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The 7 Guiding Principles of ITIL 4: Practical Advice to Help You Make Decisions

By | March 26, 2019 in ITIL

7 Guiding Principles of ITIL 4

The guiding principles are one of the most useful and practical parts of ITIL 4. If you share these principles with all your people, and use them when you’re making decisions, then you’re going to do a much better job of creating value for your customers, your users, and your own organization.

ITIL 4 was published in February 2019. This updated version of ITIL has a new architecture and lots of updated guidance. You can read a description of ITIL 4 in my blog Everything you need to know about ITIL 4.

ITIL first introduced the idea of guiding principles in ITIL Practitioner, which was published in 2016. You can read about them in Back to ITSM Basics: The 9 Guiding Principles of ITIL Practitioner and 9 Guiding Principles That Can Help Improve Your Service Desk.

These ITIL guiding principles have been updated and expanded for ITIL 4, and they’re now a core part of the ITIL architecture, rather than an addition just studied by a few people. If you attend an ITIL 4 Foundation course, then you’ll learn how they can:

  • Provide guidance in all aspects of ITSM work
  • Encourage good decision making
  • Promote continual improvement at all levels.

The ITIL guiding principles

ITIL now has just seven guiding principles, instead of the nine in ITIL Practitioner, but they actually cover slightly more ground. Some of the previous guiding principles have been consolidated, and some new ones have been added.


#ITIL now has just seven guiding principles, instead of the nine in #ITIL Practitioner, but they actually cover slightly more ground. @StuartRance shares his practical advice to help you make decisions. Click To Tweet

The updated ITIL guiding principles are:

1. Focus on Value

Everything the organization does should create value for stakeholders. We mostly think about value for customers and users, but other stakeholders must also be considered, including regulators, society, shareholders, employees etc. After all, a service that creates value for customers while losing money for the service provider and causing employee frustration is not going to be very successful.

Value is not just financial. This guiding principle also encourages you to think about customer experience (CX) and user experience (UX). Of course, you can only do this if you first spend a bit of time thinking about who is using your service, and how it creates value for them.

2. Start where you are

Don’t start from scratch and build something new without considering what you already have. It’s almost always better to improve what you currently have than to throw it all away and start again, although you must also be able to recognise when a complete replacement is, in fact, needed.

Not only is this approach less wasteful than starting from scratch – because it preserves value that you already have – but it also helps you to keep your people on board. They’re much more likely to support the changes you need if their previous contributions have been appropriately valued.

Don’t rely on metrics and reports to tell you what the current situation is. When you carry out an assessment you should observe what is happening for yourself, and just use the metrics to support your observations.

3. Progress iteratively with feedback

Don’t try to do everything at once. Multi-year improvement projects that involve large investment and only deliver value after a very long time rarely deliver the value that was anticipated. It’s much better to organize work into small, manageable sections that can be executed and completed quickly.

Seek feedback before, during, and after each iteration and use it to help ensure that your actions are focused and appropriate and remain so, even if circumstances change.

4. Collaborate and promote visibility

People who work in silos can get very good at specific tasks. But when circumstances change, and those people must adapt to the changes, they’re at a disadvantage. But when you collaborate as a matter of everyday practice, everyone benefits. You create more value for yourself, more value for the people you collaborate with, and more value for your mutual customers and partners. People working together effectively can create much greater value than people working in separate silos.

Of course, for collaboration to be effective, you need to be transparent about what’s happening. If everyone knows what’s happening, and how well it’s going, and you share relevant information, then it’s going to be much easier for everyone to collaborate.

Collaboration isn’t just for teams within the service provider, you also need to collaborate with customers, users, suppliers, and anyone else who is involved in your services.

5. Think and work holistically

It may be easier to think about your bit of the work in isolation, but this results in poor practice. There’s little point in one part of your organization working faster or more efficiently if this puts a strain on some other part of the organization. You need to think about how the work you do contributes to the overall creation of value. This way you can make decisions that benefit everyone.

