in so doing, it places its emphasis on the services people need, rather than on the assets of the IT infrastructure:
To support the organization, ITSM is a collection of capabilities, or processes, that allow IT departments to manage their IT services, through the lifecycle of:
Some of these services are identified in the diagram below.
There are a number of frameworks for IT Service Management. Each has its proponents. And some can be adopted in parallel and work together effectively. However, understanding these is well beyond the scope of this article (or the competence of this author!) Indeed, you really don’t need to know this, as a general Project Manager. However, it may be useful to at least recognize the names of some of the big players:
and… the most widely adopted framework:
In a nutshell, ITIL® is a framework of best practices for delivering IT Service Management. It is one of the oldest, the most widely used, and it is consistent with the global standard, ISO/IEC 20000.
ITIL is a public framework, meaning anyone can adopt it at no cost. The costs of developing, maintaining, and updating its guidance are covered by:
First, ITIL has a strong emphasis on the governance of IT. And second, it also focuses on continual measurement and improvement of the quality of services.
These twin concerns with governance and quality account for ITIL’s benefits to the organizations that use it. Therefore, they drive its popularity with some of the word’s largest corporations and Governmental bodies.
The UK Government sponsored the creation of ITIL in the 1980s, by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA). It was the CCTA that, late in the 1980s, also adapted the PROMPT project management methodology into what we now know as PRINCE2.
ITIL started life as the IT Infrastructure Library. It was a collection of books that each covered one area of practice within IT Service Management. ITIL Version 1 had more than 30 volumes, that looked at different aspects of ITSM from a process perspective.
And this, by the way, is where the name ITIL comes from. Although ITIL no longer stands for anything.
CCTA ceased to exist in 2001, when it was merged with the Office for Government Commerce (OGC). This was initially part of the UK Treasury and later of the Cabinet Office. (The UK Prime Minister’s ‘own’ Government department.)
In 2011, the then UK Government decided to privatize the work of the OGC. It transferred ownership of OGC methodologies, including PRINCE2 and ITIL to Axelos. This is a joint venture company, between the Cabinet Office and Capita plc. Since 2013, Axelos has managed, developed, and grown its portfolio of best practices.
The owners of ITIL saw that the original version needed simplification, to make it easier to work with and reduce the cost. At the time, the Government’s own publisher, HMSO, printed the ITIL manuals. And they were not cheap!
ITIL Version 2 appeared in 2001. It consolidated the library into nine logical ‘sets’ that grouped related processes. The IT Service Management sets (Service Support and Service Delivery) were the ones people most used.
The ITIL Refresh Project issued ITIL Version 3 in 2007. This now had 26 processes and functions, grouped into 5 volumes. They are arranged around the concept of service lifecycle structure.
ITIL Version 3 is now known as ITIL 2007 Edition and, in 2009, the OGC officially announced that it would withdraw ITIL Version 2 certification.
In July 2011, the OGC published the 2011 edition of ITIL to update the 2007 version.
In 2018, Axelos started work on the next version of ITIL. Guess what! It is called ITIL 4.
The big change that ITIL 4 brings is a focus on business value – rather than simply effective technology.
To support this, ITIL 4 replaces the Processes of ITIL 3 with a set of 34 Practices. It also introduces:
It is a big change and one I am unqualified to assess.
For a full review and description of ITIL 4, take a look at this excellent article, ITIL 4 vs ITIL v3: What’s The Difference?
Axelos continues to offer five tiers of ITIL 3 qualification:
For Project Managers, the right level to focus on is ITIL Foundation Level. This is the entry level certification. It offers you a general awareness of the key elements, concepts, and terminology used in the ITIL service lifecycle, including:
If you were planning to move specifically into IT Project Support, you would need to work towards ITIL Practitioner level. It’s the next stage in your ITIL learning, and aims to improve your ability adopt and adapt ITIL in your organization.
An IT Project Manager will need at least a Practitioner-level understanding of ITIL if you are working in an ITIL arena. And even if you are not, it will be helpful. The certification has a modular structure. Each module has a different focus on IT Service Management.
You can take whichever of the Intermediate qualifications that you need. They go into more detail than the Foundation level and Practitioner, and provide an industry-recognized qualification. Only if you are at the level of your career where you will be leading IT programs would you need to go beyond this, to Expert level.
Axelos has changed the qualification structure for ITIL version 4. There are now 4 tiers:
An an introduction to ITIL 4 that enables candidates to understand IT service management as an end-to-end operating model for all technology-enabled products and services, through:
This tier of qualification delivers practical and technical knowledge about how to run successful IT enabled services, teams, and workflows.
It is designed for IT practitioners who work within technology and digital teams across businesses.
The Strategic Leader tier takes your ITIL skills beyond IT operations, into all digitally-enabled services. It will require you to demonstrate a clear understanding of how IT influences and works within a wider business strategy.
For the top tier of qualification, you need to be able to make choices and apply them. And you must explain and justify how your choice and application of principles, methods, and techniques from ITIL and related management techniques. This must relate directly to achieving desired business outcomes.
We’ll start with ITIL version 3 and then move onto version 4.
ITIL 3 was structured around the 5 ITSM Phases:
Each of these has a number of processes, of which there are 26 in total. The illustration below summarises them.
