In the middle of 2014, Justin Warren sent me a series of interview questions on the topic of why I hate ITIL so much. The process of writing a response got me … um, motivated and spat a substantial amount of bile.
Here it is.
Why do you hate ITIL so much? How did you arrive at this point of view?
Over the last decade I have worked for tens of companies that use ITIL/ITSM models and all of them are were miserable and unhappy workplaces. When I have worked in companies that don’t use ITIL (and there are a few) I found they were a great places to work where real business value was being created and delivered.
Some years ago I took a step back and made a conscious decision to avoid working for companies that asked for ITIL, ITSM, PRINCE2 and TOGAF experience and my work happiness improved enormously.
It’s about happiness. ITIL = misery and unhappiness. ITSM is operational misery. Who wants that ?
ITIL was originally developed quite a while ago, to address a specific problem. Does it contain anything of value?
Like all business or consulting frameworks, I feel that ITIL has reached the end of whatever useful purpose it might have had. Six Sigma, Total Quality Frameworks, ISO9001 are just a few examples of other frameworks that have passed their useful life and forgotten. Its time for ITIL to die too.
The original purpose of ITIL was to provide a way to manage technology that incumbent managers and executives could not understand and that generation has moved out of the way through retirement or forced engagement.
ITIL contains nothing of value for the future. The fundamental ITIL premise is that technology work can be segmented like machines or work functions in a factory where each task can be assigned to a machine with fixed human resources applied to the task and funding applied to the machine. The concept is valid but simply doesn’t work in real life when the “factory machines and processes” undergo transformation change every three to five years like steam to petrol engines.
In a factory, a machine will last decades before replacement or change is needed. ITIL aping that model has never really worked for IT.
What problems does ITIL cause?
ITIL/ITSM has prevented enterprise change for about 15 years Public Cloud exists because of failed ITIL models that it prevents convergence, new technology adoption and operational flexibility. I’ve worked at public and private cloud deployments and the failed deployments are all due to ITIL practices preventing change. The cloud transformation destroys value in existing operational models at every level and puts ITIL & ITSM in the trash.
Everyone should experience in an ITIL-free project to understand just how enjoyable and exciting it is to deliver something on-time, on budget.
Overinvestment in Operational Control ITIL is about control, scope and reporting. It’s about minimum viable delivery, lowest possible compliance, least effort, review meetings, and other short sighted activities.
ITIL is not about delivery or excellence. In my experience, ITIL and PRINCE2 prevent excellence through focus on deliverable and cost management.
Take a look around your ITIL-compliant project team and count the secretarial staff (aka project secretaries/managers) doing the reports, raising purchase orders, scheduling meetings, calculating budgets and indulging to “project programme review” instead of delivering useful work on technology.
I once worked on a large project that had more than 25 ITIL/PRINCE2 project managers and only five engineers. Each and every one was convinced that if only we were better managed then productivity would improve. I pointed out the one more engineer would increase output by 20% and they pulled out their reports to deny that fact. I quit a few days later.
Responsibility abandonment – The single biggest problem in ITIL the creation of silos creates “not my problem” attitudes. Workers have no ownership, no incentive and are actively prevented from communicating outside of their budget allocation or silos. This leads to technical debt and cost wastage as teams maximise their performance at the expensive
Poor communication – the creation of silos forced teams to form around narrow disciplines and created structures for leadership and work segmentation. At the same time, it creates villages of isolation where like-minded groups formed around core disciplines and enabled self-referencing and self-reinforcing practices to emerge. For example, storage professionals are often criticised for their inability to adopt new technology but this is a function of silo isolation where large-scale change is not rewarded or allowed.
Poor Management Practices Like any group of people, there are many managers and executives with poor skills and limited competency. Frameworks like ITIL create the illusion of control that results in organisational delusion that IT is efficient and manageable.
What should be done instead of ITIL?
Information Technology is moving to an integrated or converged model at many different levels. Technology disciplines around network, storage and compute are no longer isolated but integrated as cloud, both public and private, replaces the existing service models.
Change is being led by converged infrastructure in the data centre but extends much further – smartphones and tablets are replacing desktops, the death of 3-tier software, the return of developers in the enterprise and much more. The transformation is very wide.
The cloud transformation destroys residual value in existing operational models. ITIL & ITSM are fundamentally about limiting scope, silos of functional separation and change prevention and cannot cope with the amount of change in the next few years that will be driven by convergence.
The future isn’t yet clear but the most viable models today are Agile / Kanban, Devops, Scrum and Sil0-busting teams.
Aside: What is most interesting is that these models are what ITIL was intended to “fix”. By preventing flexible and adaptive work, ITIL wanted to make the workforce into predictable robots. Of course, this feeds the denial by the ITIL cartels.
What do you think of DevOps?
Is it a valid replacement for ITIL? Or is it complementary? Should both be thrown out in favour of something else?
DevOps is, in large part, a reaction to the failure of ITIL and very much about finding a working solution to ITIL’s unsolvable limitations. It removes silos through cooperative activity where each persons commits to delivering something to their peers. It promotes community and communication where ITIL prevents and restricts.
Younger people are especially able to embrace DevOps since they lack indoctrination of the older people like me. This, of course, leads to incumbent “ITIL experts” telling us that they don’t have experience or don’t know how things work. Older people should have the wisdom to see an approaching wave of change.
in terms of replacing ITIL, we already know that this will happen. Public cloud companies like Google and Facebook clearly demonstrate the failure of Enterprise IT and ITIL/ITSM. The fiscal cost of ITIL will be discarded to compete internally. Here is the secret – public clouds are cheaper because they don’t use ITIL.
What follows ITIL isn’t yet clear. Human nature will be to develop yet another framework and the big consulting companies are probably working on it already. I see that it will be based on DevOps that we see today, be empowering to technology practitioners to promote teamwork, ownership and outcomes instead instead of isolation, silos and poor responsibility handling.
What about organisations that have spent a lot of time and money implementing ITIL practices and claimed success? What should they do now?
Find a small project in the portfolio and use Kanban or Agile methods. Get some contractors with Kanban/Agile experience to enculturate that team. The hardest part Agile methods is that employees must become responsible for their output and empowered to deliver. The “factory” model prevents exactly that.
Take this seed team and embed the practices into other projects. Evaluate strongly and ruthlessly push staff into changing their personal outlook to professional responsibility. In IT infrastructure, nothing should be a network problem, a storage issue, or developers failure. Everyone owns the platform, everyone owns the solution.
Is there something that ITSM and DevOps practitioners are both missing?
DevOps practitioners are busy with delivery and execution at any price while developing their own control/measurement systems through the use of Scrum/Agile methods. DevOps doesn’t have a rigid and inflexible framework that costs money to use nor does it need expensive consultants to advise. They simply don’t care about ITIL or ITSM.
ITSM practitioners are made obsolete by the fundamental convergence technology trend. The ITSM process will be replaced by fluid process defined by software application applying concepts of Kanban or Agile methods. In a very real sense, ITSM will be replaced by applications like products implementing Kanban/Agile like Atlassian, LeanKit and Asana. Technology practioners are smart people and often much smarter than their leadership or business managers.
ITIL takes the view that technology people are too smart for business which requires rigid control to prevent overactivity or over-innovation. DevOps takes the view that the business grows if smart people are managed smarter and will unlock genuine business advantage.