ITIL 4 – Some First Impressions

by Bill Cunningham

A few months ago I tapped some thoughts on the continued relevance of ITIL in the world of #digitaltransformation.  It turns out that a team have been hard at work on a new version of the world’s leading service management framework, titled ‘ITIL 4’. There is an pretty obvious attempt to assure the continued relevance of the framework in light of the increasing adoption of such approaches as #DevOps, #Lean and #Agile.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend an advanced, ‘first look’ – ‘ITIL 4 Train the Trainer’ session. It was a first class event put on by Axelos and the room was filled with interesting and knowledgeable service management professionals. It took a little while for us to shift out of our collective v3 mindsets; but with only a brief pass through ‘the trough of despair’ we were soon ready to wrap our collective heads around the new material.

We are under some form of NDA and the development of the official ITIL 4 materials is still very much in progress. So, I am limited in the depth of the initial impressions I can convey. We did cover the Foundation materials, in their current form, however; and we were able to get a preview of at least the outline of the intermediate and advance materials. So, keeping in mind that things may change as those Intermediate materials are developed, here are some very preliminary thoughts around ITIL 4.

Foundations Class and Exam
Few have been more critical of the ITIL v3 Foundations class and exam than I have been. I always felt that the breadth of the class syllabus was too ambitious for the typical Foundations learner and covered many concepts that they would cram in their heads for exam and never use or be exposed to again.

In ITIL 4 the Foundations material has been vastly simplified. It is intended to be more appropriate for the Foundation learner. The Foundation seems to me to form a baseline of the core concepts, rather than a high level skim of ALL the material in the framework. In my preliminary opinion this is a positive development.

The Lifecycle concept appears to have been modified to be much more clear that it is iterative and modular and flexible. In fact, in Foundation at least, the term ‘Lifecycle’ does not seem to be specifically mentioned at all. You have to sort of know where to look for it. There is a new (for ITIL) concept of a ‘Service Value Chain’ which has the Lifecycle concepts embedded in it. However, it is quite clear that the phases of the Chain are:
1. NOT strictly linear – there can be iterations through the parts of the Value Chain
2. Modular. In other words there is not just ONE ‘Service Value Chain’ – it is expected that an organization would have several, or more.

It remains to be seen whether the Lifecycle will be more explicitly a part of the Service Value Chain in the intermediate materials. I hope so. While I agree that it could be misintrepreted as a monolithic approach with four silos, I do think the ol’ Lifecycle is useful and could be particularly pertinent in fleshing out the ‘Service Value Chain’ concept.

DevOps, Agile and Lean
The ‘Service Value Chain’ and the de-emphasis of the Lifecycle concept is part of an overall attempt to clearly and explicitly align with #DevOps and #Agile, and #Lean.

There are references to integrating with these other concepts sprinkled throughout the Foundation material and there is a 9 paragraph call-out on ‘ITIL, Agile and DevOps.’ There are also tables in the document integrating the Agile Manifesto with the ITIL Guiding principles.

It is clear that ITIL 4 is intended to work seamlessly with these approaches. Of course, earlier ITIL versions were compatible with them as well, but that was not always clearly explained and understood. ITIL 4 takes considerable efforts to make the complementary nature of these methods crystal clear.

Practices (not Processes)

The term ‘Process’ has been re-purposed to support the ‘Value Chain’ concept – it more clearly applies to ANY process that supports any Value Chain/Stream. This is more consistent with the general colloquial use of the term.

The ‘Processes’ that we all know and love from previous ITIL versions have been renamed ‘Practices.’I’m ambivalent with the new term, but I do think the move away from ‘Process’ is a good one.

If I am able to count, and the materials are complete, there are 29 Practices defined. At least at the Foundations level, they are not associated with any phase of a Lifecycle or Service Value Chain. They are just listed as part of the overall framework.

There are too many changes to the specifics of the process/practices to cover in any depth here, but some highlights include:
– Change Management has been renamed to Change Control. This makes sense, it should end the confusion with ‘Organizational Change Mgt.’ And ‘Project Change Mgt.’ (Plus, it is a control process, after all).

– Asset and Configuration Management have been re-separated. This also makes sense, the old SACM was always confusing to explain.

– Release and Deployment have also been separated. This is another sensible decision. We spent some time in class figuring out the distinction. It seems that it follows the use of these terms in DevOps, which seems sensible.

One more note on the Practices. It is clear throughout that they are not to be ‘implemented’ in a siloed nature, which was commonly (though mistakenly) done in earlier applications of the framework. It is made abundantly clear that they are to work together to support the activities of the various Value Chains.

Conclusion (for now)
This has been a quick overview of my initial impressions of ITIL 4 after a read-through the Foundations materials and having the good fortune to attend a Train the Trainer preview of those materials. I am grateful to Axelos for putting that event on, and letting me participate. I am also thankful to have had the chance to work through the new stuff with the excellent input from a room full of bright and committed service management experts. I will have more thoughts on ITIL 4 and how it might relate to some other service management materials, such as #VeriSM, soon.


Bill is just one of our ITIL Experts at Service Catalyst. We would love to discuss with you how you might lay the groundwork to realize the benefits from ITIL, DevOps automation using ServiceNow and how to make the turn towards Digital Transformation. You can contact us at or call us at +1.888.718.1708