Why ITIL® Certification is Perfect for IT Project Managers

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It is a notion that in the IT world, there are either projects or services -- the two streams being mutually exclusive, each not having anything to do with the other. I will try to dispel this belief, by explaining how project and services can co-exist, and the value project managers have by learning ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library®).

Hopefully by the time you're done reading this article, you will see why the ITIL® certification is a perfect complement to your project management skills.

Project vs Service

Let me elaborate at the surface level why the "project vs service" perspective came into existence. A project is a temporary endeavor having an actual start date and an actual end date. A project cannot be called a project unless these two parameters are stamped in writing. Further, the outcome of a project is a unique product.

On the other hand, a service will most definitely have a start date, but there is no logical end to a service. A service is meant to be continuous, prolonging until it is needed. The outcome of a service is not unique, there is no product developed, and generally the target of a service is to maintain status quo.

Role of ITIL® in Project Management

ITIL® is a certification on services, so it is rational to believe that IT professionals in the service industry would subscribe to it? Not anymore!

The world is flattening; products which are outcomes of projects need servicing, and the era where services took over after a project has ended is a thing of the past. These days, the scope of project planning extends to services as well -- how the product would be serviced and what the boundaries would be. Projects and services are running companies hand in hand, and this is the way of the future.

ITIL® is unquestionably the unparalleled standard for services. It is gaining popularity by the day, people in service industry have hopped onto the band wagon, and we are beginning to see project managers especially show interest in learning the nuances, and leveraging ITIL® for a better outcome on their projects.

How ITIL® Can Help Project Managers

ITIL® delves into how a service is to be formulated, aspects of design, transition, operation and the improvements that can be identified and implemented. Traditional project management stages include initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and controlling – which is more or less principally similar to what ITIL® has to offer.

The outcome of a project will act as a feeder to service in most cases. For example, when Microsoft releases their next version of Windows, the product -- Windows 8 -- needs servicing. Users are going to have issues with capacity and compatibility, among others. In order to service their customers better, Microsoft will have to doff their project hat, and don the service hat, and do what is necessary to service the customer proactively.

In essence, the product led to a service, so service planning and strategizing should be done during the project phase to predict the service issues that might arise, to implement preventive actions if possible or keep corrective actions ready.

Example: Benefits of ITIL® in Projects

Let me consider an example to illustrate how ITIL® can benefit projects.

A particular project uses a vendor to perform certain activities, like delivering necessary hardware and servicing the hardware for a certain period of time. Project management is ably supported with processes to find a suitable vendor, through tools such as bidder conferences, contract negotiations and expert judgment.

Project management can ensure that the vendor is selected, and products are delivered on time -- but what are the terms of support? Are there any agreements governing the kind of support the vendor would provide their customers? These questions can be tackled with ease by somebody with ITIL® knowledge.

Any support that is agreed upon is bound by the Service Level Agreement (SLA). This document contains all the dimensions of a support – support window (24X7 or 15X5 etc), how soon the vendor responds to issues, how soon he will be able to resolve issues, constraints, conditions when a vendor could be penalized for missing targets. SLA negotiations are a specialty of ITIL®, and ITIL® professionals are best placed to negotiate these terms. Imagine a project manager who is ITIL® certified, he is a force to reckon with!

ITIL® for Project Managers and More

I'm not saying that ITIL® would help project managers alone; project members can very well learn the intricacies of ITIL® and become certified. But, a project manager, given his position in a project, would be in the best position to call the shots, and being armed with ITIL® will give him a good handle on the project more than the others.

There are a number of theories on the ideal capabilities of a project manager. Some will say that a project manager must be an expert in what he has been hired to do -- manage the project to successful completion. If he needs technical consultations, there are experts who can help him through the project. Today's IT gurus vouch that a project manager is like a one-man-army, who is good with project management as well as technical insight.

Look at the bigger picture. A person capable of handling a project and having insight into various technicalities makes a better project manager. He might leverage on various experts for research and technical view, but the final decision must be that of the project manager. If a project manager has to remain successful over a number of projects, he cannot rely on experts alone, and hope that their judgments are on target time after time -- which will generally not be the case as the accountability of delivering a project lies with the project manager.

A good project manager must be a jack of all trades and should judiciously mix his management skills with his technical skills before he can pronounce his decision.

Same argument holds good for ITIL® too. An ITIL® expert must be hired to opine on things in question, and provide necessary data, but the judgment call must come from the man himself. If the project manager is relying on the ITIL® expert to make his decision, then there is something screwy that can come apart anytime. It is time that project managers are not only experts in managing projects, but have practitioner's knowledge of ITIL® as well.

How ITIL® Improves Project Manager's Chances in the Industry

Today (and for a very long time to come), ITIL® certification for a project manager is a priced arrow in his quiver. It gives him options. He can take up positions that involve project management alone or a position that needs both the skills – like the transition manager. And, he will be automatically qualified to take up positions in the service industry based on his ITIL® knowledge alone (backed with the IT experience in project management) – such as the service delivery manager.

The role of a service delivery manager is just one of the many managerial positions we have in the service industry – others worth mentioning are IT process manager, data center manager, account manager amongst others.

More the flairs, higher the paycheck is the mantra in the industry today. So, our ITIL® certified project manager is likely to expect a good package from hiring companies. Private consulting is not a bad idea as well!

How Project Managers Can Get Started with ITIL®

Project managers can get started with ITIL® fundamentals through ITIL® v3 Foundation Training which covers the 5 core ITIL® libraries:

  1. Service Strategy
  2. Service Design
  3. Service Transition
  4. Service Operation
  5. Continual Service Improvement

The ITIL® certification will not only help you be a better project manager, but it will improve your employment prospects as more companies, and especially IT organizations, are utilizing ITIL®.

ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark of the Cabinet Office.

Ready to test your skills in ITIL? See how they stack up with this assessment from Smarterer. Start this ITIL test now

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Abhinav Kaiser

Abhinav Kaiser is a veteran in service and in project managements. He advises businesses, organizations and enterprises on how to build service management framework and deliver value. He is currently penning a book on communication in organizations, specifically aimed at IT departments. He holds PMP, ITIL© V3 Expert and Cobit 5.0 certifications and is an accredited ITIL© trainer.