What ITSM Needs to Learn from DevOps Training

If you actively participate in the IT service management (ITSM) community, then you’ve probably heard the growing level of dissatisfaction related to the value of ITSM training. It might be great value to the job seeker – a sought-after qualification on their CV – but where’s the value to the employer (often the training funder) or to the employee longer term when they’re actually expected to know how to do things?

Earlier this year, Paul Wilkinson wrote several blogs about the ITSM-industry training ecosystem – that there’s still too commonly a focus on certification over the improved business outcomes that should be reaped from such training.

Training in ITSM is an important part of our industry, so I believe it’s vital that people like Paul call out the issues with the current state of the ITSM training ecosystem and how it’s being used.

In this blog, I’d like to compare and contrast the relative merits of ITSM’s ITIL courses versus DevOps training. Big thanks to Joe the IT Guy for the platform to do so.

My Personal ITSM Training Experiences

My epiphany came while I was teaching ITIL, and it most likely heavily influenced my decision to stop delivering training on ITSM.

I had walked into day one of a three-day course to a room of 16 students and I realized that they were:

  • Not there to study
  • Not there to learn
  • There to have me teach them how to pass the exam

Plus, they knew they were going to pass (not because I’m an amazing trainer, but because they had a “guarantee” from the training provider.) And many knew that once they returned to work, they would not have a need to use much of what the 200+ slides told them.

Importantly though, for the students, they also knew that they’d have a CV that mentioned their new ITIL qualification – offering greater employment opportunities either with their current employer or the next one.

Six years later, I agreed to “fill in” for a sick ITIL Foundation trainer and observed a class of 16 students with the same blank faces receiving the same “good enough to pass the exam” material, and the same aspiration – merely to pass the exam. I felt the anger building in me again. I saw nothing had changed since I stopped training people on ITIL a few years back! ITIL training was not applying the tenet of continuous learning and improvement.

So, who wins here? Well, that’s easy – the trainee, the training companies, and the certification associations, plus whoever owns the original training material. But not the employer and the ITSM industry as a whole!

ITSM Tool Vendors and ITIL

Let’s next move onto ITSM conferences – of which I frequent many.

Recently, I attended one of these conferences where there was an interesting array of speakers and the mandatory vendor exhibition area to help sponsor (pay for) the event. While there, as part of my personal research into how well ITSM is playing in light of DevOps in particular, I decided to test the ITSM-tool vendor positioning and understanding of ITIL, the ITSM popular best practice framework.

As I walked the exhibition floor, I went to each vendor one-by-one and had conversations with each that went something like this:

Me: What do you do?

Them: We sell ITSM tools.

Me: What does that mean?

Them: All of our tools are ITIL verified.

Me: All of ITIL?

Them: Yes!

Me: OK, please show me the screens in your tool for continual service improvement, financial management, or business continuity.

Them: We don’t do that. We do ITIL.

GIF by ZDI talents - Find & Share on GIPHY

Thankfully someone came and dragged me away – it was Paul Wilkinson funnily enough!

So, that’s the ITSM and ITIL view of the world. Now you’re probably wondering what my actual point is, and how this relates back to the blog title. So let’s continue by talking to these same areas from a DevOps point of view, i.e. the perspective of DevOps training course attendees and DevOps tool vendors.

A Case in Point – the “Purpose” of DevOps Training

The DevOps courses I now teach are full of exercises and discussions. For example:

  • We ask the students to write on green post-it notes what they like about their place of business in terms of IT and on red ones what they don’t like. We then compare this to the Agile Manifesto. It’s eye-opening for them to see the similarity in their “values” for technology management and use.
  • We walk the class through the creation of a value stream map for incident or change management. They discuss their issues, where technology can help, how people can be upskilled, where alterations would make life easier, and start to change their overall attitude to the DevOps desire for faster-but-better change.

It’s far more practical and the people attending the course seem more invested in learning things that they can use once back at work.

Ultimately, the DevOps training course is about much more than gaining an employment-enhancing qualification. The purpose of the training is knowledge obtainment and sharing.

Why Does the Level of Engagement Differ?

The students in the DevOps courses I run as well as in other DevOps-based courses in ITSM e.g. itSMF UK workshops, are truly engaged – because there it’s about so much more than gaining a qualification. It’s about better IT and better business.

Why then isn’t the same true for ITIL training?

Why are leaders in organizations taking notice of DevOps, wanting to learn more via workshops, courses, or simulation days? Why is DevOps considered valuable by staff at all levels, but ITIL training is still simply about “getting a certificate?”

Personally, I believe that many of the DevOps participants are ex-ITSMers. They feel let down by the ITIL training they’ve received, either personally or for their staff, and now strive to ensure that this isn’t repeated with DevOps.

The Current State of ITSM Training in Light of DevOps Training

One critical reason for the difference in “approach” between DevOps and ITSM training has to be the value that ITSM employers place on the actual ITIL Foundation certificate. For some reason, employers assume that it means far more than it actually does – far more than just the ability to pass an exam after undertaking a few days’ training focused solely on getting people to pass the exam.

So, what should we do?

As an ITSM community, I believe we need to:

  1. Get back to basics – from the training methods to the ITSM topics covered.
  2. Help the ITSM industry – in creating, managing, and improving the services enabled by technology – to gather great practices and to share these practices in a sensible manner.
  3. Give back a reason for people to learn ITSM in a practical, rather than theoretical, way.
  4. Help ITSM tool vendors to better articulate the value of ITIL in selling their tools.

The easiest way to achieve the above is to get involved, for instance:

  • Join a meet-up to share what you know with others and, if you deliver training, to find out how your training can better help attendees.
  • If you deliver ITSM training, add in more exercises and use fewer slides.
  • Add to the industry’s collective knowledge by sharing examples of new ways of managing technology (these might be captured during practical training exercises).
  • Write blogs as a way of sharing!

Now What?

So, with all of the above said, if you’re as passionate about ITSM as I am, or DevOps, then I encourage you to raise your concerns to the appropriate training and certification bodies. And don’t spend valuable training funds on meaningless courses. Don’t waste the time of your people. Instead look at the value stream called “learning” within your organization to see what you need to do to make it better (and matter to both employees and the business as a whole).

One of the Paul Wilkinson blogs I referred to earlier is a great conversation starter – so get your colleagues to read ITIL Certification? Yeah, Cause That’ll Solve Everything, and start making your investment in ITSM training something that benefits the business and not just the trainee.

Related Posts


Posted by Daniel Breston

Daniel Breston
Daniel Breston

Daniel is an independent IT consultant with over 30 years experience. He has worked at as a director or senior consultant for a variety of organizations with a strong focus on financial services, insurance, high-transaction companies, or small companies beginning to wonder how to scale to the next step. Daniel blends Agile, Lean, DevOps, and ITSM to help businesses get the most from their investments in technology, Daniel is also a well-established speaker, mentor, and trainer, as well as a fellow of the BCS. In addition he is an Associate Consultant at ITSM.tools.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*