ITIL Practice Guides – a Hidden Gem

Kevin Jones, senior advisor at BEYOND20
If you have not done so already, it would be worth your time to familiarise yourself with the ITIL 4 practice guides.

You may need to refresh your understanding of the basics of a particular practice, such as Incident Management, or you might have to present content on service management to your colleagues. Perhaps you need to enhance your practice’s metrics and measurements, modernise your own activities, or even figure out how a practice fits into your organisation’s value streams and processes.

From roles and responsibilities to automation and tooling, the ITIL 4 practice guides will provide you with the critical information you will need to move forward on your service management journey.

Standardised structure

All practice guides follow a consistent, standardised format, simplifying the search for similar content across all 34 practices. Indeed, the titles for sections 3, 4, 5 and 6 come directly from ITIL 4’s Four Dimensions of Service Management:

1. About this document
2. General information
3. Value streams and processes
4. Organisations and people
5. Information and technology
6. Partners and suppliers 
7. Important reminder
8. Acknowledgments 

Because PeopleCert has completely embraced the Guiding Principle of Progress Iteratively with Feedback, they are further modifying this structure to include two additional entries after Partners and suppliers:

  • Capability assessment and development
  • Tips for practice success

Be looking for this new format as we updates all the practice guides. This is the path of ITIL 4: nothing will be static. We can expect this content to be updated, upgraded, and added to for the life of this framework. I will describe these newest additions so you will know what to expect in the future.

Getting started: Chapters 1 & 2

While the first section, Chapter 1: About this document, contains what you would expect, the second, Chapter 2: General information, provides a high-level overview of the practice, along with key terms and definitions. If you are new to a particular practice or need content for a presentation, this section will provide you with most – if not all – of what you need. Depending on the guide, you might even find some useful graphics and diagrams here to introduce content.

The Scope subsection offers a crisp explanation of what is within scope for this practice and the following subsection, Practice Success Factors (PSFs), will help you get your metrics and management reporting underway. 

PSFs are defined as “a complex function of a practice that is required for the practice to fulfil its purpose” and breaks down each one while describing the rationale. PSFs are more than tasks or activities; it includes components from all four dimensions of service management. The nature of the activities and resources of PSFs with a practice may differ, but together they ensure that the practice is effective. The following subsection then lists out the key metrics assigned to each PSF, giving you a jumping-off point to begin your metrics and measurement activities for any practice. 

Chapter 3: Value Streams and Processes

For most practices, the third section of the guide is, in most cases, the longest and most involved. The first part describes the contribution your practice makes to various value streams, illustrating this with a diagram showing the service value chain. But the real meat of this section is in the description of the relevant processes. 
Here, the section presents a high-level flow chart of the practice’s processes and breaks down each step. Each practice guide includes detailed information on what a practice does and how it does it. For detailed operational activities, as well as how your practice interfaces with others, this is the section you want. 
In the updated practice guides, the description of processes is followed by a mapping of the practice to the service provider’s value streams and recommendations on value stream analysis.

Chapter 4: Organisations and People

Section four breaks down the practice by roles, competencies, and responsibilities. Using ITIL 4’s competency codes, shown below, it offers something like a responsibility assignment, or RACI matrix that concentrates on the responsibilities across that practice’s activities as listed in the previous section.

  • L – Leader
  • A – Administrator
  • C – Coordinator/communicator
  • M – Methods and techniques
  • T – Technical expert

This competencies table lists every activity and role, the required competency code – or codes – for those roles, and the skills required.

The section ends with an explanation of the organisational structure and tiers. Depending on the levels of complexity for each practice, this can be a very elaborate subsection or may be concluded in just a paragraph or two.

Chapter 5: Information and Technology

The content of section five can vary greatly depending on the technological requirements of different practices. It will begin with an opening subsection on information exchange, in which the practice describes its required information inputs, more details of which can be found in section three. It may also give guidance on record keeping.

Elsewhere, the guide gives recommendations regarding automation and tooling, which can be an enormous help if your organisation is looking to update its current tools or select new ones. Again, based on a practice’s technical requirements, this section can be either high-level or it can dive into considerable detail.

In the updated practice guides, the chapter is concluded with a list of practical recommendations for the successful use of automation tools in the practice.

Chapter 6: Partners and Suppliers

The last of the sections based on the Four Dimensions of Service Management addresses the possible involvement of third-party suppliers. Since the details of these discussions are highly specific to each individual enterprise, the practice guide suggests things to consider without offering actual recommendations.

Chapter 7: Capability Assessment and Development (New!)

Look for this new chapter to appear in updated and revised practice guides. This chapter focuses on practice capability levels and how these interact with the maturity assessment methodology through the ITIL maturity model. The maturity model defines five levels:

  • Level 1: This practice is not well organised; it’s performed as initial or intuitive. It may occasionally or partially achieve its purpose through an incomplete set of activities. 
  • Level 2: The practice systematically achieves its purpose through a basic set of activities supported by specialised resources. 
  • Level 3: The practice is well defined and achieves its purpose in an organised way, using dedicated resources and relying on inputs from other practices that are integrated into a service management system. 
  • Level 4: The practice achieves its purpose in a highly organised way, and its performance is continually measured and assessed in the context of the service management system. 
  • Level 5: The practice is continually improving organisational capabilities associated with its purpose

We use these criteria to assess how well the practice can fulfill its own purpose and contribute to the organisation’s service value system (SVS). There can be as many as 30 capability criteria, all based on and mapped to the practice PSFs that were described in Chapter 2: General Information. The PSFs are listed in the table(s) provided in this section, followed by:

  • An explanation of each criterion assigned to this PSF
  • Which dimension of service management applies to this criterion
  • A listing of the capability level.

This chapter should provide input that applies to executing a capability self-assessment. This chapter should then conclude with input on capability development for the practice.

Chapter 8: Tips for practice success (New!)

Look for this new chapter to appear in updated and revised practice guides.

This final chapter of the new format offers tips for practice success heavily based in the seven guiding principles. This is excellent guidance regardless of the practice.

Rich and meaningful information

The ITIL 4 practice guides – usually the equivalent of about 35 - 55 pages – are densely packed with rich, meaningful information that can prove useful to you and your position. Before jumping into your next continual improvement project, I would highly recommend you consult one of these guides. It could give you the direction you were missing.

Practice-based certifications

For the practices updated in 2023, PeopleCert offers new certifications – 15 individual ‘ITIL Practitioner’ certificates designed for one day’s training based on the individual practice guides and three ‘ITIL Specialist’ bundles of 5 practices, each of which can be achieved through three days’ training. The group of five practices is available from April and the other ten are announced to be released in summer. They seem to be the most practical certification modules addressed to practitioners rather than managers and leaders and the most logical step after Foundation for those working on the ground.

Continually improving

In your MyAxelos account, you will find ITIL 4-related content such as white papers, how-to information, and, of course, those all-important practice guides. Content will also  be curated based on your previous searches.

Since it was decided that 4 would be the terminal number for ITIL, none of the ITIL 4 content is at rest. Under continual improvement, it is all subject to revision, updated as research and experience indicate. For this reason alone, it is worth keeping your MyAxelos subscription up-to-date.

Find out more about achieving the ITIL Practice Manager designation here.