BoK Bloat

If you think ITIL blew out in the 2011 edition, you should see MSP (Managing Successful Programmes). 150 pages becomes 300. Doubled! Given that nobody reads anything any more, is BoK (body of knowledge) Bloat a problem or not?

On the one hand we criticise ITIL for not covering enough topics and sometimes for not saying enough on a topic. the 2011 edition has more examples and guidance.

On the other hand, I worked damn hard to keep my new book Basic Service Management down to 50 pages. Why? Because that's how the world works. With the exception of the few pontificating philosophers of ITSM who lurk on this blog (self included), who the hell reads 2000 pages of ITIL? 2000! A4 pages at that.

Nobody reads anything properly any more. When was the last time you went to a meeting and anybody had properly read the proposal or brief or whatever document you had spent a day crafting? Do we seriously think anyone outside a few eccentric wonks are ever going to read these doorstep BoKs?

So it is with interest that I also received today Sharon Taylor's Creating and Driving Service Excellence, a 60-tiny-pages introduction to ITSM. I know how hard that must have been. I'll let you know later what i think of the result.

But back to my point: what do we think of all these monster BoKs?

A BoK like ITIL or MSP (or any of the Cabinet Office products) is a narrative. it provides deep insight if you read and understand it all. No piece of it stands alone - the books all depend on and reference each other. It is really only useful if you hire a guru (or buy a book) to interpret it for you.

A BoK like COBIT (or USMBOK or ISO20000 or CMMI-SVC...) is a set of structured statements to refer to and check against. It is almost impossible to read, but you are not meant to. You are meant to dip in as required. However it assumes a certain knowledge of the subject and probably isn't going to provide depth and enlightenment like a narrative will ( /might).

I guess there is a place for all three:

  • narrative wisdom
  • reference frameworks
  • summary digests for the other 99% of the species

But I'm trying to lose weight and perhaps a few BoKs could do the same. There's a fine line between meaty depth and rambling bloat.

Your thoughts?

P.S. Kudos to the Cabinet Office for retaining the "programmes" spelling. Fight the good fight! Defend civilisation (with an "s") from the colonial barbarians! We're losing "catalogue" - hold the line!


And a good thing too!

Organisations buy the books and then hire the specialists who have actually read and used them.

My business model would disappear over night if all they needed was Sharon T's book!

A Happy New Year to you and all your readers. :)

BoK Bloat


I don't know that it's accurate to say people don't read anything so much as it is to say people don't read "books" the way they used to.

In the 80s and 90s, you could tell a lot about a person by the books you saw on his or her shelves. However, given this on-demand electronic world that we live in...

1) We can just navigate to sites that give us the information we need, and
2) We can read only what we need, knowing that a bookmark or a search make it simple to go back to the source and read more, as necessary.

Most people I know don't buy "reference books" (that often represent bodies of knowledge) anymore because...

1) They're expensive,
2) They quickly become outdated,
3) There's usually a very long wait between new updates/iterations, and
4) Books are big, bulky and you can only carry so many with you, making their availability limited to the locations in which you have them (like your home, an office or a library)

If it were true that people don't read the way they used to, I believe we wouldn't be seeing the increasing success of our own material at IF4IT, which can be measured by constant growth in traffic to the site and specific content, increasing time spent on site and specific content, and organic growth of backlinks to the site and specific content on the site. I think the reason this is happening is because we have a model that is the opposite of the four items, above...

1) Content is free,
2) Content is immediately is kept up to date and as relevant as possible,
3) Changes/Updates are published at much higher frequencies, and
4) Content is available wherever you have a web-enabled device (and more and more people are using mobile to get their answers).

It used to be that people "purchased" content (in the form of books) because books represented the few decent sources on learning topics. However, now the web makes it easy to go out and find many sources on the same topics, making it harder and hard to justify the purchase of a book.

It's not that people read less. It's that the paradigm in which they read, is different. Like Software, Content is moving more and more to the Open Source model.

I hope this helps.

My Best,


Frank Guerino, Chairman
The International Foundation for Information Technology (IF4IT)

Yes, I think there is a

Yes, I think there is a place for all three. But, having just done the ITILv3 course, I know I'd rather have someone tell me the story than read the whole ITIL narrative myself. I think it's hard for BoKs to lose weight. Put them on a diet and they'll lack the substance people are wanting. And yet, it's true, people don't actually read through it all, wHich is why there'll always be room for the ones who are able to disseminate the content in digestible chunks—soundbites, practical steps, etc.

The fine line you speak of is often encountered in the language used, I've found. If each sentence isn't clear and each section isn't concise, it does indeed become an unreadable ramble. That goes for the people disseminating the content. If your language and sentence structure is more complex than the BoK's, you'll turn people away.

A BOK has many component parts


Size might matter here - the purpose of a body of knowledge is NOT to write a small book. In the USMBOK we explain the elements of a BOK and the book is but one component - the 'Guide'. Its not the entire BOK.

The idea is to try and create a lexicon (language) for a particular subject to be used as a definitive reference for a profession, and to support any minimum or optimum qualification scheme.

So the size of the 'BOK' should be in some way proportional to the scope of the topic I suppose. In the case of the USMBOK, it is designed to address service management, not as defined by IT, but as defined by any source, particularly product management and service marketing, and including ITSM theory. It provides a universally applicable set of concepts, applicable to any service business, as well as an IT organization being performance managed as a service provider.

The existing sources are vast, spanning 60 years. In the latest bibliography we have over 125 'recommended' and recognized sources. The sum knowledge of the profession continues to grow and herein lies the challenge of a book. Thats why the USMBOK is complimented by an online counterpart - the SMBOK, which is updated in real-time with the latest best practice and similar thinking.

So a BOK has at least five component parts - a reference book or Guide designed to support a continuing education based qualification or credentialing scheme, an online part to handle aspects that change in realtime, a lexicon and/or dictionary of terms, and a support/feedback mechanism. I'm proud to say all exist for the USMBOK/SMBOK because it was designed that way from the outset. (blow own trumpet).

Bok Bloat


You're spot on. When advising organisations on their internal handbooks/processes a criteria I set is that each iteration should be slimmer than the last. It's a philosophy we used when developing PRINCE2 2009 too. We did manage to make it slimmer, but it would have been nice to have made it much slimmer. Perhaps on the next version....


PRINCE2 bucks the BoK Bloat trend

Not owning the previous version of PRINCE2 I'll have to take your word for it Andy. Well done for bucking the trend

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