The ITIL Placebo Process Effect

Goodman Martin just forwarded to me a most excellent blog post about whether ITIL implementation could be replaced by a placebo, based on (say) astrology. Could it be done, and would it be effective? I’d have to answer yes, but that doesn’t diminish the value of ITIL itself.

Instead, what this comes down to is process. Management initiatives have been legion probably since Plato suggested everyone should get out of the cave (John Gray, eat you heart out). But what often yields success in management initiatives, is the process that is worked through and delivered upon, rather than the specifics of the initiative itself.

In some ways this is similar to therapy. Some advocates of homeopathy say that a great deal of the benefit comes from having someone with whom one can share one’s problems, and the fact that one is told at the end to stick a couple of small, sugary pills under one’s tongue is just one element of the overall experience. It is a tricky one – because if it is ultimately seen to be true, it does suggest that snake oil salesmen were maybe not quite such confidence tricksters after all. And IT marketers… maybe that’s a step too far!

And so to ITIL implementations, which will undoubtedly require some of the following:

– strategy definition

– discovery of “what’s out there”

– reviews of existing processes

– interviews with key stakeholders

– training

– definition and use of metrics

These characteristics are not new, and they are not specific to ITIL. What they do offer however are opportunities to engage, to review and to update the organisation (IT or otherwise) on the latest incarnation of best practice. Right now, in IT management circles, this best practice revolves around ITIL – which, let’s face it, is a pretty good starting point. But even if ITIL is being picked up by an organisation in a faddish way, the process still offers such opportunities.

Of course, the question then becomes, how useful are activities such as those listed above? In my consultancy days, I can remember being brought in to work on business process modelling exercises, but when I went to interview key people, they would tell me it was the third time that year they’d been interviewed, for different initiatives. At which point, any such efforts become counterproductive.

Overall then, should we have IT astrology improvement programme? Well, potentially. But only if it goes through a process that will make a difference to the organisation, all by itself. Indeed, an initiative without a correct process is probably no initiative at all.

The ITIL Placebo Process Effect

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