ITIL Practitioner: Thoughts on the experience so far

3623768629_955cfaedca_oDoes ITIL Practitioner live up to the hype? Having followed the teasers, blog posts, promotional videos and (some of the) discussions during 2015 I find the question difficult to answer, even after reading the book and taking the certification exam.

In fact, it might be stretching it to call it a hype, even though the press release stated that it was the “most significant evolution in the ITIL best practice framework since the launch of AXELOS”, and The IT Sceptic stated that even he “might even consider doing it”. A Google search on “ITIL Practitioner” today gives me slightly more than 90 000 hits, which is significantly less than “ITIL Foundation” (580 000 hits) and even “ITIL Expert” (350 000 hits). Compared to obvious IT hypes like “Big data” (54 million hits) ITIL Practitioner appears to be hardly noticeable. Nevertheless, my expectations were pretty high by the time I got my hands on some actual reading material.

In my experience, the syllabus is usually a good starting point for familiarizing oneself with new certifications, and this was no exception. The six learning objectives all began with “Be able to [do something]”, which did nothing to lower my expectations, and the assessment criteria filled them out very nicely. Time, then, to dig into the book.

Reading the book

Instant gratification!

Being impatient, I skipped the foreword and the presentation of the (quite impressing) team, and went straight for the good stuff. The introduction left me yearning for more. I loved the simple language, the examples and the down to earth approach. The description of a service strikes me as better than any I have seen in other ITIL books. If I could hand out the first chapter to ITIL Foundation course participants, I would. It really sums up the essence of ITSM in an easily understandable and well-formulated way.

If I should put my finger on anything in the introduction, it would be the presentation of efficiency and effectiveness as concepts. Personally, I would have preferred a little more focus and weight on effectiveness. Efficiency is running fast, effectiveness is choosing the smartest and quickest route. “Doing the right thing” should come before “doing the thing right”, or else you very quickly end up doing the wrong things very efficiently.

As I read on, the book continued to impress me. The easy language, the good examples, the references to other frameworks and methods, it all contributed to the overall great impression.

The guiding principles were very good, easy to follow and to agree with, and I especially liked the emphasis that they are not unique to ITIL or ITSM. I would have liked to see more on the interfaces between them, and how they interact with one another, but then again, they are guiding principles, not directing processes.

The many references to the Toolkit left me in an ambiguous state of mind. On the one hand, it was great to get tips of templates and tools, especially because they were placed close to descriptions of the activities they are meant to support. On the other hand, they had a tendency to break my concentration and flow because I felt I had to look them up immediately. I guess I’ll be less distracted by this the next time I read the book. The Toolkit itself was a great resource, with ample information and references.

In fact, references to other frameworks and methods such as Lean, Kanban, Scrum and agile were abundant throughout the book. Several pages at the end of chapter 7 was dedicated to describing these, and others. I found it very refreshing and appropriate, very much in line with my expectations. The only thing that gave me pause is that I found no mention of Kepner-Tregoe, which, in my opinion, would be a very relevant and useful tool for several topics.

Overall, I was very satisfied with the book, as I am sure most others will be too.

Passing the certification test

As with other comparable certifications, my exam preparations consisted mainly of working with the two sample exams I had at hand. The format was recognizable, with scenarios and multiple choice questions. Having taken a fair share of such exams, I entered into the task with my usual enthusiasm and optimism, both of which was soon put to the test.

ITIL Practitioner operates on Bloom’s level 3 and 4, same as the nine intermediate ITIL exams. Thus, the questions should test the candidates’ ability to effectively apply concepts, principles, methods and new information to concrete situations (level 3), and analyze situations, identify reasons and causes, and reach conclusions (level 4).

In my experience, both the mock exams and the actual certification test fall somewhat short of achieving this. I like scenario based tests; they feel more realistic and appropriate, but you need a certain amount of details to make it work. The intermediate exams handles this by limiting the number of questions, and so giving the candidate more time per question to handle the amount of information given, as well as using gradient style multiple choice.

The Practitioner exam is sort of a blend of the Foundation and the Intermediate type of exams, and ends up being a hybrid; more than Foundation, but not quite Intermediate. While this fits well with the announced placement in the ITIL hierarchy, I still feel that the test uses Blooms level 2 and 3 type of questions to test level 3 and 4 type of knowledge.

In summary, I think some of the questions are too open for interpretations, thus leaving the rationale open for doubt.

In fact, while I can agree with most of the answers and explanations in the rationale, I flat out disagree with a few of them. In my opinion, the rationales are the weakest part of the Practitioner experience so far, and I hope to see revised versions soon. Disagreeing with the rationale does not instill confidence before taking the actual certification test.

