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PLEASE Stop Comparing ITIL to ISO20000!

I have no intention of calling anyone out on the carpet, so I’ll leave his name out of this.

There is a fairly prominent, well known ITSM/ITIL consultant who I have heard give essentially the same talk numerous times on the convention circuit, comparing IEC/ISO 20000 to ITIL.
I have a problem with this comparison.

He selects his words deliberately to stress that the two can work hand-in-hand, they have different purposes, he does not wish to badmouth ITIL and other such disclaimers, but his arguments paint a somewhat different picture.

He uses the example of Incident Management to make his case and states that while ITIL lists hundreds of best practices to follow, ISO20K has only six. Thus, ISO20K is easier to understand, easier to grasp, easier to sell to management, easier to plan, easier to chart progress and provides simple, binary milestones to celebrate:
Number one done?

He states that while ITIL adoption has no end, ISO20K has a very clearly defined set of specific goals that can serve as a straight-forward basis for a finite implementation roadmap and project plan. You not only have a goal to strive toward, but you can show evidence of your compliance.

He jokes about how nobody is quite sure even how many processes ITIL has, let alone how many best practices are contained therein.

He complains about the supposed lack of guidance ITIL has with regard to responsibilities & accountabilities across processes.

I’m not about to take his arguments apart one-by-one – I haven’t the time for that, nor am I interested, as I said earlier, in calling anyone out on the carpet. I just wanted to use this gentleman as an example of a very highly experienced, knowledgeable, intelligent and well respected ITSM professional making some of the same arguments I come across every day from many others. These arguments, as far as I can tell, stem from an apparent misunderstanding of what ITIL is, and what it is not – an apparent misunderstanding of the purpose of ITIL.

What these arguments boil down to, in my view, can be simply stated as, “I want something to give me a clearly laid out ITSM road map that will cover all the steps from point A to point Z and how to traverse that path. ITIL falls well short of that.”

I made two statements on Twitter a while back that I think nicely sum up my thoughts on this topic:

#ITIL Core is, in essence, the collected, codified notebooks of the #ITSM Dream Team – not the Twelve Apostles.
#ITIL is a mentor with 30 yrs exp in #ITSM. Like any mentor, learn from it – don’t emulate it. Following any leader blindly makes you a fool.

ITIL doesn’t provide what ISO20K does because ITIL was not intended to be a standard. They have vastly different purposes.

ISO20K is a great tool to gauge the state of ITSM in your organization and help to forge a rough plan for adoption of ITSM best practices. ITIL is the seasoned professional who has seen these plans many times over and has some sage advice to offer on the subject.
Recall how ITIL was developed. It was gleaned by researching the practices of high performing organizations world-wide.

Gather a large group of ITSM professionals, each with many years experience, and ask them what worked and what failed. Take notes on what they say. Compare their different approaches and stories. Gather all this data and organize it the best you can.

Now… what do you do with this gathered data?

A follower builds a checklist to follow.
A leader considers the advice, learns from the experiences of others and weighs it against his/her own first-hand experiences.

The difference between a manager and a leader is that a manager directs and controls people’s actions – a leader inspires and empowers people’s imaginations. A good mentor wants to create another mentor by offering guidance and wisdom – not create another follower by dictating direction.

ITIL is not a standard – it’s not a road map – it’s not a checklist – it’s not a procedures manual.
ITIL is a reference library of the collected wisdom of leaders.
What you do with that wisdom is what defines whether you are a follower or a leader.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why so many organizations set up a multi-million dollar budget and five-year plan to “Implement ITIL”.
Organizations are constantly adjusting how they do things based on lessons learned – from both first-hand experience and observing best practices in the industry. What has changed? ITIL just put those current best practices into a collection of books that are readily available and easy to navigate.
If I hear one more person complain about ITIL putting out “another version”, I can’t be held responsible for my actions. ITIL doesn’t change often enough!

If it were up to me, I’d never even put out hard copies, because the landscape is changing so rapidly, by the time the books come off the presses, they are ready for a refresh. Put it all on the web and keep it in flux, just as the industry is. ITIL could be, and I believe it was intended to be, the unaffiliated, non-profit, unbiased (therefore inherently honest) alternative to the likes of Forrester and Gartner. ITIL should be an open resource of information reflecting current good practices, leading best practices and emerging trends in Information Services Management.
ITIL is where Service Management leaders should turn to see what other Service Management leaders are doing, consider the advice, learn from them, weigh it against their own first-hand experiences and adjust the direction of their institutionalized ITSM practices.

Regardless of whether the organization leadership gets its guidance from Forrester, Gartner, CIO Magazine, ITIL or any other source, makes no difference in the “implementation” of what comes of that guidance.

You can build a five-year, multi-million dollar plan to overhaul your operations and try a state-sponsored cultural revolution.
Or… you can adopt an approach of constant influence over cultural evolution and bake it into your operations.

Policy is set.
New practices and methods are adopted by the leadership.
These new practices slide into the cracks in the organization (some invariably slide through the cracks).
The new practices congregate, fight, conquer, procreate with and evolve with the old practices.
Each successive generation then influences the next.
Cultural CSI.

One of the most brilliant ITSM minds I have had the good fortune to meet (his name is Rodger Baker, and unfortunately, I don't believe he's on Twitter) has practiced what he calls “Stealth ITIL.” He has successfully adopted an ITSM approach that utilizes ITIL as the best practice framework in organizations without ever even using the terms ITIL or ITSM. Genius.

In my experience, when you launch a big program intended to change the way everyone operates, the response from the ground is most often, “God Damnit! Now what do we have to change to comply with management’s latest flavor of the month?”

How about simply… “Hey, everyone. We’re going to stop calling it a System Trouble Record, and start calling it an Incident Record now.”
That’s exactly how it happened in my organization. We changed the name in the tool and started an awareness campaign. A few months later everyone (everyone in an organization of over 100,000 people, mind you) was using ITIL terminology – and only a handful were aware of it.

What is ITIL? ITIL is a mentor looking to advise you on what (s)he has seen succeed and fail in ITSM. That’s all.

October 20, 2010, 09:06:21 am

About The Author



Nice Job.  I am sure I have ran into this speaker but can't remember.  I love the idea of a mentor.  Your writing is clear and to the point, you should do much more.  I would love to hear your thoughts on "Culture"


Craig Wilkey

You're a man of your word. I appreciate that.

The "Culture" blog post has been rattling around in my head for several weeks now. I will get the time to write it one of these days.
I already have a title for it.

Thanks for the feedback and the flattery.

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