Project Management

Top 5 reasons why ITIL implementations don't happen by the book

Many organizations have moved past awareness of ITIL, and a significant number are looking to implement. That's when they find a number of roadblocks. Here are those roadblocks and how to get around them.

By LeetzaPegg & Matthew Kayes of Seitel Leeds & Associates in conjunction with the Enterprise Computing Institute

ITIL -- the IT Infrastructure Library. The buzz is no longer new. Many organizations have moved past awareness of ITIL, and a significant number are looking to implement. They are left with the realization, however, that ITIL really is just a series of books. So they do some online research, pick up ITIL's Planning to Implement Service Management volume, and struggle with the "how."  With the faith of a new convert, they seek to do everything by the book, and then recognize the challenges in obtaining upper management buy-in, effecting organizational change, and coordinating such a massive undertaking. Welcome to the real world.

Presented below are our top five real-world challenges to implementing ITIL and ways by which you can overcome these roadblocks.

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5. Different parts of the IT organization have vastly different priorities

Once an organization has become excited about implementing IT service improvements, we almost always see tension arise between those with strategic responsibilities and those with tactical responsibilities. The strategic thinkers typically want to focus on service catalogs and financial management, while the tactical teams knows that the focus must be placed on day-to-day operations like change control and incident management. If you choose a solely tactical approach, you'll alienate the strategists. Choose a strictly strategic effort, and your tactical team may see ITIL as just another thing being pushed on them that doesn't improve their day-to-day operations. Then you can say goodbye to organizational change.

To drive success, it's vital that good energy be focused on process improvement -- not on second guessing other parts of the organization. The best way to do this is to give as many parts of the organization their piece of the pie. Let the tactical team tackle change management improvement and task the strategists with developing some meaningful key performance indicators to feed into other processes.

In other words, be prepared to support multiple improvement activities concurrently so you can foster healthy competition (whose process was implemented them fastest) rather than begrudging acceptance.

4. The job gets in the way

The most common reason our ITIL projects stall is that day-to-day business gets in the way. We see this happen even when there's project support from all levels of IT management. In the "keep it up and running" vs. "operational improvement" clash, the real-world activities of the business always win — much in the same way problem management is not done because incident management always trumps. In this case, of course, the underlying problem with the IT infrastructure is not the technology, but the processes themselves.

This is neither unexpected nor unreasonable; the business needs to run, so releasing the latest business service must take precedence over attempts to improve IT. So, how do you get process improvement started and keep it rolling? Focus early and often on a CSIP -- the Continuous Service Improvement Program.

A CSIP approach recognizes that few, if any, organizations are going to have the time or resources to conduct a complete, one-shot overhaul of their IT services. The CSIP is a means of establishing and organizing a series of agreed-upon process improvements (both tactical and strategic), including prioritization, timeframes, and resources. The smaller and more focused the items, the better organizations will be able to steal time away from daily tasks and focus on accomplishing IT improvements. We generate the CSIP as the first project deliverable and require it to be reviewed at least monthly.

3. You already own the technology

We hear all the time, "But we already own a tool to perform [process xyz], so that process is complete." This is wrong -- from so many standpoints.

Remember, the big picture requires people, process, and technology. Technology by itself is almost never an adequate solution. What is more useful, a great tool used ineffectively or a mediocre tool implemented intelligently?  The latter can be an important component in a mature IT Service Management solution; the former can be a very expensive mistake.

Don't let the tool blind you to the needs of training staff and developing workable processes. A fool with a tool is still a fool. Your initial focus should be on designing processes that meet your organization's needs and then implementing the tool to meet the majority of the process requirements.

2. You don't know your status quo

The first question isn't "Where do you want to go?" it is "Where are you now?" Think of it like a road trip. Unless you know things such as your starting location, your goals for the trip, and the trip timeline, it will be difficult to plan an effective itinerary.

Many organizations skip the "Where are we now?" question and try to design new process in a vacuum. There is a general sense of "we know what we do now, we do it every day." It's important, however, to move beyond a general sense to a more concrete understanding.

Before embarking on a CSIP, take the time to understand important questions such as:

  • What are your drivers (business, technology)?
  • Who are your IT stakeholders, what are their needs, and are their needs presently being met?
  • What will the impact be -- on both the IT org and the business at large -- if you make no change?
  • What processes are now in place?
  • What skill sets do you have in place?
  • What technology do you have in place?

By taking the time to understand the status quo, you'll have better insight into the scale and complexity of your improvement program.

1. Organizational change is too hard

Unless you tackle the people component, your CSIP is very likely doomed. Many organizations want to gloss over this very important piece, either because they don't understand its significance or it is just too overwhelming.

