How can ITIL, CMM, COBIT and their other friends be implemented together effectively?

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I’m in a conciliatory mood this week – first about IT and “the business”, now about various groups within IT. This noodling started while I was out to dinner last night with Michael McGaughey, my favorite ITIL expert. I started picking his brain on something that’s been bugging me lately: how ITIL can be implemented effectively in companies that also want to use CMM, COBIT or various other frameworks like PMBOK, Six Sigma, ISO 9000. I met Michael almost ten years ago when we were trying to help a very large IT organization solve this very problem and I was curious for his perspective on how things have evolved since then.

We agreed that not only is the integration of these frameworks a big challenge for many organizations today, it is actually getting harder. Each of these frameworks is expanding its reach and claiming to be the overarching framework for the IT function. I see more and more companies trying to use the best practice framework trio of ITIL (for operations), CMM (for application development), COBIT (for governance), etc. Each of these frameworks are fine (they are best practices for a reason), but assuming that simply implementing the trio or some other combination will define and improve all IT processes is a fallacy. These combinations have a lot of overlaps and gaps. At least the frameworks I’ve mentioned so far are all geared towards a rigorous process culture; throw Scrum or XP in your development shop and try to make that work with your ITIL operations shop!

Ask your favorite CIO why they’ve chosen any of these frameworks and you’ll get a wide variety of vague answers, generally centering around increasing the maturity of their processes and establishing necessary controls. Most often, CIOs relegate the implementation responsibility to the manager of each department. They agree with their Operations VP to implement ITIL, or with their Application Development VP up a maturity level or two. This delegation is the fundamental flaw: process improvement efforts cannot be relegated down the chain and executed in silos. Most process improvement comes from silos working more effectively together!

IT must have a top-level process model. All the frameworks I’ve mentioned only support the definition and improvement of these processes. This process model should also be used to define responsibility within the organization. This model can also be used to define where various tools can be applied to support IT processes. One of the points Michael brought up last night was the general lack of understanding in the industry about which tools support which ITIL processes. IT organizations need an internal “technology strategy” so they stop making decisions in silos that are costing the organization money and decreasing overall efficiency.

IT often preaches that the rest of the business needs to take an enterprise process view to make improvements, technology and otherwise. It is time for IT to take some of its own advice!

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