ITIL practical exam – problems that need solving

Published on Monday 23 March 2015 by in Blog with 2 comments

To From theory to practice, from knowledge to results

AXELOS has announced its plans to develop an ITIL® practitioner level exam. This is something that is, in my mind, definitely needed. The question is, what must it address? It cannot hope to solve ALL the practical issues associated with adopting and adapting ITIL. In this article I will be exploring some of the key challenges we see that need solving.

For more than 10 years now we in GamingWorks have come across literally thousands of organizations having adopted ITIL and having invested heavily in ITIL certification. Of the organizations we meet 70 to 80% say they do not get the hoped for value from their training investment. We have also spoken to numerous CIOs and senior managers who expressed a frustration with the ITIL certification and the inability of people to apply the theory. With the changing role and importance of ITSM as a strategic capability we can no longer afford to fail to develop and demonstrate the value of these capabilities.

In this article I want to share with you what I find are the staggeringly unbelievable (just to set the scene) results of one of our ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) exercises. This exercise delivers exactly the same results year in, year out and has done for the last 10 years! How can that be? Surely with the massive investment in certification we will have learnt to overcome these issues? These results for me demonstrate the real need for the ITIL practitioner initiative.

First of all I will show the results of our global ABC discoveries, then I will explain why I think we consistently display these worst practices and finally say what I hope the practitioner initiative will help achieve. I do not say the practitioner course and exam, because it needs to be broader than that.

The exercise is the Resistance exercise. ‘Which resistance do we see or expect to see when we try and apply a best practice such as ITIL’.

Here are 5 of the top 10 types of resistance: Let’s start with number 2 first:









People saying ‘Yes’ and doing ‘No’….yes we will follow ITIL procedures, yes we will keep the ITSM tool up to date, yes we will keep the users informed. People say ‘Yes’ but many think, or do, ‘NO’. Often this stems from lack of buy-in and understanding. People do not feel the ‘Sense of Urgency’ or understand ‘What is in it for me’? Many in ITIL training do not know what their organization hopes to achieve with ITIL. Often they are not involved in designing the processes and procedures but have had them ‘Thrown over the wall’ (By an ITIL Expert)!

Many theoretical processes are not fit-for-purpose or fit-for-use but characterized by ‘ITIL for the sake of ITIL’!










In the majority of cases ITIL is ‘implemented’ as a project (as opposed to a CSI initiative from the line organization). When the project results are ‘handed over’ to the organization people display the behavior on the card ‘Saying ‘Yes’ but meaning ‘No’’, when the project is disbanded many people display the behavior in the card above, they go back to the tried and tested ways of doing things ‘Never mind about following procedures…. let’s just do what we normally do’  Numerous organizations are on their second or third attempt to ‘implement’ ITIL. This is often a result of ‘Throwing solutions(ITIL) over the wall and HOPING people will follow them’.

This card is closely associated with ‘ Plan, Do, Stop… continual improvement culture’.










When we deploy these processes we create Process management roles, A RACI model is produced. However often “Process managers have no authority’’ to address the above two types of behavior. They continually struggle to get people to follow the agreed ways of working, they have no authority and come into conflict with ‘line managers’, who often say ‘yes’ but do ‘no’, which then reinforces this behavior within their teams. ‘Unclear tasks, roles, responsibilities, authority and accountability’  is the number 1 key learning point and improvement take-away from our business simulation sessions.










When the process managers go to the management level to address the cards above they get ‘No management commitment’ which is once again the number 1 top ABC card chosen. Senior managers are often disgruntled when they see this result in workshops within their organizations. As far as they are concerned they are committed. They have sent out memos; presented at the kick-off; they tell people that ITIL is what is needed. When I ask them ‘What do YOU do when line managers say ‘Yes’, but do ‘No’? the answer is usually ‘What do you mean….what do I do’? If this type of undesirable behavior is not addressed it will kill or derail the initiative. Senior managers also seem to HOPE that people will all start displaying new ‘desirable behavior’. In recent surveys senior managers have now expressed as a top priority ‘Leadership development’. Recognizing that managers must be able to ‘Lead’ change. Unfortunately many are poorly equipped to do this and existing training and certification doesn’t cater for leadership teams and leadership skills. The practitioner exam may go some way towards equipping managers to recognize and take steps to address the ABC issues, however there is a need for higher level practitioner skills relating to OCM (Organizational Change Management).










