An ITSM Expert needs more than ITIL

When you hire a consultant - or an internal expert staff member acting as a consultant - to drive ITSM in your organisation, what makes an expert in ITSM? It is more than ITIL.

I think for someone to be called an "Expert" in ITSM, I'd expect more than 21 points of ITIL certification.

There are three primary areas I'd look for:

Adopt and adapt

ITIL folk go on endlessly about how usage of ITIL requires one to adopt and adapt. I don't see the ITIL Expert certification testing any skills in Adopt and Adapt. What is required to be able to adapt ITIL?

  • an indepth knowledge of ITIL
  • an indepth knowledge of fundamental ITSM principles behind ITIL
  • an in-depth understanding of IT operations culture, procedures, roles, tools, data, organisation and measurement
  • experience in modifying template frameworks like ITIL
  • skills in cultural change to ensure successful adoption and adaptation
  • skills in process modeling and reengineering

There is a strong analogy with organisations who acquire a new tool and try to customise it themsleves with no experience and limited knowledge of it. If "adopt and adapt" is true then they must rely on external consulting experts (who are the ones who proclaim the "adopt and adapt" principle most loudly).

Mix and Match

Another theme we hear ad nauseum is that it is ok for ITIL to be full of holes because one shouldn't rely on ITIL - one should mix and match from multiple frameworks: ITIL, COBIT, CMMI-SVC, MOF, USMBOK, FITS, Six Sigma, ISO20000, PRINCE2, MoR, ISO9000, ISO27001, ValIT, ASL, BiSL, ISO38500... Personally I think it is the greatest failure of our profession that this is the case, but it is what it is ... for now. It is absurd to expect IT operations people to have the knowledge and skills to do that - they must rely on external consulting experts (who are the ones who proclaim the "mix and match" principle most loudly). The number of ITIL Experts who have a strong knowledge across enough of these frameworks in order to make informed best practice decisions on Mix and Match is how many?

Consulting skills

To be a consultant (internal or for hire) requires a broad range of skills, talents, knowledge and experience. They are required to be adept at communication, learning, politics, common sense, hard work, selling, cultural change, teaching and relating. There are dozens of techniques for facilitating, analysis, problem solving and other consulting activities. These include root cause analysis, causal chain, cause and effect, fishbone diagrams, why-how maps, Pareto charts, Boston matrix, six serving men, affinity diagrams, clustering, rich pictures, force field analysis, Mind Mapping, spider diagrams, SCOTSMAN, SWOT/PEST, hurdling and ranking, voting, weighting, sorting by importance, brainstorming, nominal group, Six Thinking Hats...

How many of these does the ITIL Expert exam test? None of course. Being an ITIL Expert has little to do with being an ITSM consulting expert.

What else did I overlook in defining an ITSM Expert?


Consultant v Expert

I used to hold (and still do) a certificate in Service Management. I now have the ITIL expert qualification. Does this mean I can't do Service Management any more? My concern is that a young person can come out of university with their learning head on; read the version 3 books; take the exams and be an ITIL Expert with ever doing anything. There does not seem to be a qualification that tests 'insight and experience', as there was with V2.

I believe I have passed most of the exams by using 39 years IT experience; 17 years of ITIL; a good command of the English language (although I'm struggling with some of the V3 English); and good luck in picking the rights answers!

I also hold the ISEB Certificate in Consultancy Practice (when we called RACI by its proper name ARCI - much more amusing)

However maybe none of this is relevant to a consultant as they are there to help the client in the best way for their business and academic qualifications from multiple choice exams don't really help to do the job but do help to get you in!

Type of question

Well I don't think that a multiple choice exam can prove competence in a management discipline. It has been said many times that knowledge of the books isn't the same as subject knowledge.

I would still distinguish subject knowledge from the skills needed to be a consultant. I'm less sure about how I would articulate the difference.

An ITSM Expert needs more than ITIL

In my job I sometimes have to answer Requests for Proposals written by lawyers for their clients. A major section is usually ITSM. What the contract demands is “do ITIL” - it does not talk about balance, where to start and what is best for the business. We have a very efficient means of answering these standard questions - but consequently ITIL comes over as a list when it is really only a set of promises, which is why our clients are always under-estimating its cost and over-estimating its delivery. Or ITIL is a larder that is written as a chef’s menu, which is why no-one looks at the price and each person has great 5-star expectations. Every diner writes a different bad review. With my Red Badge/Expert status, everyone believes what I say - but what I am using is my experience under a layer of acronyms. My learning never ends and yet the lessons I teach my clients are invariably the same. Therefore I write down last year's lessons and work this year to dispel the ITIL's mystique. Then I can help them get some value from their dream.

ISO/IEC 20000

The new OGC UK government model contract for IT services* has shifted from talking about ITIL to ISO/IEC 20000. I hate to think the arguments that would arise if lack of ITIL compliance led to a contractual dispute in the courts. On the other hand you have to accept ISO 20000 is more McDonald's than The Ivy.

Management of Organisational Change (MOC).

I agree. ITIL Expert isn't the same as ITSM Expert. Neither is ITIL Master even though it's supposed to show the adopt and adopt.

Knowing other frameworks and standards brings you a bit of the way, but doesn't make you an expert either.

Analytical consultant skills an techniques also adds value, but you are not there yet.

