Five Reasons Why ITIL Implementations Fail

By Jason Hiner

Lots of organizations are jumping on the bandwagon of ITIL — the IT Infrastructure Library — hoping to improve the management and efficiency of their IT departments. Unfortunately, many are ill-prepared to deal with the challenges of planning and coordinating the big undertaking of implementing ITIL.

I’m Jason Hiner, and today on Sanity Savers for IT Executives, I’ll discuss five real-world roadblocks to implementing ITIL — and discuss ways you can overcome them.

1. Strategic vs. tactical

When an organization begins implementing IT service improvements, tension can arise between those with strategic responsibilities and those with tactical responsibilities. The strategic thinkers want to focus on service catalogs and financial management, while the tactical teams know the focus must be placed on day-to-day operations, like change control and incident management.

To drive success, you need to support the efforts of both camps. For example, you could let the tactical team handle change management improvements and let the strategists focus on developing meaningful performance metrics.

2. The job gets in the way

The most common reason ITIL projects stall is that day-to-day business gets in the way. In the “keep it up and running” vs. “operational improvement” clash, the real-world activities of the business always win.

To start process improvement and keep it rolling, you need to implement a CSIP — Continuous Service Improvement Program. The CSIP is a means of establishing and organizing a series of agreed-upon process improvements — both tactical and strategic. This includes prioritization, time frames, and resources. Basically, if you keep the project tasks small and focused, you can steal time away from daily tasks and work on accomplishing IT improvements.

3. You already own the technology 

You may have heard people say, “But we already own a tool to perform process xyz, so that process is complete.” This is an easy trap to fall into.

Technology by itself is almost never an adequate solution. The big picture requires people and process, too. Don’t let the tool blind you to the needs of training staff and developing workable processes. 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.

4. You don’t know your status quo

When you’re gearing up for an ITIL implementation, the first question isn’t, “Where do you want to go?” It’s, “Where are you now?”

Many organizations skip the “Where are we now?” question, saying, “We know what we do now — we do it every day.” But it’s important to move beyond that general sense to a more concrete understanding. Take the time to answer important questions such as:

  • Who are your IT stakeholders, what are their needs, and how well are those needs being met?
  • What will the impact be — on both IT and the business — if you make no change?
  • And, What processes, skill sets, and technology do you currently have in place?

5. Organizational change is too hard

If you don’t tackle the people component of the ITIL equation, your improvement plan is probably doomed. Many organizations want to gloss over this piece, dismissing it as insignificant or finding it too overwhelming.

There’s no question that organizational change is tough, and the approach you take will depend on your size, structure, and culture. You may be able to gain the buy-in you need with a multi-pronged approach that includes:

  • ITIL training for IT staff and IT management
  • Simulations for customers and management (both IT and non-IT)
  • And workshops with stakeholders to facilitate planning efforts.

Looking at the nuts and bolts of an ITIL implementation can seem pretty overwhelming. You have to deal with competing priorities, keep the business rolling while effecting change, analyze your needs and develop the processes and tools to meet them — and oh yeah, persuade your staff, stakeholders, and customers to embrace both the concept and reality of process improvement. So it’s little wonder so many organizations fall short of their ITIL goals. But by recognizing the roadblocks up front and developing strategies to overcome them as we discussed today, you can be well prepared to deal with those challenges.