The 7 guiding principles of ITIL4 – principle 1 Focus on Value

With the new and updated version of ITIL there is also an update on the 9 guiding principles first introduced with ITIL Practioner. These new set of 7 principles provides practical help with making decisions when adopting the ITIL4 framework:

  1. Focus on Value
  2. Start where you are
  3. Progress iteratively with feedback
  4. Collaborate and promote visibility
  5. Think and work holistically
  6. Keep it simple and practical
  7. Optimize and automate

In a series of blogs I will look into each principle asking how these will provide guidance when adopting the ITIL4 framework and improving the service management capabilities of the IT provider. To me these guiding principles should support decision making in the process of getting better at providing value and services. It is important to note that these principles will have to work together. The principles will not work in isolation and it is not a matter of pick-and-choose.

Focus on Value

At first glance these principles provide a common sense approach to decision making in almost any case. They offer not a very specific guidance to adopting and using ITIL practices. Try to make a conscious decision without thinking about the benefits of the different choices. Making decisions is about finding the value. This is a principle that can easily become a empty slogan. On the Internet I already saw questions for help with decision making on ITIL practices answered with  “focus on Value”. As if that actual provides any meaningful support.

Not all value is positive

Of course, the keyword here is not value as such, it is about focus on value. Many times decision making is focused more on risks and costs. Although, these are elements of value that should be identified and taken in consideration. It is wise to also discuss what the benefit or the added value of a decision will be. Maybe the principle should be more about the focus on added value, since a financial loss is a kind of negative or subtracted value. Benefits, costs and risks are elements of the business case that can also help to define what needs to measured and reported on. This would be helpful input for principle 3. Progress iteratively with feedback.

Value of following instructions

In relation to the adoption of ITIL4 (or any previous ITILs) the focus should be on value over following ITIL as if ITIL is a manual. The decision should not be about how to follow the ITIL practices to the letter. There are still many IT departments trying to become ITIL-compliant and to shift blame to the lack of clarity provided by the ITIL books, consultants and trainers. So, in that respect focus on value in making decisions on what to use and how to apply the provided guidance is a good principle to start with.

Value for the Business

The question will be who is going to define value that’s needs to be focused on. Judging by the 7 principles the definition of value should be the result of collaboration between all involved stakeholders: principle 4 collaborate and promote visibility.  Stuart Rance, one of the architects of ITIL4, identifies on his Sysaid-blog on the subject potential stakeholders to be involved: customers and users, regulators, society, shareholders, employees, etc.  Defining first who the stakeholders is of great importance. How do you create value for? And the Pavlov reaction often is: the business. Leading to the question: who is the business? And what do they want? And what if the IT organization is the business?

Value for money

ITIL4 is a framework that provides guidance for IT organizations providing IT services to their customers. In some situations there is a transactional relationship between iT and the clients: IT deliver services and their customers pay for them. And in order cases IT is a department and their clients are also their colleagues. When clients pay directly for IT, they will define the value they expect. This can be done based on a co-creation approach where IT puts forward their contribution to the overall value position of their customers. In these cases value will be defined mostly in financial terms. Word of warning, many clients find it difficult to articulate their needed value in relation to what IT can contribute. They find it hard to make the connection and need some help. 

Constrains on value delivery

In many other cases it will be less simple. An IT department will report directly or even indirectly to the board of the organization they are part of. The board may or may not provide clear expectations of what they expect from the IT department and they may or may not provide accurate resources to live up to the expectations. The IT director may or may not have the authority to act and to discuss with other managers, business managers, what can and cannot be provided by IT.  And often the value IT has to focus on is the value that the board expects, even if that doesn’t match what the business wants. The honest answer on the question who does IT create value for: the board (or the general manager) of the company.

The value reputation

In other words, when thinking about the value contribution of IT, go a step further. Take in consideration all the stakeholders and start with the one that pays your bills and provides your resources. They tend to have a need to be convinced of the benefits of their investments in IT before they provide more budget, more staff and more systems. And these benefits might be more than just financial. In Stuart Rance’s blog he mentions customer or user experience as other forms of value. You might also want to think about reputation and branding or contribution to society (corporate social responsibility), sustainability, etc. as aspects of value that can be important to the stakeholder.

Articulate the Value contribution of IT

Having pondered on the first principle of ITIL 4, focus on value, I think I would propose a rewrite. In the spirit of the principle I would consider “Articulate the value contribution of IT” as a possible alternative. When you articulate something than you try to explain what you mean in a way that can be open for debate. Which is what both IT providers and IT customers should do. And for me IT is one of the contributing partners to the value of an organization. I think that IT doesn’t have much value until it is used. Where a car might still have esthetic qualities when it is on display, IT is mostly just a box with wires.