Knowing the Signs of Potentially Bad ITSM Advice

Bad ITSM Advice

Do you know the signs of potentially bad ITSM advice? There’s definitely a lot of stuff written on IT service management (ITSM) out there on the Internet – whether it be someone trying to be genuinely helpful, a mechanism through which to raise one’s profile, SEO-targeted marketing collateral, or something else. I should know because I write or publish a lot of such advisory pieces. But, hopefully, without the warning signs I’ve detailed below.

Here @StephenMann dives into 9 all-too-common signs of bad #ITSM advice – signs that should make you question the quality of what you're reading. Share on X

You might be thinking “But they’re just words, we all use the wrong words sometimes.” And you’re right, we do. However, when blogs, articles, eBooks, papers, or other written content is marketing collateral in particular – and it has been checked, edited, and proofed – the continued inclusion of the highlighted “red flag” words and phrases has to be treated as more worrisome than a simple typographical error. It’s likely bad ITSM advice.

So, what follows is a list of the things to look out for when reading ITSM content. While you might think that their use is a simple mistake, it might instead be a sign that the author and the company they’re representing don’t know as much as they think they do. Which has to be worrying if they’re potentially offering misinformation as advice to you and many others.

Check out this article by @StephenMann which shares 9 things to look out for when reading #ITSM content. Does the author really know as much as they say they do? Share on X

9 all-too-common signs of bad ITSM advice

It’s difficult to know how to structure the following words and phrases. So, they might appear a bit of a jumble presented in the order I recalled of them. However, they’re all ITSM-content-related “clues” that, when seen, give me – and should give you – cause for concern. That you’re looking at bad ITSM advice.

  1. “IT Infrastructure Library” – this long-form version of ITIL was dropped with ITIL v3 in 2007. For it still to be unwittingly used by writers proclaiming that what they have said is important has to be a big, big warning sign of content issues and bad ITSM advice. It might also be a sign of an SEO piece.
  2. “ITIL v4” – it’s ITIL 4, not ITIL v4. To call it ITIL v4 might seem a simple mistake but, for me, it’s a sign that the author, and the company they might be working for, hasn’t really spent the time understanding the new version of ITIL. But they’re still happy to tell you what it’s all about! Again, it could be an SEO-driven use case.
  3. Still quoting ITIL v3/2011 – yes, believe it or not, I still see people talking about the older version of ITIL as though it’s the latest and greatest version of ITIL. Of course, some of what’s in this version is still great but you’ll be missing out on so much more (especially since lots has happened in IT and service delivery since 2011!).
  4. “Implementing ITIL” – it’s a phrase I try to avoid but I know that I’ll have used it (but hopefully in a process implementation context). The reason for concern here is different from the three bullets above because, this time, the author potentially sees ITIL as merely a set of processes/practices to implement. Rather than as a different way of thinking about IT delivery and support. This bad ITSM advice “clue” can also come in the form of ITIL being treated as a project – something that has a stated start and finish.
  5. “ITIL compliant” – this is likely to be seen in marketing collateral more than anywhere else. The bottom line is that ITIL is guidance, not a standard, so your organization can never be compliant with it. “ITIL-aligned” is a better alternative. Look to ISO/IEC 20000 if you need a service management standard to be compliant with.
  6. Quoting ITIL as “the only way” – this manifests in a number of ways. From the quoting of ITIL as scripture to be deviated from at your peril, through stating “as per ITIL,” to acting as though ITIL is the only body of service management good practice out there. Plus, there are the adverse effects of the many ITIL vs. DevOps, ITIL vs. Agile, etc. views that further exacerbate the issue. No matter the reason, fanatically pushing the exact words of ITIL on people, and organizations, isn’t what its many authors intended.
  7. The use of outdated statistics. OK, so it’s not a specific word or phrase, but it’s an important warning sign of bad ITSM advice. So many blogs and articles don’t cite the source and date of the stats they throw about. You’d be surprised, or maybe not, at how often my researching a stat (because I want to borrow it for something I’m creating) highlights a 10+-year-old stat being passed off as though it was freshly minted. It’s not as though nothing has changed in IT and business operations in the last three years let alone ten years.
  8. Outdated content. If the content Google or a kind human has pointed you to has no published date, then be cautious. Or if it’s more than two years old, be cautious too (and yes, I know we have content that’s older than this). A good example is change management – or change enablement as ITIL 4 now calls it – because so much has changed with change management/enablement best practice in the last half-decade.
  9. “Guaranteed exam passes” – it’s slightly going off-topic, but if you’re happy to go with a training provider which can guarantee that you’ll pass your ITIL exam, then please take a moment to ponder how they can guarantee this and what it means for the value of what you’ve learned.

