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3 September 2010 | Aidan Lawes Blog
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Criticizing ITIL - Part 2
Aidan follows up from last weeks blog and responds to the comments on the misconceptions on how ITIL is positioned and promoted...

Last week’s blog has triggered some comments, for which I thank the contributors.

Interestingly, most of them appear to agree with much of what I said. And even the “objections” to some extent actually reinforce my main thrust.

My fellow blogger Juan mounted a spirited defence of APMG. I agree that they do meet their remit pretty well. Unfortunately I think that their remit does the industry a disservice since it focuses on ITIL – not on service management, nor roles, nor competence. Not their fault, I know, but they are complicit in other aspects.

If as he says, their role is “to manage accreditation and certification programmes”, then I do have an issue with their syllabuses. In other spheres, the examination body is responsible for defining the curriculum that will be subject to examination; they don’t define in minute detail specific paragraphs of a text that constitute that curriculum. Nor do they define a minimum period to be spent on each topic. This detail to the nth degree is almost guaranteed to produce the result it does – training courses that are focused on getting people to pass the exam [which is not the same as understanding the subject!], delivered in the minimum time that they can get away with.

I have reviewed and/or audited approaching 100 accredited courses and relatively few of them exhibit the qualities that make them outstanding service management learning experiences. Commercial pressures play a huge part here. The Foundation syllabus defines a minimum contact time of 18 hours; the intermediates 21 and 28 hours respectively for the lifecycle and capability courses. The former pretty universally exists as a 3 day event. When first launched many ATOs offered these as 4 and 5 day events respectively. Now, they are almost universally condensed to 3 and 4 days. No ATO that I know claims that this is because long days and cramped timetables make for a better product! EIs are only too aware that some courses that have been accredited are far from quality products, but they conform to the requirements laid down. The multiplicity of EIs means that if one EI won’t accredit the course, there’s almost certainly another that will be only too happy to take the business.

APMG do indeed exercise pretty strong control over the EIs; I have personal knowledge of EIs being reprimanded for exercising commonsense judgment that was contrary to the strict letter of APMG’s rules. As for EIs being able “develop their own certifications and submit them for inclusion within the accreditation scheme”, I’d say “so what” and “why”? Why should the qualifications be part of the ITIL scheme? Service management is far broader than ITIL, so why shoehorn something into the scheme. It reinforces the myth that ITIL is somehow the pinnacle. And why should APMG be involved – no doubt to their commercial advantage – at all? The short answer is because there are non-compete clauses that force the EIs to conform.

As Michelle so eloquently said, the quality of some of the offerings also leaves much to be desired. So I stick with my view that APMG are one of the guilty parties.

Juan’s final point about the need for “a forum for organizations to share their good and bad experiences with others in an attempt to improve their ITSM activities” describes exactly one of the founding principles of itSMF. But itSMF International and at chapter level is comprised of individuals and companies who sometimes have an imperfect understanding of ITIL/ITSM or even vested interests. Hence what should be the strong and consistent voice promoting service management is often just seen as part of the “ITIL establishment”.

As for the industry commentators and their detachment from reality, I have seen some truly astounding articles over the years that have been riddled with half truths, inaccuracies and downright lies. James and Noel, both of whom I have known and worked with for many years, were singled out because I saw their articles as I was writing the blog – and I know they like some controversy!

One of my biggest pet hates is hearing talk about “implementing ITIL”. Some of us have been trying desperately for years to get people to understand that the goal is not ITIL, but developing and delivering the services that are integrated with the business and meet their quality and cost goals. But nor is ITIL THE solution; it is only one element that an organization could use to help them achieve their goal. Noel’s right that it doesn’t cover everything, but why should it? There are aspects of people management and development, organizational change, technology, etc., etc., that are covered in enormous detail in volumes stretching from here to Timbuktu.

Any good professional uses all of the “tools” at their disposal. Their expertise lies in knowing when to use which tool – and in service management that will frequently mean using some plain old commonsense!  I am in total agreement with Noel that ITIL has shortcomings and much of the thrust of my previous blog was about the fact that ITIL per se isn’t the problem, but rather how people position it – either explicitly in what they say and do or implicitly through things like the ITIL-centric qualification scheme. However, Noel doesn’t help by trying to dissect things too much; “service management” and “best practice” are terms that need to be treated as whole concepts rather than treating each word separately. In the concept of “best practice” as first articulated there was never a sense of perfection or an absolute, but rather that this was an exemplar of something practical that worked. Other organizations could adopt and adapt it for their specific requirements. It was also subject to improvement as parameters changed. Much of the earlier ITIL material could be called “best practice” because it broadly represented what successful organizations did in practice. I’m not sure that this is true of some of V3 – Strategy in particular – but that said, there has been much substituting of the use of the term “best practice” with “good practice”, though unfortunately inconsistently and confusingly.