The reason we are able to be so consistent and repeatable in our top 5 worst practices is the number 5 card ‘Throwing ITIL solutions over the wall and HOPING that people will follow them’…..which as we have seen ….they don’t….consistently….and repeatedly. The good news is that we in IT have developed our own unique style of management. It’s called management by HOPING. We HOPE that people will use ITIL and we HOPE that it will deliver value.

When I show these top 5 cards to people visiting our booths at the itSMF stands, or visiting our workshops >95% recognize them!!!. Why have we still not addressed these in 10 years….and 2 Million ITIL certificates?

Out of the 9500 ITSM Professionals we asked only a handful have read ‘Planning to Implement Service Management’ (which is a formal OGC book). This book was written to help address some of these issues. Many have never heard of the book!!!
One of the key learning points taken away from our simulation exercises is the need to design processes together (end-to-end), and the need to apply the 4 P’s in the design. 

Here are the other common top 5 cards:










Often ITIL is an ‘Implementation project’ – too little attention is given to embedding it as a CSI approach. It amazes me that many organizations have no formal CSI roles or responsibilities, yet they recognize ITIL isn’t delivering value and they recognize that business demands are continually changing…..(also, correct me if I am wrong….but not one single organization anywhere has deployed one single process from 0 to optimized maturity level in one go, and no organization anywhere has deployed all ITIL processes in one go. Therefore ITIL is nothing more than a CSI approach? And as such CSI should be the core capability?).

As we saw with the cards above, when the implementation project is finished people go back to the old ways, ‘Saying yes doing no’ becomes more prevalent and process managers have no authority, line managers have other priorities and suddenly everybody blames ITIL ‘See we told you ITIL was no good…where is ITIL V4?’. This is one of the top learning points from our simulation exercises: ‘Improving your work IS your work, the need for a CSI register and embedding it as part of an improvement plan/line management activities’ .









‘ITIL is the objective NOT what it should achieve’. In our simulation training we often have people who have ‘done ITIL training’, their organizations are ‘doing ITIL’. I ask them what is the definition of a service (of more than 9500 people only about 5% know the definition ‘ A service is a means of delivering Value to Customers by facilitating Outcomes they want to achieve without the ownership of specific Costs and Risk’ (VOCR)).

Most people do not know in terms of VOCR what the ITIL initiative is expected to achieve and what success will look like. Also staff are sent on ITIL training but the training intervention is not part of a structured ‘Learning process’. What do we mean by that? A process of Before-During-After. What needs to be agreed with the manager before attending – such as what is the problem we are trying to solve? What you need to focus on in the learning. During: what questions, what exercises need to be asked or performed? what must you learn and take-away? and after: How will the delegate now use and demonstrate a practical application in relation to using the theory and solving the problem? This is another challenge for any ITIL practitioner initiative. How to help ensure that training is transferred to the workplace. It is here that the practical application of the theory needs to take place in a structured way.









Operational staff are often skeptical that ITIL will work. They have heard stories about bureaucratic books of processes and procedures; They are TOLD by consultants that they MUST implement processes in a certain order, they are TOLD they MUST follow ITIL to the letter, they are TOLD by the tool provider they must fill in the 500 ITIL compliant fields….they are often NOT told WHY they are implementing, or should I say adopting ITIL, what problem they hope to solve, what is in it for them. They are TOLD to attend a Foundation level training in which they get to see 200+ power-point sheets presented without understanding the context of what it will mean to them. 100% of Initiatives will meet ‘resistance’ – ABC resistance. ABC is like an Iceberg, much of it is hidden and you hope it won’t damage your initiative. Recognizing and addressing ABC needs to be a core capability of those responsible for or managing improvement initiatives. It is not just operational stakeholders that are skeptical. All stakeholders need to be understood and their needs addressed and they need to be included in a communications plans.










As we mentioned above many people do not KNOW the definition of a service, or more importantly what it means in the context of what their organization is trying to achieve. Many of the reports and metrics I see are internal IT related metrics which have little meaning to the business. Either that or they are internal metrics that the consultant or tool supplier said you SHOULD produce……without finding an owner for the metrics. An example metric may be ‘Increased 1st call from 65% to 70%’ this is meaningless to the business unless placed in the context of VOCR. For example how much money was saved, what was the increased value or productivity gain in the business as a result, what was the impact on customer satisfaction? If the metric was for internal ‘efficiency and effectiveness’ did it save second level support costs? Were second level now able to do more work?

