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Learning the Language of ITSM

In order to create a successful foundation for our implementations of ITSM and ITIL® we can take lessons from the study of languages. The foundation of the service management best practices is a language that needs to be understood, mastered and used, just like you would learn a foreign or native tongue.

When learning a new language there are two basic approaches one can take. You can study the grammatical theory and structure or you can do immersion learning. Language experts tell us that both are necessary actually to master or become fluent in a language. Immersing yourself in a language (such as ITIL) provides a conversational or daily usage basis. Think of this as having insight as to “how” the language works. Studying the theory and structure of a language (such as ITIL) provides for an understanding and knowledge basis. Think of this as having insight as to “why” the language works. Without theory there would be no usage since you would be unable to form new sentences, only memorize words. Without daily usage the theory remains academic and leads to “dead” languages. By tying the two together we can create a strong foundation.

To truly master ITIL you need to read the best practices, think about them and read them again. Then the readings need to be coupled with education (learning to know) and understood by applying, analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating the guidance contained in best practices. Then further research and study should lead you to explore aspects of the best practices in greater depth to provide a deep understanding of “why” best practices work and how they can be applied in just about any organization.
To be able to use ITIL you need to immerse yourself in the language and terminology. This means using the language at every chance you get. Begin by focusing on the basic terminology—service, service management, incident, problem, change, event, value, utility, warranty, etc. The key is to use the words often and correctly. Refer back to the best practices as needed to ensure that you know and understand the terminology and that you are using it correctly. Then couple your usage with immersive training (learning to do) where you get to practice the language in sample environments and situations.
Each time you recognize a disruption in service quality or delivery use the term “incident” and be sure to avoid terms like “issue”, “event” and especially “problem” since those terms have their own unique definitions and usages. Would you use the term “tree” when referring to a “bush” or “plant”? Although similar, they are different and unique and should be referred to using their unique terms. However, if you recognize a “problem” then by all means use that term to refer to the underlying causes.
Then think about what practices says about “how” to resolve an incident. Follow the guidance in its simplest and most basic forms at first. Do not attempt to create a complex implementation of an incident management or other process based on a full, deep understanding of the best practices if you have not become fluent in the language of ITIL first. This would be the equivalent of trying to write or speak like a native speaker when all you really know are some basic words or phrases from a guidebook.
Take your implementation one step at a time. The first step for ITSM is to learn the language and use it until you become fluent. Then go forward and create the next great ITSM implementation!


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