ITIL Service Lifecycle Overview

Traditionally, IT has been managed and maintained through fire-fighting efforts, remaining reactive and with a technology focus.  The world view is one of “users”, isolated silos of information and responsibility, ad-hoc problem solving, informal processes, and operational in nature.  The frequently cited objective of “alignment with the Business” characterizes a common problem faced by the leadership of IT organizations.   Those who succeed in meeting this objective are the ones who understand the need to be Business-minded.   When an IT organization has an internal focus on the technology being delivered and supported, they lose sight of the actual purpose and benefits that their efforts deliver to the Business.

ITIL builds upon existing IT practices by providing a process driven focus, pro-active problem prevention, viewing the world through service colored glasses with “customers” rather than users, seeking integration and information sharing, making processes SMART – simple, manageable, achievable, repeatable and timely.  ITIL has a service and service level orientation, focusing on continuous measurement and improvement.

The objective of the ITIL Service Management practice framework is to provide services to business customers that are fit for purpose, stable, and reliable.  The core disciplines provide structure, stability and strength to service management through durable principles, best practices, formal methods and tools, while protecting investments, and providing the necessary basis for measurement, learning and improvement.  The ITIL Framework has been redesigned in version 3 to make building out IT services strategy more straightforward and maintaining or improving them, logical.  The ITIL service life cycle consists of 5 major considerations, containing several processes for managing and developing the services IT provides through to maturity.  The life cycle itself is iterative, and multi-dimensional, ensuring that lessons learned in one area can be applied to other areas as well.

It is often helpful to understand the bigger picture when discussing a framework as large and multi-layered as Information Technology and Service Management.  Below is an overview of some of the key terms and ITIL practice areas.  The ITIL core guidance consists of 6 books.  Each volume is consistently structured, making interpretation and cross referencing easier.

  1. Introduction to ITIL Service Management
  2. Service Strategy
  3. Service Design
  4. Service Transition
  5. Service Operation
  6. Continual Service Improvement

In addition to the core guidance there is large body of official and unofficially developed complementary guidance available, as well as examples and templates for many tasks.  Additionally, other frameworks are referenced and related to align with ITIL practices, such as CoBIT, Six-Sigma, and ISO.  To me, ITIL is quite simply; documented common sense that works. 

IT Services are the means of delivering value to customers by facilitating the customers’ desired outcomes while reducing costs and risks.

Service Strategy provides guidance on how to view service management as both an organizational capability and as a strategic asset.  Guidance is provided on the principles of service management in this volume that aid in developing service management policies, guidelines and processes across the ITIL Service life cycle.

Service Strategy topics include service markets development, identifying internal and external provider types, service assets, service portfolios and implementation of strategy.  Financial Management, Demand Management, Organizational Development and Strategic Risks are alos among the major topics.  Use Service Strategy guidance to set objectives and expectations towards serving customers, and to identify, select and prioritize opportunities.  Service Strategy is about ensuring that organizations are in position to handle the costs and risks associated with their service portfolios, and are set up for operational effectiveness and outstanding performance.

As the ITIL implementation matures, use Service Strategy to guide a strategic review of ITIL-based service management capabilities and to improve the alignment between those capabilities and business strategies.  This ITIL volume encourages readers to stop and think about why something is to be done before considering how to do it.

The Service Design volume guides organizations on how to develop and design capabilities for service management, turning Service Strategy into a blueprint for delivering on business objectives.  For services to provide true value to the business, they must be designed with business objectives in mind.

As the name suggests, Service Design provides guidance for the development of services and service management practices.  It covers design principles and methods for converting strategic objectives into portfolios of services and service assets.  The scope of Service Design is not limited to new services.  It includes changes and improvements necessary to increase or maintain value to customers over the life cycle of services, the continuity of services, achievement of service levels, and conformance to standards and regulations.

Among the key topics in Service Design are Service Catalogue, Availability, Capacity, Continuity and Service Level Management.

Service Transition takes its shape and input from the Strategy set by the organization, and aims at bringing new or Changed Services into live operation in a controlled manner, by ensuring that the transition processes are streamlined, effective and efficient, and thus minimizing the risk of delays.  Successful Service Transition rests on effective understanding and application of Change Management, Quality Assurance, Risk Management and Effective Program and Project Management. This makes it possible, at every stage within Service Transition, to plan, track and confirm progress against current requirements, not just for one Service, but across all Services in transition.

The processes and activities in the list below comprise both life-cycle processes and those almost wholly contained within Service Transition:

  • Change Management:  Responds to changing customer requirements, and Change Requests, while maximizing value and reducing incidents, disruptions and re-work.
  • Service Asset and Configuration Management:  Processes to manage configuration items in order to support the other Service Management processes and the business.
  • Release and Deployment Management:  Build, test and deliver the capability to provide specified services that will accomplish requirements and deliver on the intended objective.
  • Service Testing and Validation:  Tries to establish confidence that a new or changed service will deliver the value and outcomes required, and identify risks by testing and validation.
  • Evaluation:  Provides a consistent and standardized means of determining service change performance in the context of existing and proposed Services and IT Infrastructure.
  • Knowledge Management:  Enables organizations to improve quality of decision making by ensuring that reliable and secure information is available throughout the service life cycle.
  • Transition Planning and Support:  Helps a Service provider’s ability to handle high volumes of change and releases across its customer base, and aligns the service transition plans with  customer, supplier and business change project plans.

Change Management, Service Asset and Configuration Management and Knowledge Management are used throughout the Service Lifecycle, but are central to effective Service Transition.  The other processes and activities are mostly contained within the Service Transition phase of the life cycle, but also are used throughout other phases.

Service Operation is the stage in the ITIL Service Management life cycle where the service providers’ performance and customer requirements are tightly managed.  Here, the strategy, design, transition and improvements are provided and supported on a day-to-day basis.   Service Operation provides best-practice advice and guidance relating to the people, processes, infrastructure
technology and relationships necessary to ensure high quality, cost-effective provision of IT service quality at agreed levels to customers in order to meet Business needs.

The overriding purpose of Service Operation is to provide (and support) Services. Management of the infrastructure and the operational activities must always support this purpose.  Operations staff should have processes and support tools in place to facilitate an overall view of Service Operation & Proficiency and to detect any threats or failures to Service quality.

Key processes within this volume are Request Fulfillment, Access Management, Event Management, Incident Management, and Problem Management, all of great interest to HelpDesk functions.


The primary purpose of Continual Service Improvement is to align and realign IT services to changing business needs by identifying and implementing improvements to the services that support business processes.  CSI exerts influence in every aspect of service management to improve performance, capability and business value.  CSI needs to be treated just like any other service practice. There needs to be upfront planning, training and awareness, ongoing scheduling, roles created, ownership assigned, and activities identified in order to be successful. CSI must be planned and scheduled as a process with defined activities, inputs, outputs, roles and reporting.

Continual Service Improvement has many objectives, the most important in my opinion are:

  • Providing recommendations on improvements in each life cycle phase.
  • Reviewing and analyzing SLA results.
  • Identifying and implementing activities to improve the quality of services offered, as well as efficiency and effectiveness of the IT Service Management processes.
  • Trying to improve the cost effectiveness, without a reduction in quality (which would lower Customer satisfaction).
  • Make sure that quality management methods are in place to maintain the quality levels.