5 ITIL Mistakes You Might Be Making

If you work in an IT organization today, it is likely you are familiar with the term ITIL. 

Whether you are an expert or a novice, ITIL is often part of the IT agenda since gaining widespread use in IT organizations globally. And with good reason. 

The IT Infrastructure Library is a strategy and best-practices framework that can bring real structure and value to an IT Help Desk, Service Desk, or IT Service Management organization. 

However, it should come as no surprise that simply implementing ITIL is not enough. We must do so with some thoughtful planning, as well as an awareness of common mistakes to avoid. 

Let’s take a quick look at some of these common mistakes, in the hopes that with greater awareness around these points, we can:

  • Take some risk out of the next update to an existing model, or
  • Improve the plan for your first implementation of ITIL.

Mistake #1: Overly Aggressive Schedules & Expectations

This pitfall has likely led to more ITIL-related problems than any other single factor.

With the investment required to implement ITIL and the desire to realize the value that will come, it is easy to become overly ambitious with our schedules and expectations. This is only natural, but we need to guard against plans that assume everything will go right, with no allowance for even small delays or adjustments along the way. 

There will always be surprises that impact both schedules and resource assignments, so it is a good practice to plan for the changes that will certainly come. I’m not suggesting that we create plans that are overly conservative, as that is equally unreasonable. I’m merely suggesting a flexible timeline and resource requirements that anticipate a credible level of risk mitigation and bumps along the way. 

It is also recommended to build early checkpoints into an iterative and multi-phase schedule so we can make the necessary adjustments sooner rather than later. Later is expensive. Later slows us down. Later is just plain bad.

Mistake #2: Focusing on Framework vs. Outcomes

My, we do love our frameworks in IT! But with ITIL and other similar frameworks and models, it is a mistake to become fixated on the framework and processes themselves versus tangible business outcomes. 

After all, doing a great job on the framework and not getting the right outcome is a waste of precious time and resources. These desired outcomes and the value yielded should be defined from the very beginning and understood by the full team working on the ITIL initiative. 

Better yet, most of the outcomes should be measurable. These outcomes give us guidance, help us communicate benefits to the business, and show the way when the team might get confused or question priorities. Some subjective outcomes are ok, but these should be in the minority.

Mistake #3: Lack of Clear Ownership

Throughout the ITIL journey, it is important that we have a strong and clear definition of ownership for every element of the ITIL initiative. We also need to have process ownership that leverages the knowledge and experience of our strongest thinkers. 

This process ownership and mentorship serves us well when we are designing both the processes inherent to ITIL and vital Workflow Automation in order to ensure we are leveraging the very best human expertise we have in the organization. 

Successful automation is core to the long-term success of ITIL because automation done well improves our velocity and enables us to scale. Manual processes can’t do either. This process ownership continues to serve us well when questions arise (and they always do) or we need to make adjustments/enhancements/improvements to a growing number of workflows. This creates the common motion of IT. And, these process experts will be the point of contact to help keep us on track and to ensure we are capturing the valuable experiences and knowledge that live within IT and across the business.

Mistake #4: Weak Cultural Commitment

ITIL is as much about cultural change as it is about technology or tools. Perhaps even more so. 

When we need resources, when we face challenges, when budget must be allocated, when we are asked to change how we work or to take on new priorities, cultural alignment must be in place or the project will struggle or fail outright. 

With cultural alignment and commitment, the full organization is able to work together to help ensure success with ITIL and to lay the groundwork that will bring us value for the next 10+ years. This cultural alignment must include executive leadership and ideally include an executive sponsor that will in many cases be the CIO. 

Models and tools alone won’t make IT great. But with cultural change, anything is possible.

Mistake #5: Thinking of ITIL as a Series of Individual Processes

Yes, ITIL consists of over 25 elements and processes, but seeing ITIL as only this is a dangerous path and misses the point. 

What successful IT organizations understand is that ITIL must be a complete system and one that is directed at delivering value to customers. Nothing less is acceptable, and a focus on the individual functions of ITIL will only reinforce and propagate the traditional model of Silos in IT and this in turn will slow us down or block us entirely from realizing the true and necessary future of IT and ITSM. Optimizing locally will feel good to some, but make no mistake, this behavior is a poison to IT. However, ITIL as a complete and living system is a beautiful thing to behold.


Whether it be ITIL, COBIT, Lean, SIAM, Agile, DevOps or any of the other wonderful best practices, frameworks, standards, or models we have at our disposal today, this is ultimately all about delivering real results to customers and unlocking the strong business value that is the compelling upside of any initiative done well.

I hope this outline has been helpful and has provided a good idea or two that can help course-correct your current ITIL journey or better prepare you for a future ITIL undertaking. Good luck.

For more IT insights, be sure to follow Kevin J. Smith on Twitter @kevinjsmith4IT.