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5 August 2009 | Aidan Lawes Blog
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Qualifications Again
This week Aidan looks at why we need a comprehensive scheme that meets the needs of the individual...

If you’ve read some of my blogs you’ll know that I have serious reservations about a number of aspects of the ITIL qualification scheme. Accordingly, I read Shirley Lacy’s blog this week with interest – and wait to see where she takes her arguments.

I agree with her that we need a comprehensive scheme that meets the needs of the individual, with all the attendant “baggage” that each brings with them – learning modes, current knowledge, time availability, finances, drivers (want a piece of paper vs need capability for current job vs seeking education to allow further career progression). It is obviously impossible to devise a scheme that will fit everyone – there are just too many variables. But whether the ITIL scheme is as good as it could be is debatable.

As an illustration of the confusion that exists, here are 4 questions posed to the Ask the Expert forum that is hosted on the Best Practice site for candidates who have passed the Foundation exam.

I don't know what stream to take for intermediate certification. I'm an IT manager, so it sounds like I should take the Lifecycle modules. However, I'm the only one on my team that's looking to advance, so I feel that I should take the capability modules. Any recommendation?

I have completed the foundations course and am looking to further my ITIL v3 education and hopefully certification. At work I am looking to setup an Availability Office/Program and would like to know which of the tracks would be best to follow in the ITILv3 cert program.

I completed all the lifecycle courses for ITIL v. 3 and plan on taking managing across the lifecycle this summer. I am working on negotiating a salary for a new job and was wondering how much I should take into account for my ITIL certifications. And also for the ITIL expert certification. Please let me know.

I plan on taking the 5 lifecycle modules. How much time is recommended between each course to apply what is learned?

I understand Bloom’s taxonomy and have used it extensively in the past in the structuring of technical training. I also understand the spirit in which it is being used in the ITIL scheme and agree with the concept of levels of competence. However, that doesn’t mean that the scheme is right. I have severe reservations about the style of testing at the higher levels, the suitability of the lifecycle and capability modules as defined and the quality of some of the learning programmes. There is also a big question mark about how the whole scheme is marketed and whether purchasers and consumers of training truly understand what they are buying.

It is still a fact that around 90% of people who have taken an ITIL qualification have progressed no further than Foundation level. The absence of full statistics from APMG makes it difficult to know whether this has been exacerbated by the transition to V3 – all the evidence I have seen shows a relatively low take up of the Intermediate certificates. When one considers that accredited training organizations can enter their trainers directly into the exams without attending training courses and that huge swathes have done all the Intermediate exams in order to be able to teach them, one wonders whether the real number of exam passes is distorted.

The Foundation level, which is about basic understanding (Bloom’s 1 & 2), expressly states it “is not intended to enable the holders of the certificate to apply the ITIL practices for Service Management without further guidance”. It isn’t compulsory to attend a training course before taking the exam, so there is a significant number of people who take the exam through Prometrics or Pearson Vue, either after attending an unaccredited course or through some form of self-study. The statistics show that there is a small but distinct variance in pass rates between those who have attended an accredited course and those who haven’t.  So clearly (good) training does help.

But this is almost to miss the point – or points.

  1. The Foundation exam is designed to be passed by the majority of people since it is only the first step on the journey.  So a) it is only a minor achievement for most candidates and b) why do so few continue the journey?
  2. Although it is only this basic step, many people place an enormous weight to it; hence the queries “I’ve passed my ITIL Foundation, what letters can I put after my name?” and the frequent claims about “ITIL certified” staff numbers.
  3. Are purchasers aware, and happy, that by investing in a 3-day Foundation course the delegates are only gaining a basic awareness and not a real capability? Is that what they want or should the foundation course be longer but enable greater capability?
  4. Are the Lifecycle Intermediate certificates actually right for candidates? Does the market (i.e. employers) recognize and place any value on them – or are they only focused on the “ITIL Expert” appellation? If an individual, who is or will be working as a consultant, has quite an extensive background in Service Management, but for some reason hasn’t had any ITIL training, attending 5 separate 3-day courses plus Managing across the Lifecycle in order to achieve Expert status is a significant investment in money and, more importantly these days, time. Very few individuals need to be “expert” in every facet of service management – in most organizations, there will be some generalists who have a broad and moderate knowledge of the whole picture (perhaps with a specialization that runs deeper) and lots of specialists with a deeper and narrower knowledge in certain areas. Should there be optional paths for achieving the Expert status, with different entry points/criteria or should there be Architectural experts (Strategy/Design),  Operational experts, etc?
  5. Is the market already dictating alternative paths? The recent ratification of the Service Catalogue course developed by Pink Elephant seems to indicate that the scheme doesn’t provide the optimal solution. I expect to see more single topic events being developed.
  6. Are the Intermediate events being taught correctly? From Shirley’s blog, it appears that she has some concerns in this area. The “least good” providers seem to be focused on coaching candidates to pass the exam and the MCQ-style questions focus the attention on the words in the books. When I “taught” the Managers’ course (in the dim past admittedly!), it was more of a facilitation event than a teaching one – the aim was to enable the individuals to share their knowledge and experience and contextualize it with the ITIL view. The events contained lots of exercises to allow the delegates to explore and consolidate their understanding.  Written exams then allowed the individual to apply their understanding of the subject and demonstrate that they could apply that knowledge in different situations.
  7. Again as Shirley mentioned in her blog, we live in a different world from when ITIL first hit the scene. Nowadays, people often enter the workforce with a better understanding of Service Management having acquired knowledge from tertiary education, or can gain other Service Management knowledge and qualifications (e.g. ISO/IEC 20000). Where is the recognition of any other qualifications as exemptions from having to attend even more courses?

As I’ve said before, the scheme in general, and the Lifecycle modules in particular, seem to be far too ITIL-centric, rather than focused on typical roles and career progressions.

Any feedback and comments are always welcome!! 


6th August 2008

Hi Aidan,

I just read your “Qualifications Again” post regarding ITIL Intermediate certification.  You raise a number of excellent points, many of which have bothered me quite a bit as an ITIL educator and consultant.  (I’m v2 Service Manager/v3 Expert and have trained thousands of students at all levels of the curriculum.)

For what it’s worth, the material I’ve written and which we use for the Intermediate courses is much more aligned with the older Service Manager level training.  We do the following:

  • Heavily emphasize student presentations, exercises, and role plays around realistic ITSM scenarios.  These account for more than 50% of the class.
  • De-emphasize lecture and slides.  These account for only about 15% of the class.
  • Make very little attempt to re-present the OGC materials in slide presentations.  Rather, we expect students to go directly to the OGC material itself and to utilize the classroom opportunity as a means of honing and refining rather than absorbing the guidance.
  • Emphasize the shift from understanding (Foundation) to applying and doing (Intermediate).  Our learning model has students mainly doing and only listening as much as need be.
  • In the spirit of becoming adept as a practitioner, we also emphasize the critical importance of learning how to motivate/influence decision makers, peers, and staff to do ITSM differently.  We treat ITIL at the Intermediate level mainly as an organizational change problem, not a technical problem.  Again, Foundation is about understanding.  Intermediate is about doing.  Doing means changing behavior.  So, we help our students analyze problems, identify and prioritize opportunities for advancement, develop clear objectives for interactions, and present their case in audience-appropriate and compelling ways.

I’ve seen a tremendous amount of shabby slide reading in the ITIL world, a lot of parroting of guidance and industry-speak, and a lot of non-thinking.  We’re trying to offer an antidote.

Best regards,
David Stucky


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