Taylor would have loved ITIL

Scientific management doesn’t just survive in the ISO management and laboratory standards.  Bureaucrats are also preying on the IT industry, write Dave Herpen,

Taylor would have loved ITIL

Although Frederick Winslow Taylor died in 1915, way before ITIL was even a spark in anyone’s evil mind, I am pretty sure he would have bowed with great respect when seeing the ITIL chronicles put into everyday ITSM practice. Of course, when I talk about ITIL, I might as well consider ASL, MOF, ISO20k, BiSL, Prince2, COBIT (or other IT management frameworks and standards) to be on the same page. After all, the real evil does not stem from the process and Best Practice frameworks themselves, it is derived from the rigid application and implementation in IT management practice. It’s just that ITIL has the highest visibility and density worldwide. Add this to the severily increased complexity and inside-out focus, and you might understand why I feel ITIL is most applicable here.


As the founder of Scientific Management, F.W. Taylor has put an incredible footprint into the evolution of mass production in the modern world. His approach to efficiency and standardization has enabled thriving economies to deal with increasing volumes and complexity of the production process. Central to his ideas was his view on the worker’s motivation.

He considered all workers to be lazy by nature, who could only be productive if the end-to-end production process is split up as much as possible into comprehensive and repetitive tasks. Click here for a video about Taylor’s ideas.

With this rigid segregation, workers did not need to think for themselves, but could leave all the thinking up to the managers. Please close your eyes and think about that for a few seconds……….So, we have standardization of as much activities and processes as possible, no room for individual interpretation (context), and a strong separation of operational (workers) and improvement (manager) roles. In effect, I am inclined to interpret this as providing no room for individual creativity, no environment for innovation, and the creation of a distance between the employee and the organizational goals. Employees have no idea of their specific contribution to the holistic value of the organization, which does not encourage commitment, decision making on the work floor, or any such thing as sound thinking and proactive behavior.


Now, the essence of ITIL is to provide a best practice framework to deliver reliable IT services. The main set-up of this framework and the way it is applied in many organizations, focuses on:
• standardization of processes, tasks, roles and activities
• increasing productivity by splitting up end-to-end work in simple, repetitive tasks
• rules, processes, procedures and work instructions
• obtaining as much control as possible on the execution and management of IT services

Rings a bell? So now we know what ITIL does focus on, let’s find out what it fails to do. First, it fails to create room for innovation and creativity from the information technology supplier towards the organization that uses the information and/or technology. Secondly, for far too long it has failed to address the cultural aspects of the organization at hand. I consider it a blessing that the ITSM industry is now starting to embrace Attitude, Behavior and Culture aspects (ABC, see @gamingpaul), but I am not convinced yet that this is enough to make up for all the lost years of ITIL fundamentalism. And thirdly, instead of creating clearness, transparency and simplicity, it contributes too heavily to the increasing complexity of the IT landscape. Trying to understand and keep up with the ITIL releases has become a daytime job for ITIL consultants, so what about all those poor “workers” that actually have to work with it?

Lean and Agile

If you are in ITSM, I would strongly recommend you to consider applying some very useful practices and basic concepts from both Lean and Agile into your everyday practice, instead of blindfolded attempts to fit the ITIL practices into your IT organization. For instance, by using Lean methodology in eliminating major activities and processes not adding value to the customer (waste), but also to enable Kaizen and true continuous improvement on “workers” level (please do not leave this up to the management). In addition, Agile (eg. Scrum) methodologies stimulate personal ownership, trust and intrinsic motivation. Combined with visualizing the daily priorities Kanban-style, I feel you can put a lot of positive energy in your ITSM organization.


Recently I overheard someone say that a model is always a reflection of a contemporary view on reality. Beautiful. And so is ITIL. Created in the 80′s with a focus on infrastructure, evolved over the past years into a “strategic” and “life-cycle” and “continuous improvement” based framework. Nevertheless, I see too many disturbing elements in the set-up, application and deployment of these (and similar) frameworks, that makes me wonder what F.W. Taylor would have said if he looked at ITIL…maybe something like “In the past the man has been first, in the future the system must be first….so where can I get my ITIL pin?”….

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