ITIL & Project Management: A PM's Perspective

Erika Flora
Written by Erika Flora

If you are a Project Manager working in an IT environment, you may have heard the acronym ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library, a set of books similar in nature to PMI’s PMBOK Guide) or ITSM (IT Service Management, the concept of IT as a service provider to the business). If you haven’t heard of ITIL, you will. Why? Simply put: in terms of industry adoption, ITIL is one of the fastest growing frameworks in IT today.

With ITIL’s continued rise in popularity, the demand for IT project managers with an understanding of this topic will rise as well. Thus, it is very worth your while as a project manager to have a basic understanding of ITSM and ITIL. Here are some of the key areas of importance with respect to the framework – and the similarities I see between Project Management and ITIL.

ITIL is Process, not technology-focused

The most compelling and interesting similarity between PMI’s PMBOK Guide and the ITIL books is that both are descriptive frameworks centered on process, not technology. What this means for you is that both standards are extremely approachable. For example: The PMP exam does not ask how you would go about creating a milestone task within Microsoft Project. Rather, it makes sure you understand the importance of creating milestones.

The ITIL books are the same way. In order to really understand IT Service Management as a practice, you do not need to understand servers or switches. Rather, you need to understand the importance of controlling change, defining service levels, and maintaining a catalog of all your services to the business in terms the business can understand.

Both are bodies of knowledge covering simple principles that are drawn from deep industry experience. Both detail concepts scalable and adaptable to each organization. For example: the Project Plan for a small, simple project will look much different than the plan for a large, complex one. In the same way, the process for managing a minor software patch release is going to have a different scale of requirements compared to a brand new, enterprise-wide software release.

PMBOK and ITIL are Frameworks on a Similar Mission

In the PMBOK Guide, the goal is to provide project results on time and under budget in a way that meets the needs of the customer. In the ITIL best practice set, the goal is to provide IT Services that provide value to the business in an ongoing and cost efficient manner.

Both the PMBOK Guide and ITIL guidance have the same mission: to elevate the profession by adding structure and rigor around what is done. Both strive to create a common language and deliver predictable results in a repeatable manner. For example: in projects, there is a tendency to compress planning and/or testing under the pressure of an aggressive timeline. However, a good project manager knows the importance of planning to alleviate rework later.

In the same way, businesses want IT to be agile and quick to make changes, while avoiding unforeseen consequences. Putting processes in place to prevent unauthorized changes to the IT infrastructure gets this done. By having the discipline to develop and follow a formal Change Management process, IT organizations can handle more changes and lessen the risk to the production environment.

My Own Experience

I found ITIL to be a great complement to my Project Management skillset, especially its guidance with respect to Change Management, Knowledge Management, etc. I really wish I had become certified when I first got involved in technology, as it would have set me up with an understanding of how IT processes work (or should ideally work) and would have allowed me to better speak the language early on with others in the industry.

Getting certified has also given me a greater appreciation of the importance of effective Service Management. I would highly recommend that other Project Managers working in (or with) technology look into ITIL certification as a way to compliment the PMP. In today’s competitive market, it sets you apart from the pack and provides you with an expanded toolset for successfully managing projects.

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Originally published January 01 2016, updated February 02 2020