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ITIL Guiding Principles


Central to ITIL 4 are its seven guiding principles, which serve as a universal and enduring set of recommendations, guiding organisations in their service management journey.

The principles are foundational to the ITIL framework and offer a versatile guide that organisations can adapt to improve their operations and service delivery, regardless of their size, type, or industry.

The principles encourage a culture of continuous improvement, collaboration, and customer focus, ensuring that ITSM practices contribute effectively to achieving business goals.

The 7 Guiding Principles of ITIL

  1. Focus on value

  2. Start where you are

  3. Progress iteratively with feedback

  4. Collaborate and promote visibility

  5. Think and work holistically

  6. Keep it simple and practical

  7. Optimise and automate

The essence of these guiding principles lies in their simplicity and practicality. They are designed to be applied to any initiative, new process, or improvement within an organisation, ensuring a consistent approach to service management.

Let's explore each in turn.

Principle 1: Focus on Value

At the heart of ITIL 4’s guiding principles is the imperative to "Focus on Value," which underscores every action and decision within IT service management.

This principle is a constant reminder that value creation should be the primary goal of any organisation, IT-related or otherwise.

Understanding, defining, and agreeing on what constitutes value for service providers and their customers are critical to ensure that the services delivered meet or exceed expectations.

Understanding Value

Value is often perceived differently by customers and service providers.

For customers, value could mean receiving reliable, timely, and cost-effective services that support their business objectives or personal needs.

From a service provider's perspective, value could be delivering those services efficiently, fostering customer and service consumer satisfaction and loyalty, and achieving business goals.

Focusing on value encourages a deep understanding of these perspectives, ensuring all parties are aligned on what value means and how it can be delivered and measured.

Application in IT Service Management

Applying the principle of focusing on value in ITSM involves several strategic actions:

  1. Defining Value Engage with customers to understand their business objectives, challenges, and expectations. You cannot assume these things. Too many organisations attempt to tell the customer rather than ask the customer. This understanding forms the basis for defining the services delivering the most value.

  2. Service Design and Delivery Design and deliver services that align with the defined value, ensuring that they meet customers' agreed-upon needs and expectations. This includes considering the customer experience, the quality of service, and the cost-effectiveness of the delivery.

  3. Measurement and Improvement Continuously measure the outcomes and performance of IT services against the expected value. Use feedback and data to drive improvements, ensuring services evolve with changing customer needs and expectations.

  4. Communication Maintain open lines of communication with customers to ensure that value expectations are clear and agreed upon. This also involves promoting visibility of how services are designed and delivered to meet these value expectations.

Examples of Focusing on Value

  • A cloud service provider works closely with a retail customer to understand their peak sales periods. The provider then scales resources accordingly, ensuring the retailer's website remains fast and responsive during those critical times. This enhances the customer experience and supports the retailer's sales goals.

  • An IT department implements a new ticketing system that significantly reduces the resolution time for IT issues. This improvement means employees experience less downtime, directly contributing to higher productivity and job satisfaction.

Focusing on value is not just about the end product or service; it's about understanding and aligning with customer needs from the initial stages of service design to delivery and continuous improvement.

By focusing on value, organisations ensure that they deliver services and value-driven outcomes that resonate with their customers’ needs and contribute to their success.

Principle 2: Start Where You Are

The "Start Where You Are" guiding principle in ITIL 4 encourages organisations to assess and utilise their current state and capabilities as a baseline for any improvement or change initiative.

It underscores the importance of not reinventing the wheel, acknowledging the value in existing services, processes, and knowledge, and building upon them to drive improvements.

This principle advocates for a pragmatic approach to change, emphasising that understanding and leveraging what is currently in place can lead to more effective and efficient outcomes.

The Importance of Current State Assessment

Starting where you are involves a thorough assessment of the current situation—identifying what works well, what doesn’t, and where there are opportunities for improvement.

This includes:

  • Reviewing existing processes and services to understand their efficiency, effectiveness, and alignment with organisational goals.

  • Engaging with people within the organisation to gather insights, knowledge, and perspectives on current practices.

  • Utilising existing assets such as tools, data, and infrastructure to support improvement efforts.

This approach helps make informed decisions about what needs to change in the existing environment and identifies the most valuable improvements to the existing system.

Applying the Principle in IT Service Management

  1. Inventory of Current Capabilities: Begin by inventorying existing capabilities, processes, services, and tools. This inventory serves as a foundation for identifying gaps and areas for enhancement.

  2. Engagement and Collaboration: Engage with stakeholders across the organisation to understand the current state from multiple perspectives. Collaboration ensures that any planned changes leverage existing knowledge and expertise.

  3. Incremental Improvement: Use the current state as a starting point for incremental improvements. Organisations can reduce risk and increase the likelihood of success by making small, manageable changes based on existing capabilities.

