Knock, Knock – Who’s There? ITIL 4 … ITIL for Who?


ITIL 4 offers a lot of great guidance to help organizations to gain value from their ITIL investment and raise their IT service management (ITSM) capabilities. That is IF they can overcome key barriers that were preventing value with ITIL v3 (2011 Edition). So, let’s not think of ITIL 4 as a silver bullet that will solve all of ITIL’s woes. There were behaviors we SHOULD have overcome in ITIL v2, ITIL v3, and ITIL v3 (2011) that we didn’t. So why should ITIL 4 be any different? Unless we’re finally able to change mindsets, behaviors, and the way we train people to develop ITIL capabilities instead of ITIL certificates.

In this article, I take a look at the new ITIL 4 Service Value System (SVS) and relate this to some success or fail factors connected with Attitude, Behavior, Culture (ABC).

ITIL 4 Service Value System

First of all, I’m delighted that ITIL is looking at ITSM, and wider IT operations, as a value system. This ties in with Agile-y, DevOps-y, and Lean-y ways of looking at the system as a whole. It’s a good start and a good chance for us to have some common “lingo” with other stakeholders in the IT ecosystem.

AXELOS Service Value System
The ITIL 4 Service Value System (Source: AXELOS)

In the new SVS, the ITIL 4 “guiding principles” are on the outside of the skin. For me, the original guiding principles were a powerful addition to the ITIL Practitioner Guidance published in 2016. However, ITIL Practitioner was not picked up as much as it should have been – fewer than 15% of delegates I ask at global itSMF events had read the publication. And many ITIL-using organizations are not even aware of it! Of those that were aware, a minority have actually translated the guiding principles into “desired behaviors” that underpin them.

What do I mean by this?

“Focus on value” is a central ITIL 4 principle. The ITIL definition of a service was also always about “Value, Outcomes, Costs, and Risks,” yet very few people knew the definition and had not quantified what this mysterious value was.

I should make you ask: “If we didn’t know what value we were hoping to achieve, then what were all these ITIL processes doing?”

The new ITIL 4 definition of Service introduces a MAJOR new concept: “enabling value co-creation.” Co-creation! Together with the business!! AND other stakeholders in the eco-system? Three top-chosen global ABC cards (cartoon-based cards that depict common IT/business issues) in the last 15 years have been “IT has too little understanding of business impact and priority,”IT is too internally focused,” and “Everything has the highest priority according to the business.” This has created a culture characterized by a lack of trust and credibility, and another top-scoring ABC card is “Them and Us culture.”

This is a challenge that needs to be consciously managed and practiced if we’re to be doing any “co-creating.”

Another key guiding principle, which is also a critical enabler for DevOps, is “Collaborate and promote visibility.” Let’s be honest here, we in IT have a poor track record at collaboration. I often see “teamwork” and “collaboration” as new corporate values on posters hanging on the wall. Yet when I ask “What behaviors will I see that demonstrates effective collaboration” I often get blank stares. Here’s a recent helpful blog on about effective collaboration.

“If we don’t know what behaviors we’re looking for, how will we know we’re there?”

One of the aims of ITIL 4 is to align more closely with practices such as DevOps and Agile, which means collaborating with the stakeholders of these practices. Stakeholders who are traditionally suspicious of ITIL. Collaborating end-to-end will thus be a challenge that requires practice and feedback. Open, honest, blame-free feedback. This will require a shift in cultural values and behaviors.

“Continual Improvement” is also on the outside skin in the SVS. I’ve always seen continual improvement as THE core skill ITSM organizations need to develop. Indeed, in the world of DevOps, a world that ITIL 4 wants to align with, “continual learning and improvement” is a key part of “the 3 ways of DevOps.” In our global surveys for the last 15 years “Plan, Do, Stop…no real continual improvement” has been a top-scoring ABC card. And fewer than 20% of organizations we survey have continual service improvement (CSI) as an end-to-end capability. It’s usually a localized capability associated with specific SILOED processes!