In another life, I used to teach ICL staffers about our non-prescriptive approach to total systems thinking called OPENframework. On most courses, someone would ask how it compared to this or that methodology. On enquiring why they wished to know this, they invariably replied to the effect that the customer might ask. My response to this was that if they were having a conversation with the customer about the “methodology”, they were having the wrong conversation! Surely it should be about understanding their requirements and assuring them that we would be able to meet them. The same applies to service management. Why should the business be aware of or even remotely interested in knowing what frameworks or approaches are being used in developing or improving the solutions to their requirements. They are interested in the outcomes, not the mechanics that produce them.

So Noel, don’t focus on trying to get rid of ITIL; rather recognize its strengths and weaknesses, and promote the message that it is simply one enabler to helping organizations develop the solutions that they require.  

Any feedback and comments are always welcome!!


6th September 2010

Hi Aidan,

Re: your Criticizing ITIL - Part 2

Again, this is my personal opinion, not that of APMG.

It is very easy to criticize APMG for doing what it's been asked to do. Unfortunately, I don't see anything -but- criticism in your blogs, which in and of itself is useless unless accompanied by suggestions for improvement.

APMG focuses on what OGC has asked them to do. They are not supposed to be focusing on "service management" in general, because that is not what their customer asked of them. They are supposed to focus on what OGC contracted them to perform. If you think anyone should do something different, you should be telling that to OGC, and not just what they should not be doing, but what you think they should do. What you are doing is akin to a third party criticizing a consultant because he or she did exactly what their customer asked them to do, and nothing more. I don't see anything positive about that, and I would venture to say both the consultant and the customer would probably ignore you.

Your view of the syllabuses, IMO, is rather narrow. The Foundations syllabus is the only one designed to produce a test prep course, and that's because it was designed that way so that the material in the course provides all that is needed for a candidate to demonstrate Blooms Level 1 and 2 in the examination. Not a single ATO is required to teach the minimum hours and only the minimum hours -- that is a choice the ATO makes in consultation with their customer. I know ATO's who give their customers the option to receive Foundations training over four days, with some very interesting exercises and plenty of time for review and question/answer sessions.

The syllabuses for the intermediate and MALC tests are as far away as you can get from your interpretations. In these cases the delegates are required to read the books, because just attending the class is not enough to pass the tests. APMG makes that very clear in the syllabuses in the pre-course reading recommendations. As far as I am concerned, a course that only meets the bare minimum requirements will produce delegates unprepared to pass the intermediate and advanced tests. The concept is similar to the application of Darwin's Law in that the market will weed those out over time.

In regards to APMG "reprimanding" EI's, someone's definition of "common sense judgment" may be someone else's definition of "a very bad idea." Without specific examples it is not possible to judge if your example fits the former or the latter.

I see a lot of opinion in your comments, and I respect that, but frankly I have to ask "Where's the meat?" What I do see is a lot of criticism, but no suggestions for improvement. Perhaps Part 3 of this series should address that?

Juan Jimenez


7th September 2010

Hi Aidan,

There is a lot in your articles that I agree with, but I will restrict my comments to the debate between yourself and Juan regarding the prescriptive nature of the syllabus for each course. The specific paragraphs and minimum timings to which you refer, and the over-crowded syllabus means that it is very difficult to provide the interesting exercises and of which Juan speaks.

I recently was asked to provide a Foundation course in Cyprus over 4 days, with the exam to be taken later, at a time of the candidates choosing. It was far and away the most enjoyable and useful course I have delivered in years! Plenty of time to check understanding (especially as English was not their first language), lots of exercises, and most importantly loads of discussion, applying what they had learnt to their own organisation. Animated discussions carried on over the breaks and lunchtimes, and for half an hour at the end of each day. Most importantly, before the course had ended, they had decided to put aside a day the following week to meet again, and discuss some practical steps to take. It was an example of what I like to think of as ITIL+ - training, but also discussion of practicalities, and agreement to make changes to start on the journey to improve delivery to their customers. As I flew back, I could not help reflecting that this was what training should be like – but I also had to face up to the fact that altering the Foundation course delivery in this way was unlikely to be feasible. Very, very few ATO’s offer this course as 4 days; although many have said that it would be a much better course if this were done. The cost of providing a longer course would price us out of a very competitive market, at a very difficult time.  People want the exam at the end of the course, thus exam practice and revision reduces the time even more.

I am also reminded that I was told at an itSMF conference by a well-known proponent of the current certification setup, that V3 Foundation had been “designed to make it impossible to put into action without further study” – apparently this was a “dangerous” outcome of V2 Foundation courses. My Cyprus students, by deciding to take some first steps after the course were therefore going against the intention of the V3 Foundation designers.

I actively encourage this approach – if training does not change behaviour, what is the point of it? I have taken to asking my students to come up with a change, however small, that they can implement tomorrow, and one that they can develop over the next month. If even half of these changes happen, I will be delighted.

The syllabus for the Intermediate courses are slightly better – and 4 days for Capability means that there is more time for good syndicate exercises of 2 hours or more – like an old V2 Manager course. (The numbers taking these courses are very small, however, meaning that having a class size big enough to have 3 or more syndicate groups is unlikely.) Whether a great course and thorough reading of all the nominated chapters helps in any way to pass the subjective exams is another matter entirely!