As for the test itself, the usual advices apply; read and understand all text, use the book actively, answer all questions. I am also looking forward to seeing some statistics on the pass rate.

In conclusion

So, does ITIL Practitioner live up to the hype? As mentioned, I don’t really think it is a hype yet, so I’ll leave that particular question unanswered.

Does it meet my expectations so far? I’m inclined to say yes. The important part, the book, is definitely worth the read, and that really is what matters most.



This article was contributed by Kristian Spilhaug of Sopra Steria . Kristian is a Norwegian instructor and senior consultant, delivering ITIL, PRINCE2 and Kepner-Tregoe courses and advice. He is usually denying the “senior” part, as there is still tons of stuff to learn. He is really enjoying delivering courses, though. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.


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Pink14 Preview: 2-Speed ITSM – 2-Speed conferences?

“I often go from some futuristic and visionary discussions at conferences, to a ‘retro’ experience of 80s and 90s computing in some client organisations”

I am heading to the US this week to visit Las Vegas for the Pink Elephant Conference and Exhibition – going via San Francisco to present at an “ITSM Meetup” event, but the main event will be the annual Pink-fest in Vegas.

I will be interviewing a number of key ITSM industry people at the event for ITSM Review, so look out for that content in the very near future. As ever I will try to a cross section a number of views on the issues and challenges for the industry, with their take on what will be happening and developing in the next year or so.

I myself will be speaking on the subject of ‘2-Speed ITSM’ – a topic I first raised in a previous blog. The gist of this is that there is often a vast gulf between what we see, hear and talk about at these big industry events and the reality of working as a ‘hands-on’ practitioner in a delivery organisation.

 Practitioner vs. Industry View

Of course I’d expect that new ideas, analysis and strategic thoughts are aired at these type of events – although in recent years I’ve often found that there are some big gaps between both what practitioners want from these events and what the ‘industry’ presents as important. This seems to work in two opposing directions – maybe it’s because I’ve contributed and been exposed to a lot of industry discussion over the last few years, but I am still amazed at how much ‘standard ITIL fare’ is presented at these shows – SMFUSION last year was the same, with only a small coterie of people in the ‘thank tank’ providing the insight into new ideas and ways of working. However there are also online events like TFT which generally portray a far more revolutionary and challenging approach to the status quo, perhaps at times at odds with the realities of practitioner life…?

I know from my own working experience that I often go from some futuristic and visionary discussions at conferences, to a ‘retro’ experience of 80s and 90s computing in some client organisations. There is also a regular challenge to the nature and value of ‘the conference’ experience itself – so much is online, so much can be done for communications and collaboration using digital media without leaving your home of office – what’s the point of going to these events at all?

I think its valid to question the nature of conferences, particularly those that still might follow traditional lines – with multiple streams, plenary sessions, workshops, training and of course a vendor exhibition. It does often feel like 2-speed conferences, serving a 2-speed industry…


I do feel that conferences can be really valid and valuable experiences, for all areas of the industry. There is really no substitute for face to face meetings and conversations, networking and group discussions (often in the bar) that help to forge business relationships, develop peer groups and expand knowledge and ideas across otherwise disparate groups of people.

I think our notion of what we can expect to gain from a conference does vary considerably in terms of our experience and expectations, place in the industry, plus also in relation to our view of what a conference actually is.

So it’s useful in advance to reflect on and revise our expectations of what we will want and get out of the event. If this is about learning or hearing some new stuff, then we need to research the programme to ensure we find the right sessions. If we are going to network and develop our contacts, maybe with some socialising, that is also completely valid. I do think that the buy/sell expectation is less and less valid these days, particularly since so much information is online – for many vendors it’s now more about making sure that you are seen and associated with central industry activity, rather than direct selling. I think ultimately for many practitioners these events are a great opportunity to meet other people like themselves and share experiences and ideas.

Overall whilst there is very little about a conference that you can’t do somehow elsewhere, it is in fact the multi-level activity and cauldron experience that is the real USP and makes the experience worthwhile.

So we’re not talking about just 2-speed but multi-speed, which is of course a real reflection of what working life is actually like. Our ITSM industry actually functions at both basic and advanced, simple and complex and futuristic and ‘vintage’ levels – all are valid and, when you attend one of these events, you can experience all of these in condensed form – all life is here…

Look forward to seeing you there – if you have a view or opinion you’d like to share, please search me out and we can have a chat or interview if that suits… You can also contact me in advance. ITSM Review’s Rebecca Beach and Sophie Danby will also be in attendance. If you would like to schedule a meeting with either of them at the conference please contact ITSM Review.

Find Barclay presenting at PINK14:

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Practitioners versus consultants: what benefits do both roles offer?

