The 7 guiding principles of ITIL4 – principle 3 Progress iteratively with feedback

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 when improving the service management capabilities of the IT provider. To me these guiding principles should support the decision making when adopting or improving IT service management. It is also important to note that these principles will have to work together. The principles will not work in isolation, it is not a matter of pick-and-choose.

Progress iteratively with feedback

When you understand where the IT service organization is and where it needs to go (principle 2, Start where you are) to deliver the expected contribution to the value of the company (principle 1, Focus on Value) than it is time to take action and move forward. There are many things that need to be done and therefor choices need to be made. If you and your team are ready to go, you are capable of moving forward, than follow this guiding principle. If the result of following guiding principle Start where you are is the conclusion that your organization is not ready and will not be able to start moving than you need to address that aspect first.

Start a revolution if necessary

Service organizations that are not ready to apply this guiding principles can be recognized first of all by the lack of a clear understanding of targets and goals that need to be reached. Some service organizations are purely reactive and can only respond to service outages and urgent requests for change. These organizations keep on fire-fighting without addressing the cause of these fires and without trying to prevent them from happening. Often there is large backlog of open tickets and all kinds of change requests by the business. There is a lack of budget and a lack of resources. The IT staff often does not feel heard or appreciated and it is hard to keep competent people working in those circumstances. There will be many reasons why an iterative and evolutionary approach would fail in these circumstances. First you need to address the organization itself, to address the lack of leadership and management support and to take away the main obstacles for progress and growth. You need a revolution to enable evolution.

Plan AND Do

When your organization is ready to progress than move. Do not spend a lot of time on discussing what the best and perfect move would be. Trying to find the best move is the best way to stay where you are. First, do not discuss the action itself but look into the result you want to accomplish. There are often multiple ways to get to the result. Second, when you found that you made the wrong move than stop doing that and try something else. Third, look for results you want to accomplish that are within reach and reachable in a period of 1 tot 4 weeks. Fourth, do not try to do everything at once but pace yourself. There is only so much time and so much you can do in that amount of time. And finally, every action counts including the day-to-day actions to deal with the regular stuff. Solving an incident quickly is as much an action to move forward as is the step to remove a legacy system or implement a new service management tool.

Following ITIL is about getting results

When working with ITIL many organizations (urged on by consultants and trainers) try to do what is described in the books instead of looking into what should have been the result of those practices. A recent example was a question in a Facebook group on who should close an incident: the person responsible for the solution or the helpdesk? The ITIL books would tell you that closing an incident is a task of the helpdesk. Of course, that would create another step in the time it takes to solve an incident. That could be perceived as waste from a Lean perspective. But, it is not about the action of closing the incident that is important here. It is about getting the conformation by the person confronted by the incident and service degradation that from his perspective the service is restored. It doesn’t really matter who can register this conformation in the system, what does matter is that the IT staff understands that in solving incidents you need to involve the people experiencing the incident. Only those experiencing the incident can confirm that the incident has been solved.

When using ITIL as guidance, focus on the results you want to accomplish. With ITIL as guidance you’ll experience quickly that if IT working in isolation and without feedback from the business that IT will not accomplish many of the expected results.

With Feedback

The guiding principle Progress iteratively with feedback is about the importance of defining results, organizing the work in a way to accomplish these results and making sure that every step of the way you are achieving the result. Without planning the feedback you will not know if the result your achieving is the result you had defined. You need to organize feedback for the achieved result and also for the process that gave the you result and also to check if the scheduled result is still needed and wanted. You should even find feedback on the feedback (double feedback loop). As an IT organization you are continual learning as well as continual improving.

Progress iteratively with feedback or to keep on improving

The practice of Continual Service Improvement (CSI) has for some reason always appeared as a bit of an afterthought in the ITIL literature. First you ‘implement ITIL’ then you start improving services was the way CSI was often represented. With the principle of Progress iteratively with feedback you start with continual improvement before adopting ITIL (or DevOps or Agile or IT4IT) and you keep improving. Continual improving is a daily operational task for all staff involved. It is not something separate, it is core of what you as an IT Service organization need to do. Managing Information Technology is a relative young expertise and is still developing and maturing. That idea by itself shows the importance of progressing forward in small steps and to keep on Olearning, to keep on improving to expand the possibilities and contribute to value.


Principle 2: Start where you are

Principle 4: Collaborate and promote visibility