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Don’t Disrespect Santa Claus and Don’t Ditch ITIL

As the end of the year approaches, I have been thinking about some of the symbols that I see around me and what they signify in my working life. I find the concept of Santa Claus particularly interesting because it is not a religious idea, but it symbolizes something valuable from which I think we can all learn.


Of course we all know that Santa Claus is a myth. There isn’t really a man with a big beard and a red suit who flies through the sky on a sleigh pulled by reindeer to bring gifts to children (if I have just disillusioned you then you are probably too young to be reading this blog). Santa is a very powerful myth though. We use this magical idea to motivate children and to create a shared sense of wonder at this time of year.


So what has Santa got to do with IT service management, and why am I writing about him today?


I have seen a number of presentations and blog posts recently, with titles like “Unlearning ITIL”, that promote a message that ITIL is not the right way for organizations to implement service management. Typically these identify some specific point issues where the ITIL approach is not appropriate for some organizations, and then conclude that we should abandon ITIL. Sometimes they will suggest that we should adopt a different framework that has much less industry acceptance, but has some particular feature that makes it better than ITIL in their view.


The people who do this remind me of the adults who insist on telling small children that Santa isn’t real. They might be right about the detailed facts, but they are completely wrong about the psychology and about the power and meaning of myth. Of course you can’t implement ITIL exactly as specified in the books; it is a framework based on the concepts of adopt and adapt. The intent behind ITIL is that the books document practices that have worked for other organizations, and you should take up the ones that are appropriate for your organization (adopt) and then modify them to fit your particular circumstances (adapt).


Sophisticated organizations know that ITIL is just a set of ideas, but if we go around telling those who have yet to get started with formal ITSM that it is all a myth, then we are not doing them a favor; we are simply stopping them from setting out on the journey to improved IT services through adoption of good practice in ITSM.


So please think before you tell small children that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Are you doing this to help them, or simply to gratify your own ego?


Best wishes for the holiday season to all my readers, and I do hope that Santa brings you some wonderful gifts.


Learn more about HP Consulting Services and how HP can help you shift your focus from operation to innovation.


And, if you want ideas about how to start thinking strategically, then read some of my other blogs:



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Stuart Rance


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Tags: Christmas| ITSM| Myths
Margaret Hanlon | ‎12-17-2012 09:12 PM

Stuart,  I believe you hit a  nail on the head here.   Love your analogy to Santa Clause and why some might choose to deny the magic.


 ITIL is not the right or the wrong solution.  As you say "adopt and adapt".  You take from ITIL what makes sense for your organization. One aspect for adoption is the language of ITIL.  Just getting everyone using the same language and understanding common definitions is a step toward becoming more efficient and effective  (for example -  understanding the concept and definition of a Service).


And I am still going to hang the stockings and put the milk and biscuits out.

Stuart_Rance | ‎12-17-2012 09:33 PM



Thanks for the response. I do agree that the common language that ITIL gives us is extremely valuable. Could it be improved? Yes of course, but that is why we have Continual Improvement.


Enjoy your holiday, and I do hope that santa brings you nice gifts.


James Finister | ‎12-21-2012 11:21 AM

I'm afraid that "Adapt and Adopt" has become a bit of a get out clause for ITIL apologists. It works well for those who already understand ITSM and know what is achievable, what is useful  and what is unnecessary or counterproductive. Unfortunatley almost by definition that isn't those who are just starting out on an ITSM journey and who are turning to ITIL for help.  When you look at succesful ITSM it can often feel like the ITIL version of "stone soup" with very little of ITIL contributing to the success. The truth is that in its current form ITIL - in the form of the books - doesn't actually lend itself to adapt and adopt, It could do, mind you, if some changes to the design were made. Within ITIL there is lots of good advice, but there is also a lot of noise, some of which is irrelevant to many readers, and some which in the laboratory of the real world is probably far from optimal.


