trial ITIL versus a placebo

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If there is an eccentric company owner out there who would like to contribute to business science by conducting a controlled experiment on your company, please contact me. I would like to trial ITIL versus a placebo.

Instead of using ITIL as the framework or guidance for process improvement in IT production, I would use a placebo body of knowledge. Examples might include:

  • astrology
  • today's process is brought to you by the letter "A"
  • Madonna's lyrics

I think astrology is the most mindless example there, so it would serve admirably as a placebo. We would

  1. assess the organisation's maturity against astrological principles
  2. train all staff in the basic principles of astrology
  3. review existing processes and categorise them using the twelve zodiacal signs
  4. hold workshops and interviews with key stakeholders to understand how processes are not meeting current business needs, and how they might be improved using the principles of the assigned zodiac sign. For example Libran processes need to get better at decision-making
  5. use experienced worldly external consultant astrologers to advise on process redesign
  6. reorganise the IT department assigning people to process areas based on their birthdate
  7. run an organised funded program to get everyone enthused about the potential of astrology and to ensure everyone knows how the processes work and what their role is

All the steps but the last are just ritual practices with no more real meaning than throwing I-ching or dealing tarot or polishing a crystal ball or reading a zodiac chart. Just as a reading is really performed based on someone's experience and wisdom and a cold read of the subject, so too the astrologer's advise to the company would probably make a fair bit of sense.

But the doozy is the final step. We could use Texas boot-skootin' as the framework for all it matters. What matters is that we actually pay attention to staff, ask them what they think, get their buy in, fire them up, and run a concerted program to get everyone to understand how things really work and to get everyone on the same page, i.e. we build a new consistent culture.

I contend that is the real value of an ITIL program and it doesn't have a danged thing to do with ITIL. Most companies are too humour-challenged to use any of my proposed bodies of knowledge as the basis of a change program, but they could certainly use MOF or SM-CMM or ITSMBOK or eTOM and get much the same results.

ITIL will still win most beauty contests just because it is a standard which gives it an inherent advantage, but my point is there is nothing mystical about ITIL that couldn't be replaced by something else tomorrow.



Yes, ITIL and other such methodologies just give people a sense of power and control because they have systemized something that was working fine by itself

What was working fine? And

What was working fine? And how do you know?

ITIL: Stone Soup - The true value of ITIL


Wonderful, hysterical prose and so true. May I indulge and point folks to my article of 2006 - predating all this version 3 fud and fluff where I use the Children's fable "Stone Soup" as an analogy for the true value of ITIL. Anyone interested can get it here:

I'm voting for polishing crystal balls - there seem to be plenty around on this subject..... :-)

The stars are shining....

Brilliant fun - how good to see we can laugh about this! I'm in danger of finding it all too serious (livelihood etc.), but this is fantastic.

Could someone produce the astrological mapping against other mythical standards - can we consider the chinese years and see if it all still works in the year of the monkey?

I'm with Ian - let us polish the balls and roll with them!

Helen Morris ITIL trainer / consultant

Placebo effect

The placebo effect is well known in medicine - and has been well known by snake-oil salemen for far longer. Recent research showed that placebos work (that is have real curative value) even if the person taking them knows that they are a placebo. It's fascinating stuff.

You're quite right though. On of the great advantages of ITIL is just that - there is nothing mystical about it.

Management fads that used to emerge in waves from the Harvard Business Review, Tom Peters, and the business arm of the Self-Help publishing industry generally, were well known to the troops. Management would be all fired up with whatever the fad de jour was and everybody knew that, to get the pay rise or promotion you had to use the current jargon. Of course nobody had to change any working practices, within a quarter the fad would be forgotten (and the me-too managers seen as hopelessly out of date for still using the old jargon) while a new one swept the company. They were all mystical.

It is true that, as you say, an ITIL introduction can surf this same wave of short-term management enthusiasm. It is sensible for it to do that, after all, any anthropologist (or long term corporate employee) could tell you that it's a standard behaviour pattern of homo managensis pettyensis [sorry you have no html for italics].

That it uses this phenomenon doesn't invalidate it, to sugges that would be to confuse 'if' with 'iff' [if and only if], as in, 'all dictators like shiny boots', if you are a dictator you will have shiny boots, ergo, if you have shiny boots you are a dictator.

No, the good thing is that, after the hype, ITIL leaves something valuable behind, not just a hangover from past enthusiasm.

If we use astrology to reorganise our processes

If we use astrology to reorganise our processes, when all the enthusiasm dies we still have processes reworked to better meet business needs, with greater integration and consistency, and everyone trained and working to the same set of processes.

What's more, the Gemini processes would have redundant duplication, and the Leo processes would provide exacting governance.

Here's a better Idea


Scientology: An excellent placebo model!

An excellent model! Links in with previous discussion about ITIL the Cult

Consultants would accost IT people in the corridor, browbeat them into doing a service process test, tell them their processes are badly out of balance, then charge them thousands for week-long retreats where their processes are assessed, designed, implemented and optimised by psychic Thetans.

Anyone who reaches maturity 5 gets to join old Ron in Andromeda.

And we could have a symbol to wear....

And 'Kuballah - style' we could all wear a special symbol to show the true gurus and point out those of lesser knowledge - I don't know, maybe something in red, a lapel badge perhaps?