I’m sure I could keep going on about bad ITSM advice – and, in fact, there’s at least one other article to be written around the misuse of ITSM and ITIL and the associated advisory services – but you’re likely bored of me ranting/rambling by now. So, what would you add to this bad ITSM advice list? Please let me know in the comments.

This 2020 Bad ITSM Advice article was updated in 2023. If you liked this Bad ITSM Advice article, you might find these other ITSM articles helpful.

Stephen Mann
Stephen Mann
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Principal Analyst and Content Director at the ITSM-focused industry analyst firm Also an independent IT and IT service management marketing content creator, and a frequent blogger, writer, and presenter on the challenges and opportunities for IT service management professionals.

Previously held positions in IT research and analysis (at IT industry analyst firms Ovum and Forrester and the UK Post Office), IT service management consultancy, enterprise IT service desk and IT service management, IT asset management, innovation and creativity facilitation, project management, finance consultancy, internal audit, and product marketing for a SaaS IT service management technology vendor.

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3 Responses

  1. Excellent points, nicely encapsulated. I’m pleased to have helped in the discussion that got to this.
    When getting involved with anything that has a cost involved, where you need to get an appropriate return in value, it’s really useful to get an idea of what is good advice, and what is flim-flam. I think this article is good advice on how to avoid poor advice… Which is a positive endorsement, even if it may appear negative

  2. I would oppose points 1 & 2, not that I am aware of the writings you refer to, but just as a response to what you have written.

    On point 1 “IT Infrastructure Library”, I would suggest it’s wrong to assume someone’s expertise or lack thereof just because they refer to ITIL by its old name. A more experienced car mechanic might call a car a “Motor Car”, but just because modern times have evolved to calling them “Cars” does not make the more experienced mechanic any less of an expert, you would have to judge him on his understanding of a modern car, and not by what he calls it.
    ITIL is still called ITIL, and ITIL being capitalized, it’s still comes over like an acronym as far as I can see, and in the absence of any other definition of that acronym (which I have not seen, although there may well be one), then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to still refer to it like that, even if the “ITIL powers that be” say that it now no longer means that. If it truly no longer means that, well perhaps someone should define what it does mean. Axelos still hold “IT Infrastructure Library” as a registered trademark, so I don’t see why someone not being entirely tuned into the inner-circle in inner-workings of the ITIL experts should not still think of it in its original form. Axelos are standing on the shoulders of the IT Infrastructure Library and its history, its prior versions, customers and consumers of training, etc… It’s fine that ITIL is the trademark, the brand, and the proclaimed new name, and that “IT Infrastructure Library” is being relegated to the old name, it’s just not something I think you can expect the average consumer of ITIL stuff to appreciate the nuance of. Of course, you could be right, the writings you refer to in this context could be utter rubbish in which case, that’s fair enough, but that’s because its rubbish and could not be deduced by the fact the author(s) use the oldfashioned name for ITIL.

    Point 2, v4 v 4 I think this is an extension of the same point pretty much. ITIL has been an evolution, with ITIL v2, ITIL v3, and now ITIL 4, I cannot think of any other reason why the current incarnation of ITIL is called ITIL 4, other than the fact that it’s the 4th incarnation of ITIL, albeit with a name and version number format change. ITIL 4 is clearly an iteration over a prior body of work (ITIL v3) which is how many people would know it.

    I don’t know exactly why ITIL vs IT Infrastructure Library and 4 vs v4 would be so contentious, or such a leading indicator of someone’s ignorance on the subject, but it’s unreasonable to expect the average ITIL consumer to appreciate the nuanced thinking behind these seemingly pedantic changes to the ITIL name.

    If Axelos is to stand on the shoulders of ITIL and its history, then its name in all its previous forms comes with that package – I would suggest.

    1. Hi Gerry, thanks for taking the time to reply. This article is referring to people/organizations who are selling services or are offering advice based around ITSM and ITIL 4, not your average ITSM practitioner (who may or may not want to find out more). Of course, this could include the latter trying to share their experiences using the terminology they employ (and have likely learned from others). Cheers, Stephen.

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