I might be a little biased by my involvment with its development but if we want a simpole story for those starting out in ITSM then ISO/IEC 20000 provides it.I know it isn't perfect, but it identifies a basic set of capabilities and functions that are needed to make ITSM work.  However I don't think I, or anyone else that I knwo, is advocating the repalcement of one approach with another. What we are suggeting is that the ITIL community take a rather more objective view of the current version. 


Sadly we aren't adults talking to children; we are adults talking to CIOs and CTO and other managerss who are investing a lot of time and effort in these activities.

Stuart_Rance ‎12-21-2012 12:02 PM - edited ‎12-21-2012 12:08 PM



Thank you for your reply. I do agree that it would be nearly impossible for someone with no experience to pick up the ITIL books and start to implement the practices in them. I think the same is also true for other sources of best practice such as ISO/IEC 20000 and COBIT. It would be really interesting to have a discussion on what is the best way to get started - maybe that could be a topic for a workshop at an itSMF conference sometime.


Some CIOs and CTOs really do understand the need for service management, and will engage consultants like you or me to help them design and implement fit-for-purpose capabilities that will help them to meet their goals. Other senior IT managers still don't understand why IT service management is important, and what is wrong with a completely technical focus. It is here that I think we do a lot of damage by exagerating the issues in the ITIL publications so that we scare some of them off completely.


I would be very interested to hear your suggestions for what changes are needed to the design of ITIL. Maybe you should submit a changelog suggesting improvements

james Finister | ‎12-21-2012 12:32 PM



I think I made most of these comments as part of my QA of v3. The only significant change in my thinking since then is that Aidan Lawes has persuaded me that the service life, whilst a useful and much needed viewpoint, has become overly dominant and blinded people to other ways of contextualising ITIL. 


I forgot to refer back to your suggestion of a two tier view of ITIL in an earlier blog.  I believe that such an approach has a part to play.  


Personally I continue to find ITSM simulations or simply walking stakeholders through some use cases incedibly powerful. Where I always start is by identifying very simple high level precepts, such as "Design the change management process to take into account constraints " 


What I don't find useful is the endless repetion of the common ITIL myths and cliches and succes stories that are distorted by the halo effect.



Stuart_Rance | ‎12-21-2012 12:41 PM



I agree that the service lifecycle focus has become a bit too dominant, but I think this is better than when the process focus was overly dominant. It's a pity that we can't easily communicate a model that combines approaches based on

  • Service Lifecycle
  • Processes
  • Governance
  • Skills and Competence
  • Knowledge
  • Metrics
  • Organization design

This would probably require a 7 dimensional model, but would be a better way of describing what is needed in ITSM

Liz Brewster | ‎12-21-2012 02:22 PM

What I tell organizations that are "scared" of ITIL, or have just had too much of it , is that ITIL is very simple:  Write what you do, and do what you write.  That's where to start.  Other than the common taxonomy that others have talked about, one of the key elements in IT Service Managment is standardized repeatable processes.  If you find something that works well, document it, and do it the same way next time.  I think another issue with presenting ITIL and industry best practices to organizations is that you have what I call "ITIL Purists", who can quote the book, but not really understand the thought process behind the books.  In another rant, I'll talk about the problem I see with the ITIL Expert certification, which produces certified consultants who are good a memorization and passing multiple choice exams, but who may not know how to use the information in a real-worl scenario.


Start from there

Stuart_Rance | ‎12-21-2012 02:50 PM



I really like "Start from there". The only thing that I would add to this is "Start simple, focus on business outcomes, build from there"


James Finister | ‎12-21-2012 03:41 PM



@BarclayRae made the good point on twitter that " We've just not been able to clearly express and embed some pretty simple ideas and knowledge into ITIL"


In  the early days of ISO 20000 I stole a great slide from Don Page on ten simple rules for his staff. Time and time again I find myself coming away from observing CAB meetings with the same simple list of things that need to be done diffferently.  Sometimes though it is the simplest things that IT finds hardest to do, because they are also fundementaly different from how things are done today.