Helen Morris ITIL Trainer / Consultant

why don't we make the symbol Windows-shaped

Since Microsoft is probably the least involved vendor in the ITIL trough-feeding so far, why don't we make the symbol Windows-shaped? Something along the lines of the flying-Window logo, but square to show how solid and serious we are.

Forers Experiment

Those of you of a sceptical mind set might well be aware of the Forers experiment, where a number of different individuals are all given the same psycho/astral babble reading but all believe it is specific to them and extremely accurate. You might also be aware of the one size fits all type of consultancy offered by many companies in the service managment space. There is, of course, no connection.

I don't believe in astrology, which is typically Taurean.

there are only so many ways to do Change Management well

Brilliant Jim.

I've been a subject of the experiment at university; hilarious!

On the other hand, I'd also say that there are only so many ways to do Change Management well and a certain amount of this "need to adapt" stuff comes from the very industry that profits from it :-)

One to Many

I've argued that there is only one effective high level change management process for systems, whether we are talking IT or engineering or management.

On the other hand, there are many, many ways of getting it wrong!

The mistake that many consultancies, and their customers, make is to try to sell a solution without first understanding why the current situatiuon is so bad.

As an example they do a review of change management and discover that post implementation change reviews are not being carried out. The reccomendation is to start doing post implementation reviews, ignoring the long list of underlying reasons why those reviews aren't being done currently - for instance because management are scared of what they would find if they started running reviews.

Course Dates??


So, when are you going to schedule the dates for your ITAIL (IT Astrological Infrastructure Library) Foundations course for?? Is there a certification scheme on the horizon?? I consulted my trusty management aid for guidance (my well worn "Magic 8 Ball") and it said "Cannot Predict Now"... so I thought I'd ask.


ITAIL certification

Certification will be released at least a year after the content and be revised twice after paid courses have begun. The Foundation syllabus will cover eight books in two days. The exam will require students to write their own name in red crayon and count to seven unaided. Training organisations will be limited to 120 attendees per course (unless two instructors are present in which case 200 is OK). Masters certification will require students to achieve 119.35 points from 17 modules.

Crap - Nothing to bitch about....

Skep - crap - you give me little to moan about here - oh hang on - where is your accredited training organization program, what might be the minimum criteria for an instructor - weight, height, lefty or righty? Is it legal to hold classes in the deep end of the local swimming pool? Any chance you can align the points system with something we might recognize - like the maximum break in snooker or dart finish? One last question here - can I trade in any of my Delta Frequent Flyer miles for any of teh new credentials? Any how will you handle continuing education - what will qualify as 'professional' work?
You know me - always ready to belly ache...

WOW! Very impressive!!


It seems that you have all the bases covered. I'm very impressed.
Do you anticipate that any complementary publications will become available??

This initiative has legs... LET'S GO!


Hidden depths

You certainly have hidden depths! I didn't realise that you were an expert on astrology (should that be 'hidden heights' perhaps?).

I'll bow to your superior wisdom, but it is news to me that astrology would re-work processes to met business needs better - it sounds more like smology to me.

I'll side with Hastivibrax on this one; 'The fault, dear Brutus, not in the stars, but in ourselves'. If any arbitrary fad actually did improve processes to meet business needs better, then the change in people would indeed be of value. My scepticism is that a fad would do that, not that, if it did, it would be a good thing.

I remember a few of the old management fads from the eighties, I suppose they had something in common with the music and clothes of the period. They most certainly didn't improve any processes, or attempt to implement any where there were none. What they shared most in common was what political correctness has, the belief that changing words will change reality.

What I like to relate to students is why ITIL became what it is in the first place. It is odd, really, that it isn't still languishing on some Civil Service bookshelf in Slough. What happened was that the Dutch, who have evolved a powerful immune system against management bullshit, tried ITIL and found, to their suprise that it really worked. When the rest of Europe, used to the extreme scorn the Dutch usually poured on any new management idea, saw even them enthusiastic, they realised that there must be something genuine there. And indeed there was. Not, I agree, something to be turned into a mystical totem pole, but something that works in a way that the I Ching or Tarot cards don't.

The fallacies of the UK driven ITIL motivated the Dutch!


Not quite. As someone who lived in Holland I feel the early wobbly version of ITIL mobilized the elite persona of the Dutch and through its embrionic failings caused them to develop theior own derivative in taking on the challenges they had. Look at the ITSM Library and where the early musings of the Dutch professiona took ITSM. They have always tried to define ITSM and were prepared to try and use ITIl as a starting point.

I recall the Dutch post Office trumpeting success some 8 years after starting - I think they are still busy "implementing", its probably nearing 20 years now....

Back to a point made elsewhere - introducing ITIL into any organization as an anchor point for discussing ITSM is a good thing as long as you allow the folks to set and take their own path.... and not limit them to ITIL concepts alone.

a Dutch remark

Version 3 is too restrictive for the Dutch and leaves no space to play in. Version 2 left enough to the skills of the implementor/consultant/user to make it work. Version 3 agrees not to agree with that ability. Works well for the larger consulting houses doing mass training and consulting, asking the experienced to come in and bring back the logic and quick wins.

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