Back to Basics: Why DO the ITIL Foundation Certification?

I was actually asked this question recently by a former colleague working in the IT Asset Management arena, in the context of whether the certification would help them in terms of IT contracting.

I had to think long and hard about my answer, and having learned the hard way in previously trying to get contract work, it does tend to be something that recruiters expect contractors to have, particularly in the ITSM arena.

What’s the real value of ITIL Foundation Certification

I decided to track down the trainer who got me through my Foundation to get his views.

Neil Wilson is an ITIL expert and accredited trainer.  He says:

“The harsh reality is that organisations want it [ITIL], want to start practicing it, but don’t necessarily want to pay for it.

“They can choose who they want.

“It’s a foot in the door, and it gets you on the shortlist.”

He went on to give examples of recent class attendees who have spent many years in the IT industry, but who have never formalised their experience, and have found themselves having to face the prospect of studying.

“Whether we agree with the game, we have to have bits of paper and qualifications.”

I’m too old for this learning lark

This was the crux of my discussion with my colleague – and I am not going to lie, to cram all that stuff in for the Multiple-choice test on top of life, and in my advancing years was not a pleasant prospect.

But in my class, there were several people like me who had faced the spectre of redundancy and saw this as something necessary to help at least get your CV through the first set of scans.

Neil Wilson explains the basics.

“My advice for people who are worried about it – there is no short cut around it.

“You just have to get your head around it, whether that be classroom based or via self-study.”

It culminates in a one hour exam, 40 multiple choice questions, with 26 or more to pass.

“There is an argument for having this format as an appropriate way of testing people’s knowledge and understanding.

“The qualification gets this broad perspective of what the issues are – how do you test that?  With an exam.”

Yoda: "You must unlearn what you have learned"

Unlearn what you have learned

While it sounds a little Yoda™ -like in utterance, it is a valid piece of advice.

Most professionals working in or on the periphery of ITSM/ITAM will have an understanding of the basics in terms of terminology and basic process flow.

And so they should – remember we are talking best practice, here – not quantum physics.

BUT – to get through the exam you perhaps need to put aside what you know of real world situations and just learn what you need to PASS the exam.

Look at it like re-taking your driving test once you have established all those bad habits after you initially passed (we ALL have them!)

Isn’t that a bit defeatist?

Well not really – the Foundation Certificate is just that.  It gives the candidate a good grounding in the terminology and the concepts of ITIL, and at all times it constantly emphasises the fact that you go on a journey, and the need to adapt what you are learning to your own environment.

Is there anything I need to do beforehand?

There are some decent materials out there that can at least give you a ready reference for terminology – which in most cases is half the battle for the exam.

One of the things I found was at The ITIL Training Zone – where they offer ITIL Mind Maps and, more recently, ITIL on a Page.

I was able to catch up with their Head of Online Education, Claire Agutter at the Service Desk and IT Support Show 2012 to learn more.

She explained:

 “The mind maps were something that I found useful and we made freely available, as an effort to build up a trusted training brand.”

“People tell us they take these with them on courses!”

So is it worth it?

There are a couple of ways to look at this:

  • ITSM Credibility

For anyone working in the ITSM arena, there is little doubt in my mind that having a good understanding of the ITIL basics is going to help the team as a whole.

There are alternatives for companies who might balk at putting teams through the certification process.

Remember to balance the theory with common sense and practice.

  • Marketability

At the risk of sounding mercenary – anything, these days, that edges you closer to the start line in the race for jobs/better positions is a good thing.

Let’s be realistic – we work to make money to live.  If having at least the certification means you might be able to negotiate a better starting rate on contracts, or puts you in the frame to move up through the ITSM job structure in your organisation, then it is no bad thing.

  • Choose what works for you.  Classroom learning is an expense and takes up time, but it puts you in an environment where you have no choice but to soak it all in.  Self-study will give you a little more flexibility to study in your own time, but can be equally stressful when it comes to putting the time aside to focus on it.  If you have no self-discipline to do that, then be honest with yourself from the start!

Has it helped me?

For me, gaining my ITIL certification meant I could approach a change in role in terms of process consultancy with a little more comfort.