No service, practice, process, department, or supplier stands alone. They all interact in complex ways to create value. You need to think about the whole thing whenever you’re making a decision or planning an improvement.

6. Keep it simple and practical

Focus on the simple things that create value, rather than on following complex processes just because they have been in use for a long time. Ask why complex steps exist and unless there is a solid, current reason, stop doing them. Use the minimum number of steps that you need and don’t do anything that isn’t creating value for one of your stakeholders.

One implication of this principle is that your processes need to cover the basics and shouldn’t be designed to cover every possible situation. Train people to recognise when they need to do something different, and then trust them to do it. If everyone in an organization has a good grasp of the ITIL guiding principles, then they should make the right decisions in most situations.

7. Optimize and automate

You need to use all of your resources as effectively and efficiently as you can. This means that you should automate wherever you can, and use people only for tasks that can’t be automated. It also means that you need to think carefully about what you can automate and about the circumstances where only a person will do; and about simplifying those processes you do decide to automate to eliminate wasteful or inefficient steps.

You should always optimize the work BEFORE you automate it, as automating something that is inefficient or ineffective may just result in you doing the wrong thing faster!

ITIL's Guilding Principles

How to use the guiding principles

Each of these guiding principles offers great advice, but you get the most value when you combine them. It would be silly to focus on value today, and then optimize and automate tomorrow. Instead, refer to all the guiding principles and think about how they can help you, every time you have to make a decision, or plan an improvement. For example, if you’re going to design a new process for incident management then:

  • Start where you are: Review the current incident management process and identify things that work well and should be kept, or even built on.
  • Collaborate and promote visibility: Include customers, users, and suppliers in the team that is designing the improvement. This will help to make sure the process works well for everyone, and that people are committed to supporting the new process.
  • Focus on value: Make sure that every step in your new process creates value, but don’t just think about value for customers and users, think about all the other stakeholders too. Think about the user journey and design a great experience for them.
  • Keep it simple and practical: Don’t create a hugely complex workflow that will work for every possible situation, create a simple process that works for most situations and rely on your people to do something different when needed.
  • Progress iteratively with feedback: Try out your new process in a safe environment. See what works and what doesn’t, and then make improvements. Maybe you’ll identify some situations where you really do need to specify a more detailed process, but this will be based on actual observations, not just theories about what will happen.
  • Optimize and automate: Start with a manual process first. Work out how to optimize the workflow. When you’ve got this right, automate it. Don’t start by designing the workflow into your tools; if you do that you may end up wasting resources redesigning what you’ve already done, or you may be stuck with tools that don’t work the way you need them to.
  • Think and work holistically: Remember that incident management isn’t just about restoring IT capability. Make sure that your process considers the impact on your customers’ business, and identify ways that you can improve the overall impact, not just the part that IT is responsible for.

Some of my customers printed the ITIL Practitioner guiding principles on large sheets of paper and stuck them on the walls of their meeting rooms. This acted as a great prompt when they were making decisions or planning improvements.

You can do the same with the ITIL 4 principles. You could even stick them up next to your desk to remind you of what’s really important.


The guiding principles are one of the most useful and practical parts of ITIL 4, they aren’t just theory for people to learn and repeat back in an exam. If you share these principles with all your people, and use them when you’re making decisions, then you’re going to do a much better job of creating value for your customers, your users, and your own organization.

If you share these principles with all your people, and use them when you’re making decisions, then you’re going to do a much better job of creating value for your customers, your users, and your own organization. @StuartRance Click To Tweet

Stuart Rance

About Stuart Rance

Stuart is an ITSM and security consultant, working with clients all round the world. He is one of the authors of ITIL 4, as well as an author of ITIL Practitioner, ITIL Service Transition, and Resilia: Cyber Resilience Best Practice. He is also a trainer, teaching standard and custom courses in ITSM and information security management, and an examiner helping to create ITIL and other exams. Now that his children have all left home, he has plenty of time on his hands for contributing to our blog - lucky us!

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