Select Page


ITIL-igence For Project Managers
By Tom L. Barnett

Pssst! Do you manage your projects with ITIL? Here’s some insight on how project management and ITIL can best work together in an IT organization and what that means for PMs. Hint: It may not be what you think.

I constantly hear project managers talking about how they implementing ‘ITIL,’ about how they are ITIL-Foundations certified, and how they use ITIL processes in their project delivery.

Okay – maybe they do or maybe they don’t.

It may be a case of ‘talking past each other’. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is a set of best practices and processes for delivering and supporting a sustainable IT service. It is a core framework for consistently delivering an IT service to your clients. Especially with the most recent release of ITIL Version 3, the framework continues to evolve and grow in the direction of encompassing more of the complete processes needed to run IT business.

Managing Your IT Service Like a Business

The ITIL framework is divided into 4 core process functions:

  • Service Strategy – deciding what initiatives would best serve your client
  • Service Design – Design and developing IT new services, changes, and improvements.
  • Service Transition – Building and deploying IT services.
  • Service Operation – ensuring that IT services are delivered and supported in an efficient manner.

There is also a 5th area which outlines how to perform continuous process improvement.

Each of these areas speaks to a phase in the overall lifecycle of an IT system from inception through delivery to sustainment. It provides a good set of inputs, outputs, and steps that need to be performed along the way.

Everything from properly setting expectations with customers via a Service Catalog to managing your costs and responding to problems are covered in ITIL. For new organizations this is a process book that can purchased off the shelf and tailored to your shop saving you valuable time creating your own from scratch.

Think of it as the franchise manual you would get from the home office before you open your new IT Service for business.

It covers a lot of what you need to know and do, but not everything.

Standardized Work – ITIL Provides the ‘Hooks’

In my mind, ITIL is an ‘operations’ framework which makes great use of hooks to integrate with other processes. No methodology can encompass everything under the sun because it just isn’t feasible. ITIL is flexible because it allows you extend your IT processes by integrating with other processes. Integrations can really only occur successfully through process integration points where the ‘hand-offs’ occur. ITIL has plenty of those hand-off hooks within which is one of the reason this is such a powerful framework.

ITIL has been successfully used by a number corporations to segment their work between insourced / outsourced or onshore / offshore components because the framework illustrates what the inputs and outputs are between steps. This level of compartmentalization allows logical chucks of work to be moved without losing sight of what deliverables flow between the steps.

Not all hand-offs, however, are created equal.

The Pivotal Point In Any Process Framework

A key thing to keep in mind is a framework is just that – a framework. It is meant to guide and help fill in the gaps of what you should think about next in some logical, orderly manner. Logical sequences lead to key convergence, or pivot, points with other processes.

ITIL is really strong at providing the process for introducing change to an existing environment. There is a physics law at work here – a body in motion tends to stay in motion until a change is introduced. An IT environment, in a steady state operational mode, is not likely to have many disruptions. Bring in a new server, or a new application, or upgrade an exiting component of your architecture and you have introduced change. A rigorous process for controlling how that change is brought about is crucial in IT, particularly if your operation is high availability.

The key pivot point in ITIL is that crucial event when an IT system is about to be deployed, or ‘Go-Live’ for your client. This is the delicate and critical hand-off point between the development team and the operations team. I think for a number of years there was a lot of focus on the development team handing off the system, but not a very structured way for operations to receive it.

ITIL has changed the conventional practice by outlining a number of really solid processes to facilitate that transfer. Processes like Change Management, Release and Deployment Management, Service Validation and Testing have given some rigor to how operations teams can gracefully accept new technologies and applications into a production environment. ITIL doesn’t concern itself too much with gathering requirements, managing resources, nor dealing with stakeholders.

So Where Does Project Management Fit?

Oddly enough, of all of the process areas contained in ITIL project management is really only dealt with in the “Service Transition” area. It is mentioned elsewhere in ITIL, but only a reference and it is only developed to any extent in the Transition space.

In Service Transition Project Management has some high-level phases outlined. Phases like Initiation, Planning, Controlling, and Reporting make up what ITIL believes is the core process of project management.

Folks familiar with Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) will recognize the previous list as aligning fairly closely to the PMBOK project management phases. The phase that’s missing, of course, is Project Execution.

But doesn’t project management play a bigger role in bring about IT systems than as a sub-process within Service Transition? I believe the answer is yes, a much bigger role.

Here is where those framework distinctions come in, however. ITIL is built around a set of core processes. ITIL also makes an acknowledgement to some of the general best practices you should observe for sub-processes (like project management) but it doesn’t tell you necessarily how to perform them. They purposely leave it a little open-ended to allow you the flexibility to adapt it as you need to. The ‘hooks’ or ‘hand-offs’ are what are important between these processes and ITIL.

You can, and should, use a formal and developed project management methodology with an IT project. You can also manage your project in a way that supports the hooks with ITIL. The two are not incompatible.

I think it is a strength of ITIL rather than a weakness, with respect to project management because it allows us as project managers to invoke PMI methodologies, PRINCE2, or any other PM process we want as long the touch points or ‘hand-offs’ are there with IT Operations and are defined.

It’s not that people ‘manage’ their projects with ITIL, it’s that they manage their projects so that they can support ITIL. Subtle distinction, but one that still needs to be made.

Combining ITIL with a good solid project management methodology creates a powerful combination with which deliver IT solutions. Taken together you will now have processes that cover both the development and IT operations teams.

So to the IT person who says they ‘run their project with ITIL’ I would say ‘great.’ You manage your project in such a way that you support the interfaces into ITIL that in turn support a smooth interaction between the two methodologies. As a project manager, you are running your project in order to support another key stakeholder: ITIL.

ITIL is a fantastic resource. For something as vitally important to global business and commerce as IT is, it’s actually surprising that a standardized set of processes like this didn’t come along sooner. I don’t think, however, that it is a replacement for good, solid project management processes.

Tom Barnett is a freelance writer and IT professional. Tom has worked extensively in the IT Field for over 17 years. He has managed application and infrastructure projects, small application deployments to global web-based developments. Tom has been a program director as well as a project manager for large international services corporations and small management consulting firms.

Tom holds a PMP certification, is currently pursuing his PgMP, and has been an adjunct faculty member atWalsh College in the Business Information Technology (BIT) department. He was also one of the content authors of Practice Standard on Work Breakdown Structures v2 for the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Tom’s IT Project Management,, focuses on lean, effective IT management techniques.

Tom resides in Elk Rapids, MI.

Recommended PM App

Recommended PM App