Experience, leadership, project management etc, certainly, but it's not all

I find (being an consultant my self) that the real value I add within ITSM is to advice on MOC including stake-holder analysis, communication, education, training etc. Process design, tools selection, drafting SLA's, describing services, defining KPI's and all that stuff is becoming commodities.

Formula for success

As a bit of fun on twitter I've been trying to pull a formula together for expertise. Who knows, I might get a press release out of it.

Experience x PERsona x Talent x Intelligence x Skills x Energy


Persona in this case means appearing to be an expert in the eyes of your audience so it will vary depending on context


cultural change

Agreed, hence my continuing emphasis on People First and cultural change. I think "commodities" is a bit strong :) but the world is finally waking up that without bringing the people along it's all a waste of effort.

not big on cultural change

As Lou Gerstner of IBM put it, “In the end, management doesn’t change culture. Management invites the workforce itself to change the culture.”

I'm not very big on attempting cultural change. As a consultant on IT Service and Asset Management, I just haven't had the occasion to be asked to change culture.

I'm more interested in getting individuals to consistently perform specific behaviors. I suppose that's what you mean by People First.

So much of ITIL is about processes, so little about benefits. IT has a natural tendency to believe that everything can be solved by implementing a system. But, some two-thirds of implementations fail to meet expectations. Worse, how many implementations create no real benefit?

All resources come from management commitment. Not just money for this particular project. Management gets the system they really want.

Field Marshall Lord Slim's take on management seems pertinent, ""There are no bad regiments, there are only bad officers."

you can change the culture of any sized unit

Completely agree 'So much of ITIL is about processes, so little about benefits. IT has a natural tendency to believe that everything can be solved by implementing a system" and 'All resources come from management commitment. Management gets the system they really want." ... and deserve.

We differ in that I believe culture change is the fundamental issue in any improvement. I use culture in the sense of "the way we approach and do things around here". i believe you can change the culture of any sized unit from a society to a small team. Adn yes commitment of the most senior people in that unit is an essential component.

if you don't change the culture and the roles/ownership and the skills - the people aspects - then as you point out process isn't worth ****. And technology/things/stuff isn't even worth thinking about.

A great list.

As to consulting skills, perhaps Peter Drucker, the great management guru, had it right when he wrote, "My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions."

Particularly since customer management commitment comes best when they convince themselves of the need for urgent change. As Drucker wrote, "Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes... but no plans."

After all, implementation of meaningful change is the eventual point of every engagement.

Cary King
Minerva Enterprises
Managing Partner

a bit too humble.

"My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions." That'd be the Columbo technique :)

It is also a bit too humble. It is a good discovery technique, a good starting point. But it adds no value. Analysis, synthesis and banging heads together are also invaluable skills. So too is innovation :D in the sense of introducing existing ideas that are fresh to the client, i.e. injection of knowledge.

SME != even a passable consultant

I agree!!! :-)

Being and expert in anything (other than consulting :-)), including ITIL has NOTHING to do with being a consulting expert, PERIOD!

Consulting has it's own set of specialized skills and capabilities. Further, I'd argue that no one worthy of the title is just a "consultant." There has to be an adjective that describes the type of consulting performed (e.g., network consultant).

Frankly, anyone who assumes that an ITIL Expert is also an expert ITSM Consultant deserves what they get. They might also assume that anyone with a drivers license can be an outstanding taxi cab driver or an expert limo driver. NUTS!

The only thing the certification means is that individual knows something about the subject matter; it doesn't mean they know anything about consulting.


Lift the cat on the table

In Finnish we have this saying that you need to lift the cat on table so that everybody can see the problem. (Actually I thought it was an international saying but google seems to bring up only actual cats and tables).

It is common that everybody knows the problem but for some reason it is not discussed. An outsider can put it on the table and start the discussion. Sometimes it takes a little attitude to bring up touchy issues.

One thing missing in the list is the ability to sell. I have seen good potential consultants fail as they were not able to sell themselves. In many cases customers buy the consultant, not the company.

Aale, consultant since 1989 (looks really prehistoric)

an important additional skill

I did list selling amongst the consulting skills. I think "lifting the cat onto the table" is an important additional skill to add to the list under Consulting. And no we don't have it in English but we do now :)

Dare I say...


The real experts/consultants don't just quote ITIL at you, they contribute to developing best practice. They also tell you what they honestly believe, not what you want to hear.

James Finister

Depends on the meaning of innovation

LOL I have to disagree don't I?

Depends on the meaning of innovation - it has two: (1) invent somethign new or (2) bring something known in as new to the organisation. Most consultants should guide clients along the accepted path (2) and only take risks and develop new ideas (1) very rarely when explicitly commissioned to do so or on their own time... and if they can. Most bridge builders aren't inventors and neither are consultants. Facilitators, teachers etc but not inventors. Teaching and consulting is option (2) - bringing in existing ideas to a new place. Inventing new stuff is not what most clients want and is irresponsible if they didn't ask you to do it.

Even the case of the people OGC hired to write each version of ITIL is mostly option (1) not (2). I've been critical of ITIL for sprinkling blue-sky new ideas in amongst the accepted practice. Trying to be clever and inventive is dangerous and irresponsible. In the case of ITIL authors, you might misdirect the whole IT industry for years.

So I'd add innovation to the list of Consulting skills but only in the sense of introducing/teaching known ideas.

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