COBIT attempts to allow for multiple views of its content to suit different purposes and I can't see why ITIL couldn't to some degree, but there is a practical limit to how many could be meaningfully covered, and I guess the determining facto should be the different audience groups. for instance the Retained Organisation.

Stuart_Rance | ‎12-21-2012 03:45 PM

Somebody replied to this blog in a private email suggesting that what ITIL really needs is a short, simple summary book. We do have quite a lot of publications that claim to be summaries of ITIL but I don't think that any of them is suitable for people who want simple guidance on why ITSM is important and how they can get started.

Stephen Alexander | ‎12-21-2012 05:35 PM

Reading this blog and responses I was reminded of this blog by Tom Graves


In particular the graphic that goes from 'mechanics' to 'methods' to 'approaches'


What seems to be missing (or not articulated well) in the ITSM space in general (including ITIL and even ISO 20000) is some clear instruction on what exactly are the universal, undisputed "mechanics" of ITSM.


Built on that, you would have things like ITIL, which can show you some "methods." Finally, you can have a series of books that are about "approaches."


The "mechancis" should be things like - taxonomy. Or even a list of 'functions' and 'processes' that are in ITSM. I'm not sure we have a universal, undisputed, understanding of the taxonomy or comprehensive (universally agreed) list of "processes" (ISM says there are 6 right? - 


So we don't have our "mechanics" down yet - and we're off and running trying to build "methods" and sell our own "approaches." And to top it off we're not being clear on if we are talking about "mechanics", "methods" or "approaches"


Can we be suprised that people are tired of it all? Or that they are saying "unlearn" ITIL? 



Stuart_Rance | ‎12-22-2012 03:42 PM



What would you recommend as an approach to resolve the issues you identify? Who could take ownership of this and what should the first steps be?

Ian Robinson | ‎12-22-2012 06:45 PM

ITIL may have many good points and stimulate healthy debates amongst those with a passion for IT. However is there any evidence that ITIL has won the hearts and minds of users or the IT Community? Doesn't talk of people wanting to unlearn ITIL or not even want to learn about it in the first place ring alarm bells? I would rather people talk about developing a five star service rather than the ins and outs of ITIL.


A good service desk (in the eyes of it's users and those that pay the bills) may use ITIL but doesn't rely on ITIL. A good service desk relies upon staff having a passion for IT and a passion to help users as quickly and easily as possible without getting restrained by politics or other internal distractions.


So where does this leave ITIL in 2013? Dead and buried or alive and kicking?  





Stuart_Rance | ‎12-22-2012 10:43 PM



I would also "rather people talk about developing a five star service rather than the ins and outs of ITIL", and I think that people endlessly debating the ins and outs of specific wording in the ITIL books is the main reason why some people get turned off by the whole thing.


I think that we need to get the basics of service management right, and that ITIL is a great source of ideas for how to do this. It isn't the only source out there, but is certainly a very good option.


You asked "is there any evidence that ITIL has won the hearts and minds of users or the IT Community". I think that the many tens of thousands of people who have done ITIL training, bought the ITIL books, and attended itSMF conferences and seminars are some evidence that ITIL has got some things right.


Stephen Alexander | ‎12-24-2012 03:45 AM



I don't have any answers. I'm not sure I have any solid suggestions. 


If pressed I would say...


I think there needs to be a real concerted effort by the leaders in our space (those that control or have influence with ITIL, COBIT, ASL/BiSL, USMBOK, ISM, ISO well as key contributors like Rob England, yourself, and others and probably vendors like HP, BMC, CA, IBM, ServiceNow, and a few others) get together and:


1) Admit that having a universal standard lexicon and universal agreed upon set of "processes" and "functions" and standard set of expectations (inputs/outputs) for these processes/functions is a good thing. 


2) Create that universal base set of information. This will be our "mechanics" - this will be common across all "methodologies" (ITIL, COBIT, USMBOK, etc). 


