by Sarah K. White

6 tips for ITIL implementation success

Aug 16, 2019

ITIL adoption requires more than software and tools. You need a bold strategy that aligns IT service with corporate goals and encourages employee and stakeholder buy-in.

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IT service management (ITSM) best practice framework ITIL was introduced in the late 1980s as a way to streamline governmental IT practices in the UK. The framework has since been acquired by Axelos, which has released updated versions of the framework aimed at modernizing how organizations align IT services with business objectives. The latest iteration, ITIL 4, started rolling out in early 2019 with an emphasis on agile practices and bringing more flexibility to the framework to accommodate the modern pace of enterprise technology.

For organizations already versed with ITIL, many of the best practices for ITIL 4 remain the same as in ITIL v3. Either way, making the most of this latest iteration of ITIL — and its stronger emphasis on agile processes — takes preparation and finesse. The following six tips will help ensure your ITIL implementation plan is seamless and successful.

1. Realize that people are the key to successful ITIL adoption

Although ITSM helps manage technology and IT processes, people are at the heart of ITIL. You can’t successfully adopt ITIL without capable workers who not only are well versed in ITIL best practices but have a deep understanding of the business as a whole, including how business processes and technology outside of IT impact various departments.

“Organizations definitely need ongoing internal resources with a deep understanding of ITIL who can lead the charge day to day, and answer questions along the way. These resources can be either hired from the outside or trained from the inside, but whoever is in this role should fervently believe in ITIL and be able to sell it internally. The ITIL lead resources can make or break the whole initiative,” says Andrew Amrhein, a senior technology leader focused on IT strategy and delivery.

ITIL adoption can be a massive undertaking for any organization, so you want to make sure you have the right people on board who can help make the implementation run smoothly. While any good ITSM and ITIL strategy will require software, tools and technology, you can’t underestimate the importance of people.

2. Be realistic about the pace of ITIL adoption

Since 2016, ITIL has emphasized that ITSM projects should be “rolled out in small value-adding increments that can be developed and delivered quickly,” says Akshay Anand, product ambassador of ITSM at Axelos. This allows organizations to “quickly validate micro-solutions that can be built over time” and keeps the project agile, so the company can react to shifting priorities. This flexibility can help your company stay focused on the most valuable initiatives, without getting distracted by plans that might be out of date or unrealistic.

“Implementing ITIL is like any other organizational change management initiative: It is a significant undertaking of time, energy, and management focus. This needs to be rationalized against all of your other change initiatives, whether it be DevOps, agile or digital,” Amrhein says.

ITIL 4 best practices are meant only to serve as a guideline, not as a prescriptive list of rules. Make sure that whatever best practices you choose to follow will realistically work for your business model and goals. The point of ITIL is to make things easier, not harder, so that should be the top priority when building out your ITIL adoption strategy.

3. Evaluate technology last, not first

When adopting ITIL, you will want a clear picture of what the business hopes to gain from the framework. Think about what business and IT problems and processes need to be solved and what technologies will work best as a solution. It’s not always the technology that you have to consider; you might have the right software or product in place, but if you don’t have employee buy-in, then your ITSM solution is set up to fail.

“Replacing a failing ITSM tool with another tool is likely not going to address the cultural issues and barriers — the root causes — that are causing the tool-use issues,” says Stephen Mann, principal analyst and content director for, an independent ITSM website.

In some situations, you might consider starting from scratch, especially with legacy processes or technologies. Anand recalls a case from early in his career in which a company’s process included printing out three copies of a customer request — only to later discard a copy. After some investigation, it was discovered that the workflow originated when the company used dot-matrix printers that printed onto carbon-copy paper, which created three copies. As the company evolved, the process remained unchallenged, leading to unnecessary work.

4. Plan for the future — and for change

ITIL is meant to be used as a continuingly evolving framework for ITSM. Technology changes fast and there might be new technologies to consider even after you’ve completed the ITIL implementation process. For example, AI has already found a home in ITIL and ITSM as a way to help alleviate menial or repetitive tasks, Mann says. So be sure to keep an eye on what technology trends are lurking around the corner so you can ascertain how they will benefit or impact your ITSM strategy.

“New technologies do make it more difficult,” Mann says. “For instance, capacity management in the cloud is different to on-premises of old. But ITIL and similar best practice frameworks — if used correctly — will make it easier to handle technology change.”

5. Communicate with all key stakeholders

A successful ITIL strategy requires consistent communication with stakeholders. Make sure your ITSM strategy aligns with the company’s goals and that everyone understands the importance of ITIL. Keep this communication realistic so that executives outside of IT understand that process improvement may take time to show results and that ITIL won’t serve as a magic fix for the company.  

“While having a base knowledge of ITIL is important, there needs to be a well-understood rationale how leveraging specific ITIL practices will improve day-to-day lives once implemented. It is also important to have clearly articulated expected outcomes for implementing ITIL for each part of the organization. These should align with the goals of the function and the overall organization,” says Amrhein.

6. For ITIL 4, focus on agile workflows and flexibility

While ITIL 4 has already started rolling out, don’t feel the need to scramble to get on board. If your company is still making use of ITIL v3, you can keep your current processes in place and start planning an ITIL 4 transition for the future. And if you have employees are working towards ITIL v3 certification, those credits will carry over to ITIL 4 certification. Axelos will also offer exam bridges to help those certified in ITIL v3 gain ITIL 4 certifications faster.

“ITIL 4 offers a different approach to IT service delivery and support, while still keeping much of the older best practice content,” says Mann.

He notes that the adoption process for ITIL 4 will remain similar, and that once ITIL 4 has been completely rolled out in full detail, companies will have to make sure everyone is “focused on the right version of ITIL.”

The best approach is to stay focused on the value of ITIL, emphasize collaboration and visibility and encourage regular feedback from customers, clients and stakeholders. If you focus on fostering the right culture for ITIL 4 — one that focuses on agile workflows and flexibility — then you’ll have an easier time implementing or updating ITSM services, tools and processes.