Back to Basics: the 7 ITIL®4 Guiding Principles

For the uninitiated, ITIL® can be a hard beast to tame. Emphasis on “can”. Well-versed ITIL masters know to consistently consult the 7 guiding principles of ITIL in any applicable circumstance. The recommendations from these principles support ITIL’s “adopt and adapt” approach. Guiding principles are best practice that can be applied by organisations in almost any service management initiative. We’ve compiled basic definitions and applications for each of the 7 guiding principles to encourage continual improvement within your organisation. Bear in mind that these principles are all aspects of generalised best practice – they are very separate from the stages or functions of ITIL.

Any and all of the principles may be applicable in a given situation, it’s best to not focus on simply following one or two of the principles. However, it would be equally unwise to try to follow them all if some are unsuited to a business scenario.  


Focusing on Value – Your customer’s customer

Understanding the service customer is a key consideration. An organisation will cease to function correctly if its actions don’t link intrinsically to creating value for itself, its customers and its stakeholders. Understanding and identifying the service customer is the basic action as a first step towards understanding the customer’s experience. Gaining the proper perspective of this requires an understanding of what the customer perceives to provide them with value, and then a mapping of their intended outcomes based on receiving value from your service.

Put more simply, you have to know how the customer intends to use each service, and their position within the value chain. Who’s the next step in the chain beyond your customer? Effectively, who’s your customer’s customer? Focusing on providing value in this manner and encouraging this focus among staff is vital in every step of any improvement initiative.


Start where you are – Don’t rewind

So, you’ve engaged in an improvement initiative. Why start from scratch when you’ve likely accomplished leverageable progress? Being objective about existing aspects of practices or services will determine what needs replicating or expanding. Furthermore, using risk management skills effectively will help you to recognise those upsetting scenarios in which nothing from a current state can be reused.

Over-reliance on data-analytics and reporting can introduce biases that should be swiftly dodged. Excessive measurement of existing practices tends to become a barrier when it’s used to replace direct observation, rather than support it. For instance, setting metrics and targets based on what’s already been accomplished can influence behaviours.


Progress iteratively with feedback – Taking small, well-informed steps

Flexibility falls by the wayside when working towards large bodies of work. Developing smaller iterations more quickly can prioritise responsiveness to customer needs by undertaking smaller, more manageable sections. Aided by this smaller scale, discovering and responding to failure as soon as possible delivers tangible results and value. The feedback loop between participants helps them to understand where work comes from, where it goes and how their actions affect outcomes. Seeking feedback at each stage of an iteration (before, during, after) may seem tedious on paper – but once you experience the results, there won’t be any complaints!

In applying the guidance from this principle, there are a couple of key considerations. Comprehending the service as a whole is vital when developing an iteration – focusing purely on a smaller iteration with no regard for the greater value being produced will breed aimlessness. Equally, “fast” does not mean “incomplete” with regard to an iteration. Being efficient in generating iterations serves to speed up the feedback process. Just remember that the ecosystem is constantly changing, so feedback is essential.


Collaborate and promote visibility – Crystal clear

Collaboration is the genius child born of: Information sharing, trust, understanding and achieving real accomplishment. Parties collaborate constantly, and examples of stakeholder relationships in service management can be as simple as that of service provider and customer. Long-term success stemming from this asymmetrical collaboration is driven by improved transparency. For example, how would the customer respond if they felt that their work wasn’t seen as a priority? And how can the service provider drive value when operating on a poor understanding of the project’s importance to the customer? Insufficient visibility in such a nature as this leads to poor decision making. In effect: collaboration does not have to equate to consensus, but it does require communication of visible data in order to action positive decisions. Keep it simple, just talk to one another.


Think and work holistically – Everything’s connected

A holistic approach to service management requires an understanding of how all the parts of an organisation work together in an integrated way. Remember the last guiding principle? Collaboration makes another appearance here, as it’s key to thinking in an interconnected manner. From the point of demand, there will be patterns of interactions between the service provider and the consumer that enable smooth delivery of value. Seeking out these complimentary system elements such as your IT assets and the customer’s core needs means working to your strengths will come more easily when working with complex systems.  


Keep it simple and practical – slow down

 Fittingly, there isn’t much to this guiding principle. Outcome-based thinking should be used to produce practical solutions that produce valuable outcomes. Once again there is a call for a holistic view of the organisation’s work, but one that starts with an uncomplicated approach and is built upon subsequently. Maintaining simplicity will then be driven by not immediately producing a solution for every exception right off the bat. Being mindful of objectives that compete for priority will help you to determine the most simplistic approach for these solutions. A focus on outcomes and practical solutions is the ideal method for delivering value using the minimum number of steps.


Optimise and automate – Leave it to the technology

Automation is the functional ideal for service providers. Leaving a process to be completed autonomously is a clear value provider in any scenario. But before effective automation can occur there must be optimisation to the furthest possible degree (within reason). Following an iterative approach to executing improvements will help to monitor the optimisation and ensure stakeholder engagement with the process. Frequent and repetitive tasks soon will require little to no human interaction and can allow for scaling up your organisation through freed time for decision making. Using other guiding principles can help hugely in optimising and automation. Progress iteratively, keep it simple, focus on value, start where you are.



As a service manager, these guiding principles will see you in good stead for customer value development. With knowledge of the nature, use and interaction of each of these principles you can utilise them as fit for continual and positive impact. For more information on how ITIL in its multiple forms can provide benefits for your organisation, get in touch today!  

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