Let's say we can only agree on 15 processes and 2 functions. Great. From there:


3) If ITIL still wants to use 27/28 processes they say - here are the base 15 (undisputed) and here are our 12/13 we add on as part of our "methodology" - This is why we add them, this is why we believe they are important and what they will do for your organization. COBIT would do the same if they add more, and so on. 


4) If ITIL (or whomever) wants to also add more to a process (beyond the undisputed/universal agreed to baseline) that is also fine - but they should again be clear - saying the base process has these features, inputs/outputs, but we believe it should ALSO do x 


The base should never be subtracted from - only added to at the methodology level. 


Finally, if people want to create "approaches" or discuss approaches at conferences, that is also fine (great even) but we should ask that they are clear on what "methodologies" they employed (could be more than 1) and how they adapted them for their particular environment. 


I think this (or something like it) could help people understand what ITIL really is (and what it isn't) and why learning (or unlearning) is important/helpful. ITIL positions itself (so it seems) as the "mechanics" of ITSM - but it isn't. It is just a methodology - but one of the key problems is that that "mechanics" are not really there. So, we have conflicting/overlapping information. It is all this "it depends" - the basics cannot depend on the situation - there has to be a solid core to ITSM. 


I think of Financial Accounting. There are many approaches, a few methodologies, but really there is only 1 set of mechanics, universally taught/learned. This helps business when comparing finances, or looking for investment, etc. 


Having a 'standard' set of ITSM mechanics will help as we migrate more and more to this 'service broker' model - I need to know that when I talk about Incident, or Managing Quality (COBIT APO 11) it has some common meaning to you. I want to know that when I talk about Strategy - I can expect a minimum level of outputs and controls - not some flaky "well we adapted ITIL to our environment and only produce a vision statement because that is what works best with our culture - but we are still doing ITSM." 

That is like saying, "we've decided that we don't want to record payments for services not yet delivered as a liability but we are still doing accounting properly. " If I am going to do business with you, we need to have a common understanding on how these IT services are being created and managed. 


The group that would control the 'mechanics' would be like the IASB (the group that controls the IFRS). A board of 16 experts in our field. 


Anyway, that is what I think. Maybe it is naive. Maybe ITSM has a lot more growing up to do before we can get to something like that. Maybe we will just hope that we will get there by default because ITIL or COBIT or something else will "dominate the market" and therefore become the defacto standard (I think this is the current approach by everyone). In the mean time though...there will be continuing confusion, disillusionment, and frustration in our industry.


What do you think? 


Stuart_Rance | ‎12-24-2012 07:33 AM



Thanks for your detailed reply. One thing that I think you miss is that every organization has a different culture, industry, geography, level of maturity, type of customer, vision and mission etc. and these differences mean that they need a different management system to every other organization.  They may use ITIL or COBIT or ISO/IEC 20000 as a starting point, but these practices can't just be implemented unchanged.


I also think it is wrong to think of a management system just in terms of processes. As I said in an earlier reply the design of a management system needs to consider many things, including:

  • Service Lifecycle
  • Processes
  • Governance
  • Skills and Competence
  • Knowledge
  • Metrics
  • Organization design

Processes are important, but they are only a small part of what is needed.


At the moment, ITIL does dominate the IT Service Management market. Tens of thousands of people have been trained and many more are familiar with the basic concepts. I think it's a great place to start when an IT organization wants to improve its management system, but it isn't the only option. When I work with HP customers I use ideas from ITIL, but I also use ideas from many other practices - including the ones you identified.


I don't think that ITIL is perfect, but it is a very good starting place, and we can all contribute to making it better.

Richard Sayers | ‎12-24-2012 10:41 AM



Seasons greetings.


The problem with ITIL is that the amount of information written down is vast, once you go beyond the Overview which in itself is a significant tome, you have 5 books on the core elements.  To help some organisations/readers it may prove useful to have an ITIL Intermediate tome (1 book) that takes the reader beyond the basics.


Well rather than creating another set of books, it would be useful perhaps developing a guieline for tailoring the process set a bit like the ITIL Lite guide bit a bit more useful.


