Is ITIL Best Practice?
“Best” is a brave word. “Best” leads with the chin.
The following is reprinted with permission. [Update: This post dates from when the IT Skeptic was anonymous. The IT Skeptic asked Rob England for permission to reprint the article and Rob kindly agreed. Since they are both me, the conversation was held in my head.]
All the published ITIL documents define ITIL as Best Practice. (Do you recall how Winnie the Pooh said things in Title Case to show that they were Very Important?) We define Best Practice as “an industry accepted way of doing something, that works” and “the best identified approach to a situation based upon observation from effective organisations in similar business circumstances”. Both of these are excellent and accurate definitions of how the term is used in the ITIL context. I have a concern with the word “Best”. This is an emotive and judgemental term that to me implies several things:
• nothing else is better
• anything else is worse (so by subtle inference there is something wrong with you if you choose to do anything else)
• someone has evaluated it to determine it is best (so by inference it can be measured)
It is clear that is not what “Best” is supposed to mean. It is intended to mean “industry accepted” and “best identified”. The fact remains that the word “Best” means something else.
ITIL is the product of a group of people who accepted contributions some time ago from a wide but not universal set of organisations and individuals. They then formed committees and came to a group consensus as to which of the submitted practices were “best”. Then individuals wrote the books, using peer review and editing to remove personal bias from the result.
Now all those people are highly professional and expert and the result is an awesome body of knowledge. I imply no criticism of the people or the result – it is the most useful tool available for the execution of IT practices. It is just that word “Best”.
Many believe that a consensus decision by committee is by definition sub-optimal.
Despite the rigorous professionalism of those involved, the result reflects opinion, derived from a subset of the community.
The ITIL domain is a difficult one to objectively measure and make relative comparisons on. There is no agreed standard for its measurement, with the possible exception of BS15000 or ISO20000. All measurement to date has been done by proprietary methods. How does a Pink Elephant “4” compare with a Lucid-IT “3”? The amount of rigorous academic research into the measurement of ITIL compares very poorly with say TQM or CMM.
ITIL is closely controlled by the governing bodies and changes only very slowly, in the form of major revisions. As a result it represents practice at a point in time. As advances are made, and as the world changes, these are only reflected in ITIL some years later.
We need to make very clear to those not versed in the pedantic subtleties of the definition that what ITIL delivers is in fact Generally Accepted Good Practice. It may or may not represent the pinnacle of competitive excellence, as if anyone could measure that.
Rob England, Editor, itSMFnz Newsletter Vol 2 Number 1
Once again, it is not ITIL itself that I (or the author) am taking a tilt at. This time it is that concept of Best Practice. I much prefer the term Generally Accepted Practice.
If there really is something that can rightly be called Best Practice, then there needs to be objective criteria by which that can be judged, evidence (we'll discuss evidence soon), and probably an adjudicating body. And it is unlikely to be arrived at by a committee.
So if you are selling ITIL to the boss or the Board, don't call it Best Practice. You just inflate expectations and attach a note to your backside saying "kick me".
P.S. a lovely bit of advice that has been floating round for a while (I forget where I first heard it) is: don't call it ITIL either. Call the project something relevant to the aims and KPIs of the management. ITIL is just a technical detail of implementation.