Damn: What to do When ITIL Becomes a 4-Letter Word*

Erika Flora
Written by Erika Flora

Your organization has “tried ITIL” and wasn’t successful. IT staff has been there and done that and found it didn’t work. That doesn’t mean IT Service Management concepts aren’t valid and helpful. It just wasn’t approached, for whatever reason, in the right way and there was a visible, painful failure.  Understandably, people don’t want to try it again. However, there is still hope. If you haven’t given up on how ITSM can help your organization get better, here are a couple of handy tips to help you be more successful in your efforts.

Stop saying ITIL.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya

If people hate the acronym ITIL or ITSM, whichever it is, stop using it. Just stop. Nowhere do the ITIL books say that you have to use the acronym when talking with others in your organization (the first rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club). I’ve heard it called hiding the peas in the potatoes. Maybe for you it’s hiding the glitter in the nondescript white envelope. Hiding the spring loaded snakes in the brown peanut brittle can. Surprise! Ok, I digress…

The point is you can call it whatever you like.  In fact, I had a colleague mention the acronym ITIL when talking with her boss, and his immediate reaction was, “No.  We don’t want to do that here”.  So, instead, she started saying, “Hey, I have an idea for how we can improve things”.  He absolutely loved and helped her implement every idea (and thought she was pretty much the smartest person ever).  What you have to remain focused on is the result, not what you call something (unless, of course, you hold the trademark and stand to benefit mightily from the frequent use of the word). Actions are what matter here.  Keep your eye on what you’re trying to help your organization achieve or pain you’re trying to help alleviate, and you will find that you have much more success.  Plus, there will be lots less eye rolling when you enter a room, and that’s always good.

Run a small project.

Big successes often start as small ones.  Find something you can fix and do a small, great thing for the organization.  Look at what you can improve within your own sphere of influence, and act now!  Communicate the success like crazy, find something else to fix, and do another small project or “pilot”.  Over time, people will notice (and want to help) with future successes. 

At the end of the day, everyone wants their job to be easier, more meaningful, and more fun.  You can put small changes in place that help it be so – even if that change is a small one.  Many years ago, when I was working as a Project Manager, I started with a company that had tried (and failed) three times to put an enterprise-wide Project Management program in place.  By the time I got there, they wanted no part of it.  However, I refused to give into the excuses and was able to help them get significantly better over time.  In this case, the fourth time was the charm.  When people see improvements, even if they’re small, they can be persuaded to find the time, money, and people needed to be successful on a larger scale.  You just can’t take no for an answer.  In the wise words of Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up!”

* The acronym ITIL is technically four letters, but you catch my drift.

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Originally published June 06 2017, updated December 12 2019
ITIL/ITSM