As one of the organisations whose materials have been audited by yourself, we are as guilty as many in providing PowerPoint slides as the primary delivery mechanism. (Obviously these are added to with the tutor’s own comments, classroom discussions etc.) What I would love to do, is to start the course with a blank sheet of paper, and a question to the students – “How can we deliver what our customers need?” Through discussion, exercises, simulations etc.,, we would build up a detailed mindmap of a lifecycle, necessary processes, people, technology etc, so that by the end we would have arrived at what was required, which we could then compare to what the books say. I suggested this approach to an EI – who looked horrified, and said “but how could we accredit that???” I can see their point – how can you accredit a course, saying that it covers all the specific paragraphs, and spends the specified time, without a set of slides that demonstrate this? But which type of course would be the most useful for the students??  I can offer such courses, of course, outside of the scheme, but most of my work comes from companies who just want the standard course.

Tutors and ATO’s have been unhappy from the start of the current scheme. The dramatic downturn in training, due in part to the economic situation, and in part to the confusing scheme and a Foundation syllabus that fails to inspire further curiosity and enthusiasm, has gone a long way to killing off the ITIL training market completely. The rumbles of discontent from the ATO’s are growing every day, and APMG appears to be starting to realise that they need to change – but I fear it will be too little too late.

Liz Gallacher


7th September 2010

Hi Aidan
Wow !
I find myself agreeing with nearly all of your comments !!
I would however like to add another small but vitally important group to the list and they are what I like to call "The Good and the Great" who you will find are normally involved in most of the Committees, Policy Groups, IAGs etc and are often to be seen to be floating from one managerial or directorial position to another thus enabling them maintain their influence over the direction of ITIL. They are mainly responsible for the situation which currently exists but are often in denial and only seek to keep themselves established as the "ITIL hierarchy" by whatever means.
Michelle is right everything is getting tedious but why ??  Did we have this avalanche of comment and criticism with V2, I don't think so. 
Look at the Version 3 News (09/05) and the slides which went with it,  two stand out,  the first one outlined the top 10 consultation views and the other was entitled Qualifications - The way forward. If we compare those slides and their content (and other content from similar briefs) to what we currently have, then we can probably see why V3 has got to where it is now.
GUILTY - Of Not Listening (Or more correctly listening and then ignoring) 
Trevor Murray


7th September 2010

Hi Aidan

What your last two blog entries wonderfully and very correctly summarize is truly what is wrong and dangerous with the way Castle ITIL’s leadership is currently moving.  I can’t tell you how many organizations miss your last sentence (don’t focus on trying to get rid of ITIL; rather recognize its strengths and weaknesses, and promote the message that it is simply one enabler to helping organizations develop the solutions that they require.) and as a result, lose all the benefit and progress that ITIL can provide and help to foster.  They miss the key objectives due to, as pointed out, the education only focus driven by the powers that be (vs. quality improvement and correct usage) and the vendor tool environment that is correctly focused on their profits (no fault there) taking advantage of an extremely mis-managed set of wonderful practices.

My main concern is what of moving forward?  If ITIL were to be lost or dropped, would a COBIT, MOF, or other competing framework or standard (ISO38500 or ISO20000) step into the void or would the idea and progress desperately needed from IT Service Management principles die on the vine?  Could we see the chasm between IT as a provider and the business become an even greater expanse?  If we truly are a community of IT Professionals, vendors, and consultants looking to row the boat in the same direction trying desperately to improve our collective capabilities to drive quality, better align and do so with the same resources we currently work with, why can’t we also demand that those ‘good practices’ we consume and work with to also row the boat collectively in the same direction?  I wonder if it is time or if we can set greed and advance out of naïveté in order to change the game and wish for a more collective body of knowledge or framework that includes, more than a mapping, the fully expanse of great practices defined across COBIT, MOF, ITIL, PMBOK/PRINCE2, Six Sigma, CMMi, ISOs, etc…

Here’s to a muddy but hopeful future?

Kory G. Smith


9th September 2010

Hi Aidan,

I agree with you....There are many challenges in way these ITIL V3 is being positioned and promoted...I am sure CMMI-SVC is fast catching up...at-least at some parts of world...


Chandresh Adhiya


13th September 2010

Hi Aidan

Regarding your critics about ITIL (part 2) I have just a small comment regarding the last paragraph.

I fully agree with you that the customer should be interested in improving his business and should not care about the standard/methodology/tool used but …

  1. In the sale process every consultant is praising his own set of tools and you need a way to compare them (either as potential customer or sales person). In some area the price is a major factor, but in Service Management the cost of choosing the wrong consultant is much higher than the fees paid.
  2. In the implementation process the use of the words “this is required by methodology”, used in very limited number of cases, can solve problems with stubborn middle managers who oppose strongly any change.
  3. Using an international well known name is good to create a positive atmosphere around the project and is an excellent motivator (e.g. ISO, CMMI, ITIL, IEEE, PMI, etc.)


Adrian Horodniceanu


(ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom and other countries.) 

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