At the Service Strategy phase, the role of ITSM is to understand how to support the organization in its goals and objectives. To determine how to meet its customer needs, an IT team must understand:
These will identify how the IT service provider can build its portfolio of IT services to meet the organization’s current and forecasted business needs. The key processes at the Service Strategy stage are:
Here’s the stage where the IT team builds new services and plans for their introduction and management. The processes at this stage include:
Here is where project management touches service management. At this phase, the IT team introduces new services into the organization. So, the processes at this stage include:
This is what the users see. It is the stage where the IT team meets the service expectations of its end-users. They must balance service delivery standards against cost, and provide support to help users resolve any problems. ITIL breaks this down into two sections: process and functions. The processes are:
The operational functions are:
An IT department must also identify and make improvements to its IT services, processes, technology, and service management system. This is how they ensure they maintain the value they deliver to the organization, and meet its emerging needs.
ITIL has a seven-step continual improvement process:
There are two other processes at this stage, which inform this process:
ITIL version 4 has 34 practice, organized into three groups:
ITIL 4 also introduces three new organizing frameworks.
For more on these, I recommend excellent article, ITIL 4 vs ITIL v3: What’s The Difference?
ITIL® is the leading standard for services. So, where a project manager needs to be involved in IT services in any way, it is a great qualification to have. The foundation level means you will understand the context in which you are working. Clearly, if you are or aspire to be an IT project manager, ITIL becomes all the more valuable.
ITIL will help you understand how IT service managers identify, design, implement, manage, and improv their services. And this mirrors the traditional project lifecycle stages:
The outcome of your IT projects will often become IT services. For example, roll-out of new desktop software will led to a need for monitoring and support.
A common debate is whether a project manager needs to be an expert in the subject matter of your project, to deliver it successfully. After all, there are experts you can call on, to help you through your project. But then, if you are to make sound decisions, perhaps you need the technical insight.
The answer has to be balance. I suggest you do not need to be an expert in everything you do. That would be impossible. But you do need a certain amount of background knowledge and understanding. This makes ITIL Foundation and valuable learning resource.
A good project manager must have a breadth of knowledge to mix your management and leadership skills with some relevant technical skills. So, you may have an ITIL expert on your team, but you need enough knowledge to understand the context of how they advise you.
And, let us not forget that Project Management is a competitive market. There may be a shortage of project managers, but which jobs do you want? If you want your pick of the plum jobs, there are two things you need to do:
You can read more from us on project management careers and job interviews:
Any project manager who plans to work in the IT domain should consider getting the ITIL Foundation qualification. You can look at our program here.
This course that we offer has the first 22 units absolutely free. You don’t even need to sign up with your email address. So, you really can try before-you-buy.
And when you have learnt the material and are ready, we can set you up to take the Axelos ITIL Foundation exam, too.
The scope of ITIL 4 Foundation is smaller than ITIL 3 Foundation (about half the size). So, select ITIL 3 if:
But select ITIL 4 if:
If you are in any doubt, I would always recommend the more up-to-date qualification: ITIL 4.
Our ITIL v3 and v4 Foundation courses are delivered by Ivor Macfarlane, one of the original contributors to ITIL and ISO/IEC2000.
We were fortunate enough to get a few moments of his time.
I’ve been working in the IT Service Management (ITSM) space for 30 years now, most specifically related to ITIL development and training. I was involved in the development of the documentation of IT Service Management when I was working in the team building the IT Infrastructure Library (now just known as ITIL) from 1989-1999.
In the early days of ITIL, as you would expect, the focus was on encouraging and then answering ‘what and why’ questions, like:
“What is this ITIL thing and why should I know about it?”
What you might expect less, is that even now I still find myself explaining the need for ITSM to organisations. Of course they all do some degree of ITSM. At the very least, things fail and they fix them. So, incident management is always there.
But recognising the full range of ITSM processes, and the benefits of treating them formally comes as news surprisingly often. And this is especially true of the wide range of good guidance and advice available to help them.
One factor that helps introduce new concepts to folks is a growing realization that no single approach or aspect of IT can stand alone. Understanding a wider perspective of IT helps all of us do our jobs better.
This has led to the appearance of a wider range of training courses on previously specialist training sites. For example, I have been delighted to help with the appearance of ITIL training in places best known for delivering training and expertise in project management, like OnlinePMCourses. The synergy goes both ways of course: good project management is essential to using ITIL well, and to help deliver IT Service Management success.
Mike adds: Of course, now, Project management is one of the34 Practices in ITIL 4.
Most good frameworks are well-founded on common sense and the ideas we use in everyday life. Formalizing them into more business-oriented frameworks helps us recognize those processes, attitudes, and behaviors.
And that, in turn, helps us apply them to our working lives. It helps to drive a much-needed move away from seeing methods and frameworks as complicated, specialist tools for specific business situations. Instead, we need to see this guidance as widely-applicable and a simple way to get started on robust and high-quality service delivery.
The framework that I have spent 30 years working with is ITIL.
It’s based on good solid engineering practice and everyday sensible behaviors. And it’s applicable to all kinds of services. Since everything we do is a service (to some degree) then it should offer good ideas for everyone.
So… just because you are happy with the familiar sets of guidance you use, it is always worth a look over the wall at other good ideas.
Chances are there is stuff that will help you.
Do you recommend ITIL training for project managers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. We’ll respond to every contribution.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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