Another problem is that ITIL is also seen as a sort of 'Bible' which then gives rise to commandments such as "Thou shall have a Configuration Management Database Tool becuase it is in the good book". 


Perhaps the next iteration of ITIL will deliberately drop the ITI as Service Management needs to think beyond the IT and the Infrastructure maybe it should be the "Intelligent Service Management Library"?



Stuart_Rance | ‎12-24-2012 12:59 PM



I do agree with you that the ITIL publications are quite a big read for someone who is just getting started. Are you familiar with the ITIL Key Element Guides? There is one of these for each ITIL publication, and they provide a fairly concise summary of the contents.


I'm sure there is space in the market for more publications, and I like your idea of an ITIL Intermediate guide. Maybe you should take this suggestion to TSO (the publishers of ITIL).


I completely agree with you that the main problem with ITIL is people who think the books should be used as a definitive source of what you must do, rather than as suggestions of things you might want to try.


Stephen Alexander | ‎12-24-2012 04:42 PM



I get that each org is different. I think you miss my point. 


I'm not opposed to their being different "approaches" or different "methodologies" - I think that is a good thing. It has to be done that way. 


What I'm asking for is that there is a consistent, universal, foundation to ITSM - that is true in all methodologies (and subsequent approaches). 


I agree that ITSM is more than processes - I just limited my examples to processes. The point is true if you used "Knowledge" or "Governance" and so on. 


All teaching should start with first understanding this core base of ITSM. All methodologies are built from that core base of ITSM. All approaches have in them, this core base of ITSM. 


This base I am talking about would not solve all your ITSM issues. It could not be used by itself to effectively "do" ITSM.


What I'm saying is that this base is the 100 level of ITSM. Then things like ITIL or COBIT are 200 level and 300 level. Then your consultants and their approaches are your 400, 500 and 600 level. 


One 300 level course in (pick a subject) will be different than another 300 level course - but they will both have the same 'foundation' (100 level) course that they are building on. 


I believe this will cut down on confusion and frustration as well as be a bit clearer to those that pass some certification - what they really learned and what level of knowledge they are really armed with.


Nobody is going around taking Accounting 101 and trying to change the accounting practices of a company. But we do have people taking ITIL Foundation and trying to change the way ITSM is done at a company...or a few that became "Experts" but still don't have a full picture, or full understanding of ITSM at the 'basic' level. Mostly because we don't teach or offer any real universal base ITSM (there isn't one) - we jump right to our particular brands (ITIL) which do not address everything, are not going to address everything, and shouldn't be sold as "the way" of doing ITSM effectively. It is "a way" of doing certain parts of ITSM effectively - no more than that. 


You'll end up with people thinking they know a lot more than they do, attempting to do things they are not prepared to do, failing, then blaming ITIL (or COBIT or whatever methodology they used), and then trying to "unlearn" ITIL (or whatever) and trying some other methodology....rinse and repeat. 

Stuart_Rance | ‎12-24-2012 08:13 PM



I understand what you're saying, but what you want is never going to happen.  There is no overall body that owns ITSM and can rule between the many conflicting approaches, and each of those approaches is well suited to some organizations.


I choose to support ITIL because it is the most widely accepted source of ITSM practices, but it is never going to replace all the alternatives.

James Finister | ‎12-31-2012 01:32 PM

The more I think it through the more I think there is to be said for making a book like the key elements guide the core of ITIL, in the same way that Part 1 is the core of ISO/IEC 20000 or perhaps more like the old PD0005 document.

Stuart_Rance | ‎12-31-2012 02:43 PM



I do agree that a good overview of ITIL would be a better starting place for most people than the 5 core publications. Some effort was made to do this, when ITIL produced the Official Introduction publication, but I'm not convinced that this is the right tool for the job.


I find the ITIL Key Element Guides easy to read, and they do have sufficient content to provide the reader with all the key ideas.


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I help clients use service management to create business value for themselves and their customers. I am a senior ITIL examiner and I have wr...

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