Guess what? Organizational change is hard, and, as is the case with the process and technology pieces of ITIL implementations, it will vary greatly based on your size, structure, and culture. Are there then some common threads that will enable you to get the necessary buy-in to succeed with organizational change?  We find the organizations most effective in their efforts to have a multi-pronged approach:

  • Training for your IT staff and IT management. Give yourselves a common vocabulary and a common understanding of IT service management best practices. If you don't have the time and budget to put everyone through Foundations-level ITIL training, consider bringing in a trainer to conduct half- or full-day seminars about the service delivery and support processes.
  • Simulations for you customers and management (both IT and non-IT). There are a number of simulations available that help illustrate the challenges faced by the IT department and the value of process improvement in enhancing service delivery. These simulations typically increase the willingness and commitment of non-IT staff in improving your processes, and show IT participants that improvement is possible.
  • Workshops with stakeholders to facilitate planning efforts. Involve your staff, customers, and other stakeholders in your process development. This will require a degree of time commitment in terms of scheduling the workshops, and it is highly advised to bring in an outside consultant to facilitate the workshop and keep things moving forward.

The Enterprise Computing Institute helps IT professionals solve problems and simplify the management of IT through consulting and training based on the best-selling Enterprise Computing Institute book series.


In My experience mostly ITIL implementations fail because their no push from Management. Once you incorporate the process into KPI - performance monitoring under reward and punishment process definitely it works. Implemented ITIL Technical tool in more than 25 companies in APAC region excellent results down under.


I kept expecting an audio "Stars and Stripes Forever" to come on while reading the article. It is a rehash of what we all have dealt with for every new framework, regulatory requirements, or IT reform that has come along in the past 30 years. There is no book. ITIL implementation is no magic bullet, but it can contribute to sound business management practices - it faces the same primary barriers every IT initiative of this faces: bad people behavior. IT for IT sake, not enough staff and not my job, lets stick in technology and hope it works, get the process documented and we will improve it ... Implementing any reform in IT takes top down sponsorship and bottom up buy in and that means accountability and alignment of incentives with needed behavior. Implementation isn't an add on to your job - it is changing the way your job is defined and what you will (or won't) do in the future. Most of all this means allowing enough time for an implementation and for large, diverse and/or distributed shops this means years, not months. The CSIP approach is self defeating as it allows for an easy out since it starts with the premise that time isn't available. Want to get things done in today's rapidly changing business environment? Kick ass and take names - get rid of non-performers and whiners, penalize the status quo, establish ownership and accountability and follow through. Hard work - not magic plans or formulas get this done.


I think you missed one very big item. The organization doesn't care about ITIL. IT is usually the organization that tries to implement ITIL, but ITIL can impact the entire organization, and the organization itself may not care if ITIL is successful or not. Without top management buy-in, ITIL will fail.


The main reason, as alluded to in the article, is people. IT staffs are normally understaffed for completing daily tasks, let alone implementing new projects. IT management needs to realize that a core set of personnel are required to perform daily tasks, and cannot 'multi-task' to implement a new project, ITIL or otherwise. Knowledgable personnel must be used to implement organizational and process changes. Therefore, step 1 in an organization should be to have the knowledgable staff of sufficient size that personnel can be redirected to implement a project, while sufficient numbers of skilled personnel continue the required daily, weekly, monthly tasks. This means that a bare bones IT staff is incapable of completing normal job assignments and a new high visibility project.


The organization in which I am employed thinks they do ITIL already (I'm not sure that they do) and now they are into LEAN. The technologists have gotten all focussed on KPI stats and a tool to collect these. It will be hard to resist throwing "A fool with a tool is still a fool" at them. That's the quote of the year so far!


I see this doom and gloom behavior each time change management tries to occur in this small midwest corporation. The lack of forward planning has suffered under the strong arm of crisis implementation. "Implement Now - Fix It Later". That is the company motto for the past 60 years. Why change now? Change is always painful, when your IT staff and management do not have that common denominator of standards. Training and educating the staff takes a lot of time out of production... but having your junior IT staff member learn the ropes on his/her own can be quite a time suck and a greater loss of production if they are not conformed to the ways of corporate thinking. The out-of-the-box-software-should-work-for-our-business-mentality rules in this midwest company. Then they wonder why so many tools have been purchased and CSIP still looks bad on those colorful charts that are posted on the cork boards. Yes, they still staple them to the board...


Even with a lean IT staff, ITIL can be done, but: A) The processes need to be CLEARLY defined B) Every stakeholder must understand the process and implement it. The prime example is Change. Many IT shops are HORRIBLE at Change. Why? Simply because there is no process behind it. How do you update a server? Meh, just throw on the patched...That's not Change, that's seat of your pants. So the lean shops benefit the most. Sure the up front cost is large, but long term, you'll have an easier time dealing with the day to day.


The lack of initial responses to this topic would indicate it slipped in under the radar. I'm not sure how that happened since ITIL topics usually generate at least some response. Thanks for digging it up.


I'd add that the leaner the staff, the more it needs a good tool to keep track of everything. Scraps of paper and Excel spreadsheets just won't cut it!

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