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ITIL® and Project Management: A Powerful Combination
By Jeb McIntyretGlobal Knowledge Course Director

Nobody wants to get old, fat, out of condition, and out of touch. For most of us, it just seems to happen. Our successes (usually achieved over time) allow us fancier food (read unhealthy but enjoyable), better transportation (read Cadillac instead of bicycle), and a reduced sense of urgency (read less concern about learning). Worse, our occasional attempts at self-improvement often reveal many unpleasant realities.

Instead of making a lot of unpleasant changes and accepting the associated risks, we tend to make self-serving excuses, and we become increasingly clever at re-casting our excuses and self-deceptions as virtues. “I’m too busy to go get additional education and training, much less go to the gym. My productivity will soar if I get that new Cadillac since it all but drives itself and I can be alone to think. If I gave up drinking, smoking and eating steak at fancy restaurants I’d become out of touch with my friends.”

Companies can be like people. They too can make self-serving excuses for their unwillingness to do the hard work of rejuvenation. “We just need more productivity from our people (read overtime). We don’t have the budget or the time for education and training. We’re doing great. Our customers are loyal and we control the market. We don’t need to innovate more than we already do.” And worse, “Outsourcing will increase our productivity and lower our costs.”

For those organizations with the willingness to get in shape and regain their corporate vitality, ITIL and Project Management combined can produce miracles. This is accomplished by the disciplined application of tried and proven ITIL and Project Management methods.

ITIL represents the great hope for IT departments around the world. ITIL promises to help IT provide real business value by transforming IT from a cost center to a competitive service provider. At a time when countless businesses are considering outsourcing of all or most of its IT activities, ITIL provides a set of best practices that, if followed, allows internal IT departments to compete with external IT providers to cost-effectively satisfy the needs of the business. ITIL provides the framework for what must be supplied; Project Management provides the structure for how to do it.

Countless external service providers with real business acumen like IBM, Accenture, Bearing Point, and EDS are offering to take over any and all of a company’s business functions. They suggest that organizations should no longer make a distinction between IT and business functions. They recognized that IT was only an enabler to a business function. They suggest that no competitive advantage comes from “commodity” business functions and offer to take over so that the company can focus on their “core business competencies”.

Some, however, regard this as analogous to a human body outsourcing the heart and kidneys to efficient and perhaps even redundant machines, which after all do little more than pump and filter, and focusing on the brain. Of course agility and mobility suffer, and costs are likely to be extraordinary, and once “outsourced” the cost to “in-source” will be even more extraordinary (if it’s even possible), but at least we don’t have to worry about heart attacks or kidney failure.

This is where ITIL comes in. When successfully implemented, a company that transitions to ITIL gets the best of both worlds: the highly responsive and capable functioning of a superb service delivery organization, coupled with the agility, mobility, and flexibility increasingly necessary in today’s highly competitive marketplace.

The analogy here is that the same body mentioned above instead exercises regularly, eats sensibly, continually receives education and training, and relies on doctors only for check ups and help when an anomaly occurs. This results in a strong and healthy body able to resist disease, able to recover from injury, agile and mobile enough to take advantage of opportunities and avoid risks, and ever ready to innovate and create. However, many bodies need the help of trainers, coaches, and occasionally doctors. They are simply too far out of condition to make the changes alone. This is where Project Management comes in.

Since the dawn of computing, IT has often been hated and despised by many within their organizations, frequently including — and even led by — senior executives. Why? Because despite their best efforts, many IT departments have been severely challenged in delivering real business value on time and within budget, particularly in comparison to external providers.

CEOs and other ‘C’ level executives hate to feel helpless, and nowhere do they feel more helpless than with their own IT groups. This is due in part to the esoteric and arcane nature of the technology and what is required to provide quality service. It’s also due to the background and training of IT executives, many of whom have precious little training and experience in the fundamentals of business, most particularly in communications, sales, and finance.

ITIL addresses pretty much all of the identified limitations of IT. It provides a service-oriented framework that meets the business needs of the customer in the least-expensive and highest quality way possible, and it enables the IT organization to perform competitively with the very best service providers in the world. But, in order for ITIL to be implemented, and in order for ITIL to provide adaptability and change capability, a rigorous Project Management methodology must be implemented as well.

Project Management has been around for over a hundred years, but it wasn’t until Y2K that it both matured and became broadly recognized. Y2K forced IT organizations to adopt a much more disciplined approach because failure was literally not an option. The entire issue was the result of an obscure and universal oversight that left millions of systems potentially vulnerable to failure. Only through the diligent application of a very structured and disciplined methodology could disaster be avoided. The success of Y2K efforts proved the value of the concept.

ITIL requires Project Management in two specific areas. First, implementing ITIL is a project in and of itself. Because it entails changing not only the IT organization, but also the rest of the organization, and sometimes profoundly, ITIL implementations require exemplary Project Management. Anything less and the implementation is at risk. Severe risk.

ITIL is very sensitive to change management. Change management is at the very heart of ITIL. Since the whole point is to ensure high-quality delivery of IT services at the lowest possible cost, change has to be managed very carefully to avoid risk to a stable and functional environment, and to contain unproductive expenditures, while at the same time remaining highly responsive to the changing business needs of the customer. This is where Project Management really shines.

The biggest challenge to an ITIL implementation is acquiring qualified project managers with sufficient business acumen, a true service mentality, and ITIL knowledge, training, and experience.

Enterprises desperately need improved IT functioning if they are to survive in today’s globally competitive marketplace. If they can’t find it within their organizations, they must by necessity go outside. Their survival depends upon it. But even if they choose to go outside, many of their needs are described in ITIL. Outsourcing is gaining traction, not so much because it is inherently attractive, but because many companies can no longer afford anything less than the benefits ITIL provides. Equally important, those same organizations can’t afford the hit or miss project outcomes that occur without using a proven project management methodology.

For individuals in the IT industry, particularly in management, there is not a set of skills more valuable than ITIL and Project Management. Few skills can better rejuvenate a career, and few initiatives can better rejuvenate an organization, than the combination of ITIL and Project Management. Worse, ignorance of either or both is likely to be a severely career-limiting decision for those in IT.

Managing triple constraints of time, price, and scope of work all superimposed upon a background of meeting quality requirements is the foundation of Project Management. Meeting the customer-defined needs for capability, availability, reliability, and cost-effectiveness while allowing for agility and responsiveness in the face of changing business requirements is the foundation of ITIL. Together, these disciplines do deliver competitive advantage.

This article was originally published in Global Knowledge’s Business Brief e-newsletter. Global Knowledge delivers comprehensive hands-on project management, business process, and professional skills training. Visit our online Knowledge Center at for free white papers, webinars, and more.

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