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ITIL 4: practices are tools in the practitioner’s toolbox

Blog posted by: Dinara Adyrbai – Lead Editor, ITIL 4 Practices, 13 December 2019.

ITSM practitioner working at table with tablet, stationery and documentation for planning use of ITIL practices and processes

In this ITIL® 4 Q&A, Dinara Adyrbai explains the development of the 34 management practices and how they relate to ITIL processes:

Q: Processes in ITSM are about structure, defined inputs/outputs and objectives – with ITIL 4, do we need processes anymore?

A: Yes, we definitely do. In every ITIL 4 practice there are several processes. Each is defined as “a set of interrelated or interacting activities that transform inputs into outputs”.

Processes are handy when organizing the flow, can be a basis for automation and help to organize activities and information exchange better. The idea is not to get rid of processes. Rather than that, we recommend avoiding a focus on the processes instead of focusing on value.

Q: What are the negative aspects of processes that needed addressing in service management today?

A: There are no negative aspects to processes but a lot of negative aspects to how practitioners use ITIL processes. For many, ITIL processes became an inflexible construction imposed on an organization without considering its unique way of value creation. Also, rather than processes being the focus of every ITIL-related change, it should start with people, what motivates them, how they work, how they interact within organizations and what technology they use, etc. This introduces ITIL 4’s four dimensions of service management with processes contributing to value streams in one of the dimensions.

Q: What other factors and methods have led to re-thinking the role of processes in ITIL?

A: One of the ITIL guiding principles is “Think and work holistically”: a process itself has no direct impact on value, while a value stream does. The old saying “it doesn’t matter how fast you move, if you move in the wrong direction” illustrates the relation between a process (how fast?) and a value stream (what is the destination?).

Also, not all processes are as straightforward as logging a user call. ITIL 4 includes practices like Relationship management, or Knowledge management, which may be difficult to describe in a single, sequential process.

Q: How are processes now deployed in ITIL 4?

A: Each practice guide has several processes to help organize its activities. Practitioners can now take those as a starting point for their own processes, following the ITIL guiding principles. Then processes become a basis for establishing procedures, assigning responsibility, automating the flow, etc. So, processes now become what they should be: a tool in overall value creation.

Q: Why are practices now a central part of ITIL?

A: The central part of ITIL 4 is neither practices nor processes; it’s the service value system and value streams. The role that processes played previously in ITIL is now taken by the value streams. However, people saying “practices replace processes” is completely wrong.

Practices are just a set of resources that must be organized one way or another to ensure value creation. A practice has no advantage as a stand-alone approach; it must interact with other practices in a value stream.

Remember the ITIL guiding principle, focus on value. This will help you avoid siloed thinking and working.

Q: How do practices differ from processes?

A: With practices, you can start from where you are, and move iteratively. A practice is more holistic, as it covers all four dimensions of the service management and is neither a function nor group of people. For example, the portfolio management practice could incorporate both a board of directors deciding on investing in a new portfolio item and a software development team deciding on the inclusion of a backlog item into a sprint.

Q: What benefits can service management professionals gain from adopting practices?

A: Professionals obtain freedom: switching from processes to practices develops the “adopt and adapt” approach. Organizations adopt them as needed and they can be developed iteratively with feedback, based on which value streams are the most important.

They give practitioners a “set of organizational resources designed for performing work or accomplishing an objective”. Therefore, start not with the practice, but with the work to be performed, or an objective.

Note to ITIL 4 candidates:

My ITIL will be the official host of the ITIL 4 Practice guides, which will be released in line with each relevant ITIL 4 module in Q4 2019 and early 2020. Every candidate who takes an ITIL exam will gain one year’s access to My ITIL.


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