  4. Documentation and Measurement: Document current processes and performance metrics. This documentation provides a baseline against which to measure the impact of changes and improvements.

Examples of Starting Where You Are

  • An IT department seeks to improve its service delivery model. By assessing its current IT service management processes, it identifies that its change management process is already robust and widely respected within the organisation. Instead of overhauling this process, the department focuses on areas with more significant improvement needs, such as incident management and request fulfilment processes.

  • A software development team wants to adopt DevOps practices to enhance collaboration and efficiency. Recognising the existing strengths in their agile development practices, they build upon these foundations to integrate operations rather than starting from scratch with a completely new methodology.

"Start Where You Are" reminds us of the value embedded in existing achievements and the importance of using them as the foundation for future improvements. It encourages a continuous improvement culture grounded in reality and informed by practical experience and existing capabilities.

Principle 3: Progress Iteratively with Feedback

The "Progress Iteratively with Feedback" principle emphasises the importance of breaking work into smaller, manageable sections that can be executed and evaluated incrementally.

This approach allows for greater flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness to change, as it enables organisations to adjust their strategies based on real-world feedback and lessons learned.

It advocates for continuous learning and improvement, where feedback from each iteration informs the following steps, ensuring that services are always aligned with user needs and organisational goals.

The Power of Iteration and Feedback

Progressing iteratively with feedback is built on the premise that trying to do everything at once can be overwhelming and often leads to missed opportunities for optimisation.

By delivering value in small increments, organisations can prioritise their efforts on the most critical areas, test their assumptions, and refine their approaches based on results and feedback.

This principle involves:

  • Setting Clear, Incremental Objectives: Define short-term goals or milestones contributing to the overall vision. This helps teams focus and deliver tangible outcomes regularly.

  • Gathering and Incorporating Feedback: Use feedback from stakeholders, users, and team members to inform decisions and improvements. This includes both positive feedback and constructive criticism.

  • Adapting Based on Learning: Be prepared to pivot or adjust strategies based on what is learned during each iteration. This agility is crucial for staying relevant and effective in a rapidly changing environment.

Application in IT Service Management

  1. Iterative Service Development: Adopting an iterative approach when developing or improving IT services. This could mean releasing a minimum viable product (MVP) and enhancing it based on user feedback rather than waiting to release a perfect final version.

  2. Feedback Loops in Operations: Implement feedback mechanisms throughout service delivery processes. For instance, solicit feedback from the affected user to improve the incident management process after resolving an incident.

  3. Continuous Learning Culture: Foster a culture where feedback is actively sought, valued, and used for learning and growth. Encourage teams to experiment within controlled environments to find better ways of working.

Examples of Progressing Iteratively with Feedback

  • A financial services company introduces a new online banking application. Instead of launching with every conceivable feature, they start with core functionalities that meet the most pressing customer needs. Based on user feedback and usage data, they iteratively add new features and enhancements, ensuring that each update delivers real user value.

  • An IT department is overhauling its service request portal. They begin by updating the interface for the most frequently requested services, using feedback from a user focus group to guide the redesign. After the initial roll-out, they continue to refine and expand the portal, which is informed by ongoing user feedback and service usage analytics.

Progressing iteratively with feedback allows organisations to be more responsive and adaptive, ensuring they continuously align their services with user needs and organisational objectives. It reduces the risk associated with significant changes by validating ideas in more miniature, manageable stages and adapting based on real-world evidence and continuous feedback.

Principle 4: Collaborate and Promote Visibility

The principle "Collaborate and Promote Visibility" within ITIL 4 underlines the significance of open communication, collaboration across departments, and transparency in operations for effective IT service management.

It addresses the barriers that siloed functions and lack of information visibility can create, hindering the delivery of cohesive and efficient services.

By fostering a culture where information is shared, and collaboration is encouraged to involve stakeholders, organisations can ensure that decisions are informed, aligned with business goals, and supportive of a seamless service experience.

The Essentials of Collaboration and Visibility

Collaboration and visibility are intertwined concepts that drive better outcomes in service management by ensuring everyone involved has access to all the tools and information they need and is working towards common objectives.

This principle involves:

  • Breaking Down Silos: Encourage teams across different functions to work together, understanding that the contribution of each team is critical to delivering value through IT services.

  • Open Communication Channels: Establish forums, regular meetings, and digital platforms that facilitate easy and open communication across the organisation.

  • Transparent Processes and Decisions: Make sure that processes, decisions, and rationale are visible and understandable to all relevant stakeholders.

Application in IT Service Management

  1. Cross-Functional Teams: Create teams that include members from various departments, such as IT, customer service, and operations, to work on service development and improvement projects. This encourages diverse perspectives and expertise to be applied to service management challenges.

