How to Go from Zero to ITIL in Six Months (Without Breaking a Sweat)

Erika Flora
Written by Erika Flora

If your organization is looking to implement IT Service Management (ITSM) but doesn’t quite know where to start – fret not. If you’ve gotten started but fear you’ve veered off course a little – also fret not. You’ve all come to the right post! The below information is designed for new ITSM endeavors. It’s best served by tailoring it to your specific organization – but whatever your needs, the following will give you a great start.

An important point to understand is that any improvement should be viewed as three components, of all which should be implemented together. These three components are people, process, and technology. Let’s define those:

People. Simply, this component accounts for the training IT teams will need to ensure their thorough understanding of this new initiative (Why are we doing this? How is it going to benefit me?).

Process. This component focuses on how you want your organization to run. Your process is basically the activities you want everyone to begin doing consistently. Think of it as the behavior piece.

Technology. This component should run support for the other two – it should make the processes performed by your people run more quickly and efficiently.

With these three components in mind, here’s my sixth-month plan for implementing ITSM and ITIL concepts within an organization:

Months Zero – Two

Get everyone trained.

A magical thing happens when everyone in IT has some level of ITIL Training. Namely, you’ll begin to hear deeper, more meaningful conversations around ways the organization can improve. This is something I hear, without fail, from our training customers (especially those who have their entire teams trained up together). Additional benefits include a collective understanding of the why behind ITSM and ITIL (which is hugely important when asking people to change habits or behavior), the adoption of common terminology, and department-wide movement in the same direction. That said, here’s what I recommend to organizations interested in training up staff.

  • Leadership: ITSM Simulation training.  It’s a 1-day workshop that teaches ITIL concepts through accelerated, experiential learning. No one has to leave the office for more than a day, and leadership learns ITIL by doing and building things rather than listening to a lecture. It also happens to be a lot of fun.
  • Those who will be directly involved in the ITSM implementation (System Admins, ITIL Process Owners, etc.): ITIL Foundations training. This is a 3-day course that teaches ITIL concepts and includes an exam at the end. It provides a good overview of the what and why of ITIL.  Process Owners may want to take additional Intermediate training to gain a deeper understanding of the processes they will be managing, but a Foundation class does a good job of level-setting and making sure everyone understands the basics of all of the ITIL processes and concepts.
  • Everyone else in IT (and possibly even some customers): ITIL Awareness. This can be taught as a half-day or full-day class.  For those who don’t want to put everyone through an ITIL Foundation class, some training on the why of ITIL can be extremely beneficial to those working within and in partnership with IT. You’ll get a bit of that in the Awareness class, though not as much as with Foundations.

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Months Two – Four

Document a few processes

While there’s a lot you can do here, it’s important to take on a manageable amount of work at the outset of the ITSM implementation. Start by documenting those areas giving you the most pain, or likely to give you quick wins. Then use a phased approach. For example, most of our customers start by stabilizing IT, then implementing improvements to just a few processes. A common phase one includes Incident Management, Problem Management, Change Management, and building out an IT Service Catalog.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have documented processes and a Service Catalog before moving onto a tool. Please (I beg you), get these figured out first. It will save you a ton of rework and frustration later on. Here’s how I recommend tackling the process component.

  • Service Catalog Design: One good way to tackle this would be through a guided two-day workshop (usually for about 8 to 12 decision-makers), followed by focus groups with customers and virtual coaching. It is possible to build one yourself, though a third party can be tremendously helpful here. We’ve seen a lot of teams get confused, then stuck, as they attempt to define services. Having a facilitator help with those conversations can save you a good amount of time. If you do want to tackle it yourself, here’s a 101 (with a free template) on getting started.
  • Process Design: It can also be extremely helpful to figure out how long all of the steps are currently taking the organization to perform, so you can figure out not only your as-is state, but your to-be state and ultimately compare the two at the end of the project.  Process design can be done internally or with the help of a facilitator and experienced ITIL consultant.  Process design is a critical step and worth the time to do.  In our experience, having documented processes in place decreases the time needed to implement a tool by at least 50%.

The first thing you should do here is assign an owner to each process. This person will help setup and provide “care and feeding” of the process, ensuring it improves over time. Then pull all of your decision-makers together and draw out on a whiteboard each step, document, notification, etc. involved with the process. It’s also valuable to document how long it currently takes to complete each of these steps. Having this as-is state will help you determine your to-be state, and ultimately serve as a bar by which you’ll evaluate your success at the end of the project. These numbers are also pretty fun to show to leadership. Process design is a critical step that’s worth every bit of the time investment.


Months Four – Six

Implement a platform

Everyone likes to skip to this part first, but without solid training and well documented processes, you will waste a lot of time, effort, and sanity on your implementation.  Make sure those are nailed down before you begin implementation, then integrate them into your technology solution.

  • Internal Staff: Again, break your tool implementation approach into phases, define which processes to roll out first, and configure the system using those documented processes. Having a Project Manager oversee the implementation will help keep it within scope, time, and budget. You should also be sure to have a dedicated Administrator involved from the beginning, and that everyone is trained on how to use (and feel proficient in) using the platform.
  • External staff: When determining which ITSM platform and implementation partner is right for your organization, due diligence is of utmost importance. There are countless resources out there to help you find the best technology fit, most notably the Gartner Magic Quadrant. As for an implementation partner, your best bet is to request references from and/or dig into Google reviews of anyone under consideration. An implementation partner worth their salt will work diligently to meet your deadlines and budget, bring a richness of industry experience to the table, and educate your team not only on the tool itself, but on Best Practice frameworks such as ITIL. With the right platform and partner, you should be able to implement phase one within a few months.

So, there you have it. One way to go from zero to ITIL in six months.  When you’ve completed phase one, be sure to measure, communicate, and celebrate your success! Then, rinse, repeat, and keep improving.  Best of luck on your ITIL journey.  Feel free to reach out to us at any time to lend support.

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Originally published April 04 2017, updated January 01 2019