Duran Duran
ITSM practitioners may not get to be seen as “rock-star saviors” in the same way as consultants, but may be the actual "rocks" through which change takes place

Ever wondered what the difference is between being an ITSM practitioner and a consultant?

Here, Tobias Nyberg shares his experiences of how being an ITSM practitioner compares with being a consultant on a day-to-day basis

I call myself an ITSM practitioner, in the sense that that means I’m not a consultant. ITSM practitioners are there for the long haul, whereas consultants are usually only brought in to consult in the short term or on one-off projects. What this means practically is that being an ITSM practitioner brings additional opportunities and challenges that are not usually within the remit of a consultant.

Being a practitioner requires working in a sustained fashion over a longer term, so in many cases, this means I have to find ways to keep the momentum and energy up when projects end and consultants leave, and the normal business-as-usual work takes over. It can be challenging to feel you are really making a difference when you are in the middle of the daily business and everything is functioning well, whereas consultants have the benefit of being able to make a more recognizable contribution over the short term.

One of the things I really like about not being a consultant is that I have a different kind of responsibility towards my employer, my company and my colleagues, which is to make things work — and to make them work better — without the support of a project or other expert consultant. It means I have the opportunity to drive change from within, and to have the kind of long-term buy-in to make changes become a reality.

It also means I have to work and live the results of my efforts for as long as I stay at my company, which puts a different perspective on working relationships. I’ve worked with consultants that drove change so hard that everyone hated them when the project finished (well, except for management). But that was all right, since they got the work done and could leave after the project was finished.

Between a rock and a rock star

Unfortunately, we practitioners can’t use up all our organizational goodwill and call in all the personal favours we need for a single project, and then expect to have any swag left to cover the rest of the year. I believe this means that there is far less to lose by playing it hard as a consultant — as long as there are some hard-working practitioners left in the building to keep pushing the changes after the consultants have gone.

Of course, it can be a bit of a drag not to be seen as one of the rock-star “savior” consultants who show up and help make ITSM practitioners shine, but I’ve grown to accept that — as the saying goes, prophets can’t really expect to be welcomed in their own home town.

So when your boss runs in to the office, proclaiming that she or he has seen the light and the true path to ITSM goodness through the eyes of the new consultant, you just smile and cheer, and silently thank yourself for the excellent groundwork that led up to this moment of clarity. Never mind the fact that you’ve probably been saying the exact same thing for the past six months, although no one was willing to listen to you back then.

We, the practitioners, need to be there to take care of all the daily business, and gradually identify and implement areas for improvement. We are the ‘rocks’ who get the chance to see the theories and the frameworks, and then put these into practice in reality. We are the ones with the hands-on experience and firsthand knowledge on how to do things, and how it all really works. So, we may not get to be the rock stars, but we do get to be the rocks on which change is built.

It’s good to share

Our experience is something we need to value properly and share with other ITSM professionals so we can help both ourselves and the ITSM community grow.

Unfortunately, the downside of working at one place for a long time is that you automatically don’t get any fresh experience from anywhere else. A consultant can visit many companies and see firsthand how things are done and how it works there. But that breadth of experience can be hard to come by in other ways if you remain in the same company for a long period.

That’s one of the reasons I believe it is good practice for us to share our experience with each other and among the ITSM community. It’s one sure way to grow without switching to consultancy.

I’m currently working with a special-interest group where we are a majority of practitioners. It’s a great group — enthusiastic, and eager to share and learn from each other. There are some consultants who participate there, too, and they often contribute as much as anyone else. It’s always interesting to see the differences in how and what consultants and practitioners share.

But there are good reasons for that. Consultants are obliged to honour confidentiality agreements, so can’t share everything from companies where they have worked, as they can’t mention customer names without consent; also, the intellectual property might not be theirs to share, etc. However, they can share a variety and breadth of experiences from many different organizations, summarizing these with the details hidden or masked.

We practitioners, on the other hand, are able to share more information within our own discretion. We can be more detailed, and can discuss matters of interest with more depth. We also have a more profound and specialized knowledge of what we do at our organizations, but we are not as diversified and broad in our knowledge as consultants.

Best of both

When I set out to write this, it was because I had discussed the good and bad things about being a practitioner versus being a consultant with four different persons within a week.

The results were that three practitioners felt they were made smaller at their companies because of consultants, and that they had nothing to offer the community in terms of experience. Yet one consultant said he felt frustrated that he could never stay long enough to actually see the long-term results of his efforts, and that he could only ever share generalised information about his work.

In my own experience, I have been both a consultant and a practitioner — and I do like both roles, but for different reasons. Together, we tend to make great teams and drive change quite symbiotically. Let’s remember that we are different for good reasons, and strive to use that to grow — both as professional individuals and as a business community.