CSI was also a core component of ITIL Practitioner, which as I stated was poorly embraced. So once again it’s a “tough nut to crack apparently,” even more difficult if we can’t solve the collaboration behaviors issue. Also, doing this well means reserving time to improve. And this requires leadership commitment.

Underpinning continual improvement is the guiding principle “Progress iteratively with feedback.” I love the addition of “feedback” in ITIL 4. As Carmen DeArdo stated in his recent book “A Leader’s Guide to Digital Transformation,” co-authored with Jack Maher, “Feedback should be treated as though it were the most precious of our resources, because it is.”

Yet we’re poor at giving and receiving feedback. This is another challenge that won’t be solved without some so-called “soft skills” training or coaching. And as Barclay Rae quite rightly observed – soft skills are the hardest to develop.

The next skin down is governance

ITIL 4 states that: “Governance of the SVS is realized through: The evaluation of the SVS, evaluating the SVS on a regular basis, directing, and then monitoring the performance of the SVS.” Here’s a recent article I published on the ISACA site that shows the poor industry-wide uptake for IT Governance and indeed the poor understanding of, and alignment with, Governance by the best practice frameworks. ITIL being no exception. A recent survey on also showed a poor uptake of COBIT, one of the leading IT Governance frameworks.

So, here’s another challenge for ITIL 4 – aligning to the IT Governance system and getting the business to take its role seriously in governing the SVS. Governance is important for ensuring that the opportunities and demands entering the SVS are prioritized accordingly for organizational performance and conformance.

This ensures that the business doesn’t demand all of its innovation features above the need for managing risk (such as technical debt), compliance, and security. As mentioned above, a top-scoring ABC card is “Everything has the highest priority according to the business.”

Governance also means ensuring that value is realized at the end of the chain, that the business cases really have been achieved. This is a good way of providing feedback as to how effective the business is in making business cases, rather than simply demanding features. Is this necessary? Please see my article on Governance mentioned above.

The power of Business Relationship Management (BRM)

One key role and organizational capability in my mind for helping improve the relationship with the business, and helping improve business-side skills for effective governance of IT, is BRM. Something that has been sorely missing for many, many years.

My wish was that BRM was more prominent in ITIL 4. My wish is that the itSMF, BRM Institute, and ISACA chapters work more closely together moving forward as they all have dependencies if they want to be successful.

We now have ITIL 4 practices, not processes

What used to be loosely labeled as “Processes” in ITIL v3 become in effect “Practices” in ITIL 4. Where a practice is “a set of organizational resources designed for performing work or accomplishing an objective.

These resources are grouped into the four ITIL 4 “dimensions.” We used to call these the four Ps, which were people, process, product, and partner. They now become (in ITIL 4):

  1. Organizations and people
  2. Information and technology
  3. Partners and suppliers, and
  4. Value streams and processes.

I’m pleased that “Organizations and people” now talks about not only the skills and competencies of teams or individual members, but also management and leadership styles, communication, and collaboration skills. As I’ve mentioned above, these are necessary skills and success-barriers we see across the globe. And I’m curious to see which set of training will develop these so-called “soft skills” as we move forward.

The “Organizations and people” section also mentions one line which most people will skip over as they did with ITIL v3 (2011):

“It is important that every person in the organization has a clear understanding of their contribution towards creating value for the organization.”

I’ll repeat this in case you missed it – “It is important that every person in the organization has a clear understanding of their contribution towards creating value for the organization.” Please pin this up at every coffee machine in the organization when adopting ITIL 4 and ask everybody: “How is ITIL 4 helping us create value?…and for who?”

I’m also pleased that it’s now “Information and technology.” This is one thing that was always missing between the people and process in the 4 Ps. We designed a process and threw a tool at it. In our business simulation workshops, a key discovery is learning to ask “upstream and downstream” at hand-offs: “What information do you need from me in order to do your work?” Then have this built into the technology.