In my previous roles I could get by with my versions of the books and some background knowledge, happy in the knowledge we had Process Implementation Managers who handled all that other stuff.  I just needed to argue my case for the tool vs process.

But for my next role it was roles reversed – the focus was on process consultancy, with my technical expertise then helping us to develop the tool accordingly – the deeper dive into the basic foundation of ITIL gave me that balance.

I personally think it is worth the 3 days and a couple of nights of pain (if you do a typical course) to have the certification under your belt.

What you do with it afterwards, or more importantly what it can do for you…?  Well that’s another story.

Image credit

MALC: Capstone? Or headstone for serial qualification hunters?

Capstone? Or headstone for serial qualification hunters?

Do the new higher level certifications announced recently represent a pinnacle of an ITSM professional’s achivements?

Update to ITIL® Managing Across the Lifecycle (MALC) and ITIL Master Qualifications

1st May 2012 saw the announcement that the top two tiers of the ITIL qualification pyramid are now updated to ITIL 2011 and live.

For most of us, the Foundation Certificate and the Intermediates are a realistic aim for a competent grounding in the theory of ITIL.

The exams take the form of multiple choice questions and scenario based questioning.

Managing Across the Lifecycle (MALC)

  • MALC is the final module of the Intermediate Service Lifecycle and/or Capability modules that leads to the ITIL Expert certification.
  • The new qualification is aligned to the 2011 edition of ITIL and has increased in difficulty from the Intermediate Qualifications.
  • The exam paper is longer with more questions and more is based on case study.

Where the Intermediate qualifications look to provide either broad management/leadership focus or more detailed ITIL practice execution, MALC pitches itself at business, management and organisational leads.

Maggie Kneller, MALC project manager, said:

“The new MALC takes a managerial, strategic perspective of ITIL across the lifecycle.

“It has been our aim to produce a MALC syllabus and examination which is deserving of its position as the final ‘capstone’ leading to the prestigious ITIL Expert certification.”

ITIL Master

Hot on its heels was the announcement of the ITIL Master qualification going live.

  • This qualification differs from other core qualifications as the assessment method is through written submission and candidate interview.
  • Candidates have to explain how and why they have chosen to adopt, adapt and implement core ITIL concepts within the workplace, across the entire service lifecycle.
  • This can be based on projects conducted in the past (and maybe using earlier versions of ITIL guidance) or can be used to formulate and implement a future service improvement program.

Sharon Taylor, ITIL Chief Examiner said:

“I am very excited that the ITIL Master programme is now a reality for the many ITIL Experts who have been anxiously awaiting its launch.”

Richard Pharro, CEO of the APM Group said:

“The ITIL Master Qualification enables the most experienced IT service managers and practitioners in the industry to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and capability; defining how to approach real-world situations, apply appropriate ITIL concepts and create solutions which demonstrate continued effectiveness and benefits to the business.”

Rob England (aka ITskeptic) commented:

“The ITIL certification edifice grows higher and heaver.”

In his blog he queries who these qualifications are aimed at?

Capstone or Headstone?

We probably have all come across incredibly well qualified consultants who know ITIL better than it knows itself.

But as Rob points out in his blog, to even take the MALC qualification, you have to amass the requisite Intermediate points.

Alas for practitioners, there is no other way of attaining the ‘capstone’.

I am looking to work through the Intermediates as soon as it is financially viable, because it speaks to the experiences I have garnered at the coal face.

My comfort zone is the Service Lifecycle, but the options allow me to spread my wings and try the Service Capability modules for much more detailed process implementation knowledge.

Reading the account of someone who was on the pilot programme, it does present a challenge and focuses on aligning real experience to the complete lifecycle.

They have senior management experience, backed up with practical knowledge as a Service Manager.

Perhaps the benefits of climbing to the top of the pyramid is that it might prevent serial multiple-choice exam-sitters to get the top qualifications without ever having been involved at any level of a Service Management deployment.

I would be very interested to know from a recruitment perspective if search mechanisms pick up anything beyond the word ‘ITIL’ or maybe the Book titles when CVs are scanned.

More info here: