Dr Tuuli Bell, Secretary at BCS Service Management Specialist Group and Sales Solution Consultant at Cherwell Software, offers her list of 10 important observations and learnings from practicing ITIL.

ITIL is a successful and universally accepted framework for IT service management (ITSM). It is a brilliant starting point for anyone looking to increase customer satisfaction and deliver ever-evolving services to organisations. In this article, I will discuss ITIL’s adoption in real-world scenarios reflecting on my experiences as an advisory service management consultant.

For those working in service management or a related discipline, ITIL has almost become synonymous with ITSM. One of the reasons behind ITIL’s incredible success is its flexibility to adopt and adapt to a variety of environments. Whilst the best practice is well documented and there are a number of valuable resources on the subject, it may come as a surprise to many that practicing ITIL is not necessarily straightforward.

Thus, to help avoid common pitfalls and ensure a successful ITIL journey, I would like to share lessons that I’ve learnt when practicing ITIL. I hope these lessons will guide you and accelerate the benefits of the best practice in a continually changing IT landscape.

ITIL foundation gives a qualification; to master it, you need experience

Traditionally, there has been a clear separation of IT and the business. To put it simply, business would fund IT’s initiatives who in turn would provide services for the business. This would result in a gap in knowledge for both units, and the full benefits of IT initiatives wouldn’t be realised.

ITIL saw that situation as an opportunity to improve how services are delivered to the business; and helped change the perception of IT from a mandatory expense to a value-added part of the organisation. In short, ITIL bridged the gap between the two entities to bring more value to the business.

The five books of ITIL give a good understanding of the way IT should work as part of the business’ value chain. Learning the theory gives a solid foundation and shouldn’t be overlooked. However, experience of service management and a good understanding of your particular business is important for a winning combination when putting ITIL into practice.

ITIL is not a standard. It’s all about adopting & adapting.

It is a common misunderstanding that ITIL is a standard. It is even more common to mistakenly state that something is “ITIL compliant”. In fact, ITIL is a framework which shares a proven way of practicing IT service management; a best practice that fellow service managers have developed based on their experience in the field. Because ITIL is a framework, there are no hard-written rules; ITIL is flexible for adoption and adaption.

For example, a large organisation may have an incident management process that includes a complex escalation structure that has automation and business rules to control the flow of information, all managed through a single system of record. On the other hand, a small organisation is likely to suffice with a simple incident management process that has mostly manual steps and no integrations.

The key to a successful adoption of ITIL is just that; adoption. Consider your organisation’s culture and other unique requirements.

You need to use users’ words

Communication is the make or break of any project. Particularly, the benefits of service management can be realised in full when the communications are planned and managed together with the business and its end users.

For example, this may mean that instead of using the word ‘incident’ you used the word ‘problem’ or ‘issue’ in the communications between the service desk and end users. Similarly, ‘IT equipment’ might be used for configuration items (CIs). Combine the ITIL and business knowledge of your IT staff and leverage the relationship with IT power users within your organisation; this will help identify the common and any industry specific words that are relevant in the service management context.

It is important to apply this method to all communication with end users: including the web portal, emails (both automated notifications and ad hoc conversations), phone calls, internal marketing campaigns, or chat and instant messaging discussions.

Certain processes such as customer-facing service catalogue require a significant input from the business to be efficient.

Finally, remember that ITIL words may not be used by all of IT: make sure the internal terminology is defined and explained to everyone involved.

ITIL isn’t just for ITSM

IT service management belongs to a family of service industries. As the service sector dominates many economies (including the UK), the importance of IT service management and ITIL increases exponentially.

Many other business functions such as facilities, CRM, HR, or finance can benefit from ITIL’s practices. The service and customer oriented framework can be exploited throughout organisations; it is thus no surprise that HR case management or facilities requests are often implemented within ITSM toolsets.

Another example is knowledge management process. It is particularly useful in other parts of business, helping increase the organisational knowledge and turn data into information into knowledge into wisdom. Novel processes such as an ideas management can be based on ITIL’s process-oriented architecture even if the process does not exist in the framework.