The ITIL 4 Service Value Chain

The Service Value Chain is a powerful concept aligning with industry trends around value streams. I’m a big fan of this. In the past, IT has been seen as not so much as a value chain as a “chain around the neck,” slowing down agility.

Value streams are seen as ways for the smooth, fast flow of value realization, not tied down by bureaucratic chains of poorly-applied process controls. A challenge for ITIL 4 is now aligning with other practices such as Agile and DevOps. Practices that traditionally engage the business earlier in the value stream. Practices that are suspicious of anything ITIL. This will require some good marketing (of ITIL and ITSM). Especially as these IT stakeholders won’t be taking the ITIL Foundation exam with you, nor in all likelihood will your business-partner stakeholders.

This will require some good stakeholder management, which was a topic in ITIL Practitioner – which, as mentioned already, many people didn’t read.


I’m personally delighted with the additional emphasis on “value” at the end of the SVS, the Service Value Chain, and the Service Value Streams. It ties in with trends in the DevOps space. Shifting from “Features” to “Outcomes.” Shifting from “Code-to-commit” to “Idea to value,” it ties in with BRM and its focus on value creation. And it ties in with COBIT 2019’s new-found focus on Performance (value) as opposed to Governance, Risk, and Compliance – with the traditional emphasis on compliance.

Although this is a very positive message – that the stars (Frameworks) are being aligned – there’s a danger now that we’ll ALL be knocking on the business door at the same time. “Hello I’m from COBIT, I’m here to be your “Performance and Value management partner.” Then, knock, knock “I’m from DevOps, I want to talk about value and outcomes.” And, knock, knock “I’m from BRM, I’m here to be your strategic partner and realize value optimization.” Plus, knock, knock “I’m here from ITIL to co-create value with you.” And then the business will likely say: “Just give me this feature”!

As I said, there’s some great guidance in ITIL 4. But, as with all versions of ITIL, value can ONLY be realized by translating theory into practice.

MarsLander Can Help with ITIL 4

This is one of the reasons we built our latest MarsLander simulation to support and enable ITIL 4 adoption and help teams and organizations translate theory into practice. This is not the only solution open to you of course. Please ask your Accredited Training Organization (ATO) how they’ll help your teams translate ITIL 4 theory into practice.

The simulation can be played with stakeholders from the end-to-end value stream. The team must engage with the customer to understand the business goals, value, and the needs for Governance. The team must also effectively communicate and collaborate throughout the value chain.

There are a service manager and a product owner, trying to understand how they need to work together. There’s a massive backlog of “product” and feature-related work and at the same time the need for new services and service improvements. The simulation is played in a number of rounds allowing the team opportunities to work together on continual learning and making iterative improvements.

In playing, the team must measure and demonstrate value. The team will also need to practice open, honest feedback, to all stakeholders. There’s also a supplier who must become part of the end-to-end value chain, working towards the shared goals.

In short, delegates are challenged to demonstrate that they know how to use and apply ITIL 4 concepts in an end-to-end value chain. Which, of course, is what we all need to happen in the real-world adoption and application of ITIL 4 guidance.

I’ve said a lot and now it’s my time to listen. What do you think about ITIL 4 and the points I make above? Please let me know in the comments.

If you liked this ITIL 4 article, the following ITIL articles are also very popular with readers:

Paul Wilkinson
Director & Owner at GamingWorks

Paul Wilkinson has been involved in the IT industry for more than 25 years and has a broad background in IT operations, IT management, and product innovation and development. He was project team lead in the original BITE (Business & IT Excellence) process modeling of ITIL, an ITIL V2 author, and member of the ITIL V3 advisory group.

He is co-owner of GamingWorks and co-developer of a range of business simulations focusing on IT service management, project management, business process management, business and IT alignment, alliance management and co-author and developer of the ABC of ICT products and publications.

