A Simple Way to Think About ITIL

One of the most challenging aspects of learning about service management in general, and specifically ITIL, is keeping all of the information straight. ITIL v3 consists of 5 core books with each book focusing on a specific aspect of service management. ITIL v3 is organized into a series of “lifecycle stages” that roughly mirror stages in the lives of IT services.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of the detail provided in the ITIL v3 core books. Each book is roughly 200+ pages, two columns per page front and back. In other words, it’s a lot of information.

When I first became involved in ITIL, I attended a foundation class. This was way back in the early days of ITIL v2. The instructor clearly knew the material, but he somewhat overwhelmed the students because he gave us too much information and had no clear organizing concept for grouping the information or understanding what it all meant (shameless plug – the instructors at Global Knowledge do a much better job of providing practical examples and making the information clear and easy to understand).

It took me a few years to arrive at a simple, high-level organizational concept that helped me truly understand what ITIL is and how it helps businesses. I discuss it in every ITIL class. The ITIL best practices tend to focus on how to achieve, manage and maintain three simple concepts. They are:

  • A – Accountability
  • B – Boundaries
  • C – Consistency

I call this the “ABC’s of ITIL”.


Why is accountability important, and how do ITIL best practices encourage it? Accountability is important because without it nothing tends to happen in a predictable manner. In other words, if no one is accountable for an activity, then that activity isn’t likely to get done. ITIL encourages organizations to establish accountability in many ways; for example, a Service Owner is a role that is accountable for the delivery of a specific service throughout an organization. Organizations without a Service Owner role run the risk of services not being effectively delivered because of a lack of control.


What is a boundary, and how does it help your organization? Historically IT organizations aren’t good at establishing boundaries between themselves and their customers. The result is often that the business is too intimately involved in specific IT decisions. This takes the company away from more important business-related activities and ultimately results in lost revenue. ITIL best practices encourage organizations to establish clear boundaries in many ways. One way is the concept of a service. Fundamentally a service is a boundary that specifies the roles and responsibilities of and interface between the service provider, the customers, and the users. Effectively, a service draws a boundary between service customers and users and its technical details. Organizations that ineffectively draw boundaries run the risk of poor service delivery, which ultimately degrades business capabilities.


Consistency refers to the extent to which services are created, transitioned, and delivered in a predictable manner. Inconsistency results in variance, and variance tends to result in increased costs. Therefore, many of the best practices ITIL describes encourage organizations to take a consistent and predictable approach when designing, developing, transitioning, and operating IT services. Consistency tends to be less costly than inconsistency.

Of course ITIL goes into much more detail than I did in this short blog entry. One challenge to ITIL is organizing and understanding the amount of information that it provides; the best approach I’ve seen to managing the wealth of information is consider it from a standpoint of the ABC’s of ITIL.

As a bonus, not only is this a useful practical way to look at what ITIL provides, it can also help on all levels of the ITIL certification exams. In both the foundation and the intermediate classes it’s often true that the best answer tends to exhibit high levels of accountability, strong boundaries, and consistent end results.

In this article

Join the Conversation