ITSM Certificate or No ITSM Certificate, That Is… Not the Question

ITSM Certificate

“I have a certificate in XXXX, therefore I know what I’m talking about!” No, you don’t! An IT service management (ITSM) certificate is just a piece of paper that states that you’ve answered a number of questions in a specific area. It really doesn’t tell people anything about your capability in that specific area as most training and examination is “set up” today. Sometimes you’re not even required to take the training to sign up for an examination. What value does that ITSM certificate hold – really?

So, should we skip certifications? No, that isn’t what I’m saying here, we just need to make sure the ITSM certificate is packed with value and actually means something for the holder, and for the business where the holder of the certificate is practicing their magic.

Isn’t it time that we look at other options for examination than multiple choice? This article by @leffa explores. #certification #ITSM Share on X

How can we make certifications worth the paper they’re printed on?

In a project at the University of Borås, where we’re creating courses on an advanced level in Data Driven Service Development, we’re conducting interviews with a lot of companies that are participating in the project. The courses we’re developing are aimed at people already in employment who want to expand their knowledge in this area – while still being able to work part or full time and not have a divorce. Because right now, you often need to take several weeks or months of leave to be able to participate in a university-level course. From these interviews, we of course get a lot of information on the topic of Data Driven Service Development, but we also ask questions related to how a course could be delivered to make it work – keeping your employment and not regularly leaving your business for days or weeks.

What we’ve found

In this project, we’ve so far conducted over 50 interviews over three years with over 30 companies, with some very interesting findings. We’re continuing with the interviews, to ensure that we get accurate information on the needs.

'There is a huge need for continuous learning, and it needs to be specific, direct, online, and available when and where the trainee wants it' – @leffa #ITSM #certification Share on X

When we ask questions on the desired form of training, most of our interviewees answer that Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, and similar platforms are a very common way for staff to expand knowledge continuously. On these platforms, one can find courses in very specific areas and you can pick and choose just what you need. There is often no certificate involved (and not just ITSM certificates), you answer a quiz at the end or continuously during the course as a test of your acquired knowledge.

Not a single one said that they considered a university-level course when looking for continuous training but stated they’d really like to if the courses were more adapted for continuous training.  There is a huge need for continuous learning, and it needs to be specific, direct, online, and available when and where the trainee wants it!

Now to the headline, what about ITSM certificates and exams?

Are they important? Almost everyone we’ve interviewed says that a certificate or exam isn’t really that important from a business perspective. Some interviewees specifically said that an exam is very important, and when we asked why they thought this was important, they explained that they considered the exam or certificate to be proof that they’ve fulfilled the course to an approved level. When asking those stating that the certificate was not important, they answered almost the same thing but added that it wasn’t important for their job or added any specific value, only as a personal checkpoint of acquired knowledge.

'Personal proof of how much of a course is actually understood, is relevant for most people. But the examination or certificate is not very interesting from a business perspective & adds no real value after the course is done.' -… Share on X

What can we conclude from this?

A conclusion here could be that personal proof of how much of a course or training is actually understood, is relevant for most people. But the examination or ITSM certificate is not very interesting from a business perspective and adds no real value after the course is done.

How can we change this?

Well, we also got some feedback on this from our interviews and some of the most common comments are listed below:

  • An overwhelming portion of the interviewees brought up gamification as a way to make training more interesting and challenging and that they’d feel more motivated by this.
  • Exercises that are “real world”-oriented are wanted – to be able to work on a real case from their own business if possible.
  • Several interviewees also brought up workshops and using the theory in a case provided to make the training more “real life.”
  • That capability is more important than a certificate. However, this doesn’t eliminate the need for an exam as proof of personal understanding
  • Time is of importance, with short specific courses preferred to overwhelming fully packed “here is all the knowledge you need on everything” courses.
  • Holistic understanding and getting the “big picture” are considered more important today (complexity is often mentioned too).

What this means for ITSM certificates

So, from the information we have from our interviews, we could look at redesigning courses and training based on some new principles:

  • Shorter courses, but keeping the big picture
  • More specific topics, but keeping the big picture
  • Mixed training forms (online, IRL, etc.)
  • Connect the training to business outcomes (for example, through the 8-field model)
  • Real case exercises (possibly in metaphoric contexts like simulations)
  • In course assessments (back to what we did before…)
  • Training and practicing/simulation of actual scenarios should be included in courses
  • Micro or nano exams, keeping the big picture.

“But designing courses that fulfill the bullets above will cost a lot of money!”

Yes, it will, but courses designed based on these new principles will contribute more value – and remember that businesses often state that the course fee is not the problem! If a new course design and examinations can keep staff working while they expand their knowledge, then businesses will likely be willing to pay for this!

We also know that many training companies state that their customers ask for and want three-day courses with multiple choice examinations… this is probably because most customers don’t know there are options. They order what the training companies make the most money on because that is what training companies market.  

With the information from our project, and the fact that we hear this from practitioners all over the world, isn’t it time that we look at other options for examination than multiple choice? We also have the 8-field model, often promoted by Paul Wilkinson from GamingWorks, that should be mandatory to use when a customer asks for a course or training.

Our business customers seem to want more value from training and want staff to get real capabilities instead of humongous amounts of PowerPoints and a framed piece of paper (their many ITSM certificates).

It’s time to make a difference that makes a difference!

Leif Anderson
Owner and Consultant at Illumineight AB

Leif has worked as a manager and leader in IT organization for almost 30 years now, and for the last 15 years with management consulting, governance, strategy, support training, business relations, and leadership coaching. Leif is owner and consultant at Illumineight AB in Sweden, delivering training and consulting in ITIL, Lean IT, BRM, leadership, and DevOps He is an approved instructor for business simulations from GamingWorks, since 2008. (Apollo 13, The Phoenix Project, Marslander and Grab@pizza) He was also an early adopter of the GamingWorks, concept ‘ABC of ICT’, and have translated the ABC of ICT deck of cards to Swedish and promoted it in Sweden. Leif is also an ambassador for BRM institute and promotes BRM in Sweden and the Nordics. He is also a lecturer at the University of Borås and participates as an ITSM specialist in several projects at the University of Borås.

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