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2 Responses

  1. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library – the great-grand daddy of ITIL 4 – did not initially intend to change mindsets or transform cultures. Unlike Agile, ITIL was formed to collate good practice experiences into shared guidance that could provide a basis for shared knowledge within and between organizations. Advisors, consultants and practitioners found utility in leveraging the guidance to implement organizational changes – particularly in processes – with the intent to transition to a “service-oriented” culture. This begs the question as to whether ITIL is a tool for enabling cultural change, particularly in the form of Attitudes, Behaviors and Culture (ABC)..

    Agile’s intent was different. Agile came about to address inefficiencies in software development processes. The outcome in 2001 was that a manifesto was written that required a mindset – and thereby a cultural – change.

    ITIL 4 brings together business, service management and technical best practices with an Agile orientation (you refer to it as ‘Agile-y’). I think this needs to be explored when identifying whether an ‘Agile-y’ framework can be leveraged for ABC.
    You start with the adoption of principles. I have a theory about why principles are not generally accepted: They are hard if there are too many. The reason the original 20+ ITIL v3 principles did not work was because they were not cohesive and scattered throughout the suite of publications. There were too many and they were inconsistent. Principles in the ITIL Practitioner guide were a great move but, alas, 10 principles were also too many (and yes, there are too many Agile principles even though some overlap with each other). ITIL 4’s seven guiding principles seems to be a good number, although the average person can only remember three or four things at once. Seven might still be a stretch. This being said, guiding principles are always a good idea BUT they need to be applied in all cases. With an “Agile-y” linkage, you now have nineteen total principles that will need to be adhered to. Maybe someone can rationalize them down to four or five to make them successful.

    As to value, I would argue that this – and the definition of a service – are fairly academic and not as elusive. Macro-environmental factors (noted as “external factors” in ITIL 4) points us in the right direction as value is defined by these factors individuals or organizations prioritize to be relevant and important to their objectives. What ITIL 4 explicitly states is that “value” is the most relevant item. How to define and calculate value is dependent on the perspective of the stakeholder. But this has been understood since human pre-history as the basis of “co-creating” value. You need one party to create the valuable widget and another to consume the valuable widget. ITIL 4 clearly articulates the obvious: in order to find out what a consumer finds valuable, ask them then obtain/build it.

    On the governance component, there is an argument to be made in that the ITIL SVS is a governance system. In its definition, it adheres to the ISO/IEC 385000 perspective and model (although not attributed in ITIL 4) but it interprets this as equating governance to the components subject to governance. Of course, this is also my interpretation of what I see and I believe you are in agreement but this would be the major challenge in cultural change as this aspect dictates how the governing bodies will adopt/adapt the SVS in order to impact organizational and cultural change from the top down. The prioritization of what external factors drive the value proposition and the appropriate focus of each dimension need to be attended to by the governing parties as well.

    In my reading of ITIL 4 I thought relationship management was well handled. Highlighting value co-creation is the starting point for relationships as it takes two to tango. The relationship management practice guidance may provide additional insight but, like governance, I saw the update as focusing on value from the top down, starting with the relationship the stakeholder has with the external factors; with the Organization & People and Partners & Supplier dimensions; and through the interfaces required to create and deliver value through the SVC. Without ITIL actually being a relationship management publication, it certainly does provide a great start.

    So, to effect cultural change, the question as to whether the newest incarnation of ITIL serves as a tool for this type of transformation. I agree that it is for the following reasons: (1) Whether by initial design or not, ITIL has been driving mindset change in transitions from product-only mindsets to service (product and service) orientation since version 2; (2) the ITIL SVS, along with the external factors and four dimensions, serves to decompose the relevant concepts, components and activities for the practitioner to understand their place and importance to and in the eco-system; and (3) governance is highlighted as a component so that leaders can find their place in the end-to-end system for value delivery. The introduction of ‘Agile-y’ concepts is somewhat incidental. As Agile evolves, ITIL adapted to the concepts of Lean, Agile methods (i.e., XP, Scrum, SAFe, etc.) and their effects (i.e., DevOps). But the concepts ITIL promotes apply to both the traditionalist as well as the Agilist because both are rooted in Continual Improvement philosophy, discipline and practice.

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