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Defending ITIL's Value

Mar 21, 2009

George Spafford

Implementation Approach

IT organizations that want value from ITIL must first recognize it is only a means to an end. In other words, the processes are being implemented to create and protect value in a manner that makes business sense. The order, scope, and timing of each phase of implementation must be grounded in achieving this.

It is important not to do all of the processes covered in ITIL at once. This method costs a great deal of money, spreads management’s abilities very thin and has a high likelihood of failure. Instead of an unfocused approach, an organization embarking on ITIL, or even questioning how to proceed after a failed or stalled attempt, should take the time to assess the current state and understand what is holding the organization back from achieving its goals and then drill down to functional area objectives, business services and then the supporting IT services. The objective of this analysis is to understand how IT is either constraining the achievement of objectives or how IT can be used to break constraints that exist outside of IT.

To be clear, we need to understand what the largest constraint is and address it. Once that largest constraint has been removed, the resulting state must be assessed and the new greatest constraint identified and addressed.

This approach is based on Eliyahu Goldratt’s well proven Theory of Constraints (TOC). Far from being an unproven arcane theory, Goldratt and TOC practitioners around the world, have demonstrated repeatedly that organizations are systems made up of business units and are assembled to attain a goal. Within the system there will be one constraint that is greater than any other that is limiting the system’s ability to attain its goal. If that constraint is identified it can then be surgically removed and then the throughput of the entire system improves.

To illustrate, consider a twenty foot length of chain whose weakest link can only lift 500 pounds. Even though every other link can lift 8,000 pounds, the total capacity of the chain is constrained to 500 pounds. If we invest $20 million improving every other link of chain except the weakest link, did we improve the capacity of the chain? Of course not and we may well have wasted $20 million and a fair amount of precious time. Instead, if we spent some time carefully inspecting each link, the correction may have only cost a few dollars at most and then the entire chain’s capacity would increase to the strength of the new weakest link. The improvement process is then repeated over and over improving the overall chain’s capacity each time.

The power of that simple chain story is that it illustrates what IT and the business do all the time: they pour money into improving operations and telling each group to “be all that they can be" without understanding where the constraint is and then focusing resources and management attention to create a true solution.

ITIL gives us IT service management and that is a powerful quality-management philosophy in its own right that groups need to recognize and understand. To effectively and efficiently improve requires that organizations understand what the business needs and then focus continuous service improvement efforts to identifying constraints and properly create solutions.

George Spafford is a principal consultant with Pepperweed Consulting and a long-time IT professional. George's professional focus is on compliance, security, management and overall process improvement.