ITIL can also be adopted outside supporting business functions. In fact, many have successfully adapted ITIL to enhance and run the business’ core function to deliver its services; a classic example of this is a managed service provider (MSP) who sell and deliver services to its external customers.

Don’t aim for perfect. Think 80:20.

This may be evident but nevertheless important: no process is perfect. Concentrate on delivering a good enough and a practical service management function. ITIL calls these two requirements ‘fit for purpose’ and ‘fit for use’.

Often in the requirements gathering phase many lose sight of what is actually needed and include every requirement as a “must have”. This in turn results in long design phases and in the worst case, the quotes received to fulfil all requirements greatly exceeds the budget and the project is postponed, or even cancelled.

The value of “value” is people

The ITIL framework loves the word ‘value’. Sometimes overused, the term ‘value’ is a valuable term. But ‘value’ is not referred to here in a monetary context. On the contrary, the value of ‘value’ is the business and the people.

Value can be explained by answering the question: How would the business / people benefit from implementing this requirement?

ITIL integrates well with other frameworks

ITIL can, and should be used in conjunction with other frameworks, methodologies, and standards when feasible. This is particularly true when the organisation has already adopted other frameworks or standards, sometimes as part of an audit. Common frameworks to integrate with ITIL include but are not limited to lean, agile, DevOps, ISO20000, SIAM, Cobit, and RESILIA.

Bear in mind that although current and effective, ITIL is not all-powerful. ITIL’s effectiveness is enhanced by other frameworks; and vice versa. If you are introducing, say, DevOps as a new framework to an ITIL-aligned organisation, it is advisable to include a DevOps subject matter expert on the project team to ensure that the two are incorporated and integrated efficiently. 

Integration and orchestration aren’t just buzzwords

Ultimately, organisations are information processing units that receive, process, and produce information in different ways. This means that the better companies can receive and process information the more efficient they become.

Integration of processes, data, and tools, and their orchestration thereof enable the entire organisation to work together in an efficient manner and helps deploy standardised processes. A successfully orchestrated organisation delivers a better service faster.

For example, new employee on-boarding is often a slow process with manual steps. However, when the end-to-end service is orchestrated, a new starter receives access to all internal services on the day they start. Ideally, they have all supporting equipment ready and on-boarding training and security awareness arranged.

ITIL awareness is just the beginning. Are you ready for the (real) ITIL journey?

Most of ITIL can be distilled to the ‘4 Ps’: people, process, products, partners (which, somewhat confusingly, are often referred to as ‘people, process, technology’). Throughout the journey, they indicate three (or four) vital dimensions that need addressed at each point.

The best lesson I can give you is to start small. There are 26 processes, but only a handful may be relevant to your organisation. Furthermore, these processes do differ between organisations. Depending on your needs, they may be knowledge and service catalogue; too many organisations start with incident, problem, and change processes “just because” rather than what they really need.

Finally, be realistic. Before spending significant effort on scoping the ITIL transformation; ask yourself: what can you achieve with the resources you have? In what timescales? Do you have a project sponsor and a budget? What is the key goal you are trying to achieve? Too often, the ITIL journey falls through because these questions hadn’t been asked early enough.

BAU of ITIL = continual service improvement (CSI)

The only constant is change. Thus, it is almost self-evident that a normal state, change, should be addressed on a continual basis. ITIL has developed a lifecycle stage called continual service improvement (CSI). CSI includes a process called 7 step improvement process (that I, like most ITIL practitioners, refer to as ‘CSI’; in the end, ITIL is a guide, not a standard so this is ok).

CSI is arguably one of the most important processes. Unfortunately, it is often neglected. On the other hand, many successful service management teams have adopted CSI as part of their normal service delivery. Well-implemented CSI differentiates a truly customer-focused team with a long-term strategic vision.  


  • ITIL practitioner
  • ITSM
  • Continual improvement
  • Organisational management


  • Framework
  • Process
  • People
  • Leadership
  • Business
  • Outside IT