  2. Service Management Dashboards: Implement dashboards that provide real-time visibility into service performance, incident management, and change progress. This ensures that all stakeholders are informed and can decide based on current data.

  3. Feedback Mechanisms: Embed mechanisms for gathering and sharing feedback from users, customers, and team members. Use this feedback to improve services and to ensure that the organisation is responsive to the needs and concerns of those it serves.

Examples of Collaborating and Promoting Visibility

  • A technology company facing challenges with its software release process establishes a cross-functional release management team. This team includes development, operations, quality assurance, and customer support members. Through regular collaboration and shared visibility into the release pipeline, they can reduce deployment times and improve release quality.

  • An IT service provider introduces a service catalogue accessible to all employees via the company intranet. This catalogue provides clear information on available IT services, how to request them, and the expected service levels. It also includes a feedback section for suggestions and comments. As a result, employees are better informed about the services available, leading to increased satisfaction and more constructive feedback for service improvement.

"Collaborate and Promote Visibility" enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of IT service management and builds a culture of trust and accountability.

By ensuring that information is accessible and that teams work together towards shared goals, organisations can deliver services that genuinely meet the needs of their users and support business objectives.

Principle 5: Think and Work Holistically

The ITIL 4 principle "Think and Work Holistically" calls for recognising and addressing the complex interdependencies within IT service management.

It emphasises the need to consider the entire system—the processes, technology, people, and partners involved in service delivery—when making decisions or implementing changes.

This holistic approach ensures that improvements in one area do not inadvertently cause issues in another. It also supports the delivery of cohesive and efficient services in a timely manner that aligns with business objectives.

Understanding Holistic Service Management

To think and work holistically is to understand that all components of the service management ecosystem are interconnected. Changes in technology affect processes and people; modifications in one service can impact others.

This principle involves:

  • Comprehensive Planning: Consider all aspects of the service management system, including how different areas interact and the potential ripple effects of changes.

  • Integrated Processes: Design integrated and aligned processes across functions, ensuring seamless service delivery and management.

  • Collaborative Ecosystem: Recognise the role of external partners, suppliers, and technologies in delivering services and ensure they are considered in the service management strategy.

Application in IT Service Management

  1. Service Portfolio Management: Manage the entire portfolio of services holistically, understanding how each service fits into the broader business context and interacts with other services.

  2. Integrated Service Management Tools: Use service management tools that provide a unified view of services, incidents, requests, and changes, facilitating a comprehensive understanding of the service ecosystem.

  3. Cross-Domain Knowledge Sharing: Encourage knowledge sharing across different areas of expertise within the organisation to foster a broader understanding of how different system parts affect each other.

Examples of Thinking and Working Holistically

  • In planning a major update to its customer relationship management (CRM) system, an organisation conducts a thorough impact analysis that considers the technical aspects and how the change will affect user experience, service support processes, and integration with other systems. By approaching the upgrade holistically, they ensure a smooth transition that enhances service value.

  • An IT department adopts a cloud service for data storage, recognising the need for scalable and flexible storage solutions. In doing so, they consider not only the technical requirements but also data security, compliance, the impact on network performance, and the training needs of their staff. This holistic approach ensures the new service aligns with broader organisational goals and security standards.

Thinking and working holistically in IT service management is about seeing the bigger picture and understanding how all puzzle pieces fit together. It's a recognition that success in one area is intertwined with the system as a whole.

This principle helps organisations avoid unintended consequences and to ensure that service improvements are sustainable and aligned with overall business objectives.

Principle 6: Keep it Simple and Practical

The guiding principle "Keep it Simple and Practical" within ITIL advocates simplifying processes, services, and actions to what is necessary and most effective.

In IT service management, it's easy for processes to become overcomplicated, leading to inefficiency, confusion, and reduced effectiveness.

By focusing on simplicity and practicality, organisations can ensure that they are delivering value efficiently and effectively without unnecessary complexity to internal and external customers.

The Essence of Simplicity

Simplicity involves focusing on what is essential and eliminating or optimising the rest. It's about streamlining processes, reducing bureaucracy, and removing redundant steps that do not add value.

Conversely, practicality is about ensuring that solutions and processes are fit for purpose, understandable, and manageable.

This principle involves:

  • Identifying and Eliminating Waste: Continuously look for and eliminate activities that do not add value to the service or the customer.

  • Optimising Processes: Regularly review and refine processes to make them as efficient and effective as possible.

  • Focusing on Outcomes: Concentrate on what needs to be achieved rather than getting bogged down in how things have always been done.

Application in IT Service Management

  1. Process Simplification: Review ITSM processes to identify steps that can be eliminated or streamlined. For instance, simplifying the approval process for standard changes can speed up service delivery without compromising quality or compliance.

