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16 September 2010 | Juan Jimenez Blog
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In the Final Analysis, the Market Rules
This week Juan looks at the 'State of ITIL' and responds to previous blogs by Aidan Lawes on the misconceptions on how ITIL is positioned and promoted...

  Juan Jimenez

As part of my consulting practice for a number of clients, I provide services to The APM Group, the accreditor, as well as to APMG-US, the examination institute, as an assessor/auditor, examiner, translator and editor/proofreader. As I have stated before, the statements I make here are my personal opinions. I do not speak for The APM Group or APMG-US.

As some of you may be aware, I have responded to some of the comments that my fellow blogger Aidan Lawes has made on the subject of his perceptions of the “State of ITIL.” Essentially, I have pointed out to Aidan that many of the views he has expressed are somewhat skewed, and that criticism for the sake of criticism serves no positive purpose. I believe he is honest in his statements, and I certainly respect him and hold him in high regard, but I told him he needed to go past expressing criticism, and set forth his suggestions for solutions to what he views as shortcomings in the ITIL accreditation scheme.

There seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence in Aidan’s comments, such as customers asking for ITIL certification in tenders, but not for intermediate certifications. He interprets this as evidence of proof that organizations do not place any value on intermediate certifications, but frankly I doubt such an assertion can be sustained in a deeper analysis. The most likely reason is very simple to explain – most organizations are not looking for people to manage services in an ITIL context. What they are looking for is staff that understands the basics of ITIL in a way that allows them to participate in and communicate with other people involved in managing services in the organization.

The reality in most organizations is that there are supposed to be many more line workers than managers! What is missing from Aidan’s analysis is the fact that advanced ITIL certifications are not necessary in order to execute process activities that have been modified and evolved to incorporate ITIL best practices. Once that has been achieved, in many cases even Foundations certification is unnecessary and superfluous, because all the operational staff has to do is execute on the instructions as specified in the process documentation. I know of many, many clients in which this is the case, and who have correctly decided that ITIL certification is unnecessary at operational levels of the organization. When they feel it should be part of their requirements, they correctly limit the level of certification to Foundations.

Aidan also makes an interesting point that the qualification scheme should be “a) role-based, b) practical, c) service management based and d) tests knowledge and capability in other ways than multiple guess tests.”  That’s all well and good, but there is a simple issue that throws a very big wrench into the idea – as we all know, ITIL is descriptive, not prescriptive, and lacks the detail required to be classified as a methodology. Whose roles should be chosen? How do you test practical knowledge without prescriptive guidance, and whose prescriptive guidance do you choose? How do you test knowledge in “other ways”? I am open-minded enough to consider the possibility, but it is one thing to say it should be done, quite another to realistically propose how it should be done. Every organization using ITIL is using it in different ways. It is physically impossible to implement a manageable testing scheme that can adapt to every single organization using ITIL. Again, the criticism is there, but the solution expressed is woefully inadequate.

Aidan continues with his comments by stating that “the current scheme does not encourage the ATOs to deliver the messages appropriately.” However, he does not point out what he thinks is the “appropriate” way to deliver the message. I suspect the reason for that is that if he states what he thinks is the appropriate way to deliver the message, he will find that plenty of people will disagree with him on what is or is not appropriate. That is, in my opinion, the reason why neither OGC nor APMG mandates any “appropriate” way to deliver the messages. The matter is very correctly left up to the course author and whatever continual improvement methodology the ATO follows in order to respond to feedback from their customers on this issue. The reality is that the nature of ITIL and its guidance leaves this issue entirely open to interpretation. What one customer might consider the “appropriate” message may be considered entirely inappropriate in another organization. In other words, there is no one message, nor any one appropriate way to deliver the message when it comes to ITIL. Because it is a framework, ITIL is entirely open to interpretation, and that is as the framework was intended to be used – descriptive, not prescriptive.

This issue aligns to what I consider to be the worst possible way to approach the implementation of ITIL best practices in an organization’s service management activities – thinking that what works in one organization will automatically work in another. That, as far as I am concerned, is a surefire recipe for disaster. Organizations seeking to use ITIL’s best practices have to be approached in the same manner as ATO’s whose Quality Management Systems are being assessed for accreditation – with an open mind, and as individuals with their own context and circumstances.

As I have stated in my comments to Aidan’s blogs on this issue, I think OGC and APMG are quite correct in leaving the issue of what is a good or bad course entirely up to the market to decide. The current strategy of mandating minimums, allowing ATO’s to decide what additional value they will add to a training experience and letting the market decide who does the better job, is entirely appropriate because that is and will always be an entirely subjective decision on the part of the customer. What may be a good training experience for one customer (or to Aidan) may be a horrible one to another customer. Every customer brings different drivers to the decision to seek ITIL training, and I doubt very much that anyone could ever come up with a scheme to reliable judge what is good or bad in a training experience. Injecting the accreditation entity into this judgment is, in my opinion, a very bad idea.

Finally, Aidan is quite correct in stating that anyone is free to come up with an alternative accreditation scheme. I agree. But as he correctly states, whether or not the market will accept any alternative is a big “If.” Anyone can say it can be done, but it’s another matter altogether to take on the risk associated with such an effort.  Where I come from, this is reduced to the phrase “Talk is cheap.” Stepping up to the plate and taking a swing is an entirely different matter.

As always, the point of my blogs is to get readers to think, rather than provide ready-made answers, because I will be the first to admit I do not always have them.

Feedback on my blog entries is always welcome!  

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

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