Three Common ITIL Training Myths

Does this sound familiar? 

An IT organization wants to model their operations after the ITIL® best practices framework.  At the conceptual level, they understand and appreciate the value and benefit of implementing Service Management using the ITIL® guidelines.  As a first step they secure a comprehensive training budget to ensure that everyone in the organization receives ITIL® Foundations training. A training supplier and certification authority are contracted and a series of classes are scheduled stretching out over several months.  Managers, administrators, technicians, and team leads alike are enrolled. Once training has concluded, management’s expectations are set:  We’re now ready to “do” ITIL®!

Really?  Should a major training budget be the very first step?  As you might expect, this mind set is based on training myths predominant in the information technology space. 

Myth #1: Training is All We Need to Execute Service Management – Training is indeed part of what you need; but only a part. Training alone is not sufficient.  The most any organization can expect from training, especially at the foundation level, is that all participants will have a common understanding of the terminology and basic principles.  This is certainly of value.  But knowing “how” to do Service Management is something else entirely.  Unfortunately, today’s foundational classes are severely restricted in the content that can be covered over three days.  Training is not an end in itself.  It must be viewed as just one component in an overall Service Management strategy.

Myth #2: All Training Is Alike – True, certified training must follow an approved syllabus.  Courseware, the course and the trainer all must be “certified”.  And in today’s marketplace, ITIL® training has become a bit of a commodity.  So, what your organization must evaluate is this:  How does the trainer respond to the practical, real-world aspects of actually implementing the principles covered in training?  If the trainer can speak only to the ITIL® Core Publications and recite verbatim the ITIL® Core Publication body of knowledge, they’re adding no value to the concepts.  Look for an experienced trainer with tangible, real-world examples of how to “make this ‘stuff’ work.  I assure you, questions regarding everyday use cases will arise during training.  If the trainer lacks this real-world experience, they’ll very quickly lose respect and then attention of your staff.

Myth #3: The Reason for the Training Is Obvious – While it might be obvious to senior management sponsoring the initiative, don’t be too certain everyone understands why they’ve been asked to take time out of their harried schedules to sit in class.  I can tell you that not every trainee understands why they’re listening to an instructor pontificate about some apparently obscure concepts.  Of the hundreds trained over the past 15 years I can say I have had just two people leave the session during the first day and not return.  The reason they left?  They simply had no idea why their management wanted them to take the course.  Leadership did not set expectations.  The would-be students saw no connection to what they were doing on a day-to-day basis and this thing called ITIL®.  They simply “shut down” in the first five minutes and closed their minds to the rationale presented in the first hour of the session.

To mitigate the potential negative effects of such a training effort, I would advise managers to answer these questions before committing scarce budget dollars to an extensive training initiative:

  • Is there a formal Service Management program in-place or planned?  If so, be certain training is designed as part of the overall strategic plan.
  • Have we considered the importance of having all trainees go through the training with the same trainer?  Despite standard trainer and course certifications, every trainer has a slightly different perspective of the ITIL® concepts.  It is best for the organization if its students receive the same courses provided by the same instructor.  This will prevent confusion and eliminate otherwise subtle uncertainties that may undermine confidence in the overall initiative.
  • Have we given thought to who needs the training now versus those who should wait until later in the program?  I believe in a hierarchical approach consisting of a brief overview for the entire organization including IT stakeholders such as IT customers, business unit management, human resources and finance.  This may then be followed by focused foundations training for managers and senior functional group leadership.  With that in place, the individual functional managers can help decide who in their organization should have the training and when, in the lifecycle of the program, those individuals should be scheduled for the sessions.  This not only ensures effective stewardship of rare IT budgets, but contributes to a thoughtful and strategic approach aligned with the program.
  • Have we really looked at the capabilities, experience, and classroom “presence” of the trainer?  Let’s face it:  Some of the concepts essential to ITIL® are extremely “dry”.  The trainer must be able to bring these to life!  ITIL® “theory” has to LIVE in the classroom if it is going to mean anything to the students.
  • Once the students complete the training, will they have a practical vehicle to apply their new-found knowledge and insights?  Conceptual knowledge does not translate into execution of the Service Management principles.  Ideally, we like to see a defined roadmap in place and a project management organization engaged (and empowered) to begin implementation so the newly-minted ITIL® trainees have a vehicle to use and apply the knowledge.
  • Is the trainer aligned with the teams that will be designing the processes and defining requirements for the tool that will support the process?  ITIL® trainers can provide tremendous insight into the challenges faced by your organization.  A mechanism should be in place to transfer this knowledge and insight to those executing the Service Management plan.
  • Can we arrange to have a spokesperson for the organization do a brief introduction at the beginning of the session so those attending know exactly why they are there and what is expected of them?  Such a “kick-off” by an organizational leader is a perfect opportunity to explain how this information will be leveraged in the very near future. If the “what’s-in-it-for-me” is answered at the outset in the very first minutes of day one, it can make a world of difference in the motivation of the students throughout the session.

Essentially we need first to understand why we are training and then communicate our objectives.  Training should be planned in conjunction with the transformational vision that is driving the Service Management effort.  This is critical to get the most value from the training and to have the greatest impact on achieving the cultural change that is part of Service Management.

Patrick Musto is an IT Service Management professional with first-hand experience in Service Management implementations in shared services and service oriented architectures across several industries.  Patrick has national and international experience as an implementation consultant, facilitator, trainer and course developer for IT Service Management, process improvement and IT governance.  Patrick is a regular contributor to thought leadership in best practices and co-author of “Six Sigma for Service Management”, a contributor and reviewer of the Continual Service Improvement Core Publication and a reviewer of several ITIL® Complementary Guidance publications.  Patrick holds a number of ITIL® certifications, is an ISO 20K Service Management Consultant and is a Six Sigma Belt.

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