  2. Practical Solutions: Adopt solutions that meet the organisation's needs without over-engineering. This includes choosing technology and tools that are fit for purpose rather than those with unnecessary features that will never be used.

  3. Clear Documentation and Communication: Ensure processes and policies are documented in simple language. This makes them more accessible to all stakeholders and increases the likelihood of compliance.

Examples of Keeping it Simple and Practical

  • An IT department notices that its process for handling service requests involves multiple approvals, leading to delays. By analysing the process, they identify that many of these approvals are unnecessary for low-risk requests. They simplify the process by reducing the required approvals, significantly speeding up request fulfilment without increasing risk.

  • A company implementing a new IT service management tool chooses a solution that closely matches its current and anticipated future needs rather than a more complex system with extensive features it is unlikely to use. This decision simplifies training and implementation and focuses resources on functionalities that deliver real value.

Keeping IT service management simple and practical is not about cutting corners or compromising quality. Instead, it's about being innovative in allocating resources, focusing on activities that directly contribute to delivering value, and ensuring processes are as lean and effective as possible.

This principle helps organisations to stay agile, responsive, and competitive in a rapidly changing IT landscape.

Principle 7: Optimise and Automate

"Optimise and Automate" focuses on continually seeking ways to improve processes and operations and, where appropriate, employing automation to enhance efficiency, reduce errors, and free up valuable human resources for more strategic tasks.

This principle is about striking the right balance between optimising existing processes and using resources to leverage technology effectively to achieve greater efficiencies and effectiveness in service delivery.

The Rationale for Optimisation and Automation

In the fast-paced world of IT, the demands on services and the teams that manage them are continually increasing. Optimisation and automation are critical strategies for meeting these demands by improving service quality and operational efficiency.

This principle involves:

  • Evaluating Processes for Efficiency: It's crucial to optimise the underlying process before considering automation. Automating an inefficient process only speeds up the inefficiency.

  • Strategic Automation: Identify tasks and processes that are repetitive, time-consuming, and prone to human error for automation. The goal is to enable staff to focus on more complex, value-adding activities.

  • Continuous Improvement: Adopt a mindset of continual enhancement, using data and feedback to refine and improve processes and automation strategies over time.

Application in IT Service Management

  1. Automating Routine Tasks: Implement automation for standard operations like password resets, ticket routing, and status updates. This can significantly reduce the workload on IT staff and improve user response times.

  2. Optimising Service Processes: Regularly review and refine ITSM processes, such as incident, problem, and change management, to ensure they are as efficient as possible. Look for bottlenecks or unnecessary steps that can be streamlined or automated.

  3. Leveraging AI and Machine Learning: Use advanced technologies like AI and machine learning for predictive analytics, automated decision-making, and even identifying opportunities for further optimisation and automation.

Examples of Optimise and Automate

  • A telecommunications company automates its incident management process. Implementing a system that automatically categorises and prioritises incidents based on predefined rules reduces the manual effort required and ensures a faster response to critical issues.

  • An online retailer uses machine learning algorithms to analyse customer service tickets. The system identifies common issues and automatically suggests customer solutions, resolving simple queries without human intervention. This improves customer satisfaction and allows the customer service team to focus on more complex inquiries.

"Optimise and Automate" is not just about technology for technology's sake; it's about strategically employing technology to enhance service management practices.

By focusing on optimisation first, organisations can ensure that their automation efforts are built on a solid foundation of efficient management, leading to more sustainable and scalable improvements in service delivery and management.


This article discusses concepts and practices from the ITIL framework, a registered trademark of AXELOS Limited. The information provided here is based on the ITIL version 4 guidelines and is only intended for educational and informational purposes. ITIL is a comprehensive framework for IT service management, and its methodologies and best practices are designed to facilitate the effective and efficient delivery of IT services. For those interested in exploring ITIL further, we recommend consulting the official ITIL publications and resources provided by AXELOS Limited.

About the author: My name is Alan, and I bring over thirty years of experience in the IT industry. My expertise spans IT Governance, Information Security, Project Management, and IT Service Management across diverse organisational styles and market sectors.

I am academically grounded with a degree in Information Systems. I have furthered my professional qualifications with an ITIL Expert certificate, PRINCE2 Practitioner qualification, and CISMP Certification in Information Security Management.

Throughout my career, I've led multi-million-pound change programmes, managed significant government contracts, and accumulated a wealth of practical knowledge and insights, often learned through overcoming challenges in the field.


About the author

Hi, I'm Alan, and have been working within the IT sector for over 30 years.

For the last 15 years, I've focused on IT Governance, Information Security, Projects and Service Management across various styles of organisations and markets.

I hold a degree in Information Systems, ITIL Expert certificate, PRINCE2 Practitioner and CISMP (Information Security Management).


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