Whenever I do an in-house simulation exercise I look at the corporate website to identify corporate strategy, corporate values and promises. Whenever I ask IT people if they know this or have ever looked at their own corporate website only 3 people have ever put their hands up.










This card is very similar to the card relating to value. However this card can relate also to all ITSM improvement initiatives and to specific processes. Many ITIL project plans have little relation to the business strategy, what the business is trying to achieve in terms of VOCR and as such the implementation plan does not mention or match the improvement plan and goals to business goals. Another related top scoring card is ‘IT is too internally focused’. We do not KNOW what the business needs, we do not engage with the rest of the business to understand how they use the services, what the critical business functions and cycles are, how we need to align services to these critical needs. As such we are poor at making business cases. Business cases for ITSM investments, for Problem management, for capacity management, for changes….the list goes on. This card is very closely related to the number 1 ABC card chosen in the ‘Customer’ exercise (which cards would the customer choose) which is ‘IT has too little understanding of business impact & Priority’ (this card has also been a number 1 card for 10 years)!

Why do we consistently display these worst practices? There are a number of reasons for these failures and for this frustration:

  • Chiefly, what we discover when we play a simulation game with those having attended ITIL training (At all levels right up to expert!) is the inability to translate the theory into practice. The ITIL practitioner should address this, however I believe not only with Multiple choice questions but also with in course practical exercises (and possibly simulations).
  • Individuals tend to attend the training to get a ‘certificate’. It is required for career advancement and looks good on the CV. Or they were told they had to get certified. Many customers put it in their RFP’s for consultants – ‘Must be ITIL certified’ (not must be able to demonstrate results from the application of ITIL theory). How often do managers discuss and agree with these individuals what they want them to LEARN and be able to APPLY after the training? how often do managers tell these individuals WHY the ITIL initiative is important and what it should achieve?
  • Managers sending employees on training do not adopt a formal learning process: before-during-after. Employees may return from a course but are often given no opportunity to apply what they have learnt. With a practitioner exam I believe it is critical that this is addressed.
  • (Some) Training companies are happy to give organizations the certificate, what the organizations then DO is their problem. Should a training company point out that a theory certificate is no guarantee of the ability to translate the theory into practice? One training company said to me literally ‘the customer wants us to train 300 people in ITIL foundation, it isn’t for me to point out that this might not be the best way of ensuring that their ITIL implementation succeeds!’ Now obviously most training companies do not do this….correct!?
  • Another reason is that the owners of ITIL have not always clearly and consistently marketed the fact that the ITIL foundation is just the theoretical start point. ITIL certification is very much focused on passing theoretical exams.   AXELOS must carefully market the practitioner to set expectations as to the level of practical skills tested/gained and what next!
  • Something else that amazes me (I have already mentioned above in the card descriptions) is this: The book ‘Planning to implement IT Service management’ actually explains how organizations should adopt ITIL and how to avoid many of the ABC cards above. However you do NOT HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK to pass any ITIL exam, which is why most people have not read this book, and many do not even know that it exists.
  • Resistance to ITIL. It is seen as bureaucratic and less relevant in the light of emerging technologies and delivery models and new approaches such as DevOps and cloud. People are told they must ‘Implement ITIL’ to the letter. They must be ‘ITIL compliant’.
  • Also this need for practical skills doesn’t just apply to the foundation training. I have had many CIO’s complain to me about the so called ‘ITIL experts’ who come to consult and ‘ Implement ITIL’ who simply hand over thick books of procedures colorful process flows’ – more evidence of the inability to translate theory into practice.

I fully endorse the need for a more practical focus to the ITIL training, however the challenge will be the level of practical ability the students will learn in this first module (linked to foundation) and which other levels of current ITIL training will also be supplemented with practical elements. Otherwise we have the same danger as now.

Now it is ‘We did foundation and ITIL isn’t working!’

The danger is ‘We did the foundation practical training and ITIL STILL isn’t working!’

So AXELOS must be very careful about scoping it and defining exactly the level of practical application they want to realize.


Share this article


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *