How and why to deal with changing to ITIL® 4

Blog Post • Best Practice Insights, Trainer Experience • [read_meter]

Occasionally you might get a learner who isn’t as open about changing to ITIL 4 as we are. Human nature is to resist change – resistance that can manifest itself in many ways, from foot-dragging and passivity to outright sabotage during training deliveries. Now that we are only weeks away from the introduction of ITIL 4, the latest version of ITIL that will help organizations navigate the new technological era, this resistance and how you manage it will be crucial for the success of your training deliveries and the adoption of ITIL 4 within an organization after the training is delivered.

Why is there a need for an update to ITIL 4

ITIL 4 is updated because the world around us, the way we do our work, and the way we run our businesses changed enormously since ITIL V3 was released in 2007. ITIL 4 is the next iteration that incorporates all of the best things from ITIL as it is known today and expands IT and service operations to a new level incorporating new ways of working like Lean, Agile, DevOps and Cloud Computing. Moving from traditional process lead delivery, ITIL 4 supports faster, quality and value-driven delivery for people and organizations. This is a big change, one that might not be as easily accepted as ITIL trainers would like it to be.

Understand why people are hesitant to change

Humans are creatures of habit. And there’s nothing wrong with it. It actually makes our lives that much easier. Think about your daily commute to work and how effortlessly you can navigate your way to the office. Now imagine being in a new city and trying to navigate around the narrow and busy streets whilst trying to find your way; it is not habitual. That’s what a habit is and as soon as we are presented with a change, we fear we might lose control, there is uncertainty, more work involved, we are unsure about our competence, and any number of other reasons we can think of why we might not like the change.

So basically, change is resisted because it can do actual damage: jobs might disappear and previous investments could be wiped out. And ITIL 4 is such a change. One that impacts hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. This resistance can carry on for months and create counterproductive problems if not handled correctly.

How do individuals react to change

We are all different, but studies by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1960s have taught us that we do typically all go through the same emotional states (also known as the 5 Stages of Grief) when dealing with transition and (organizational) change. Kubler-Ross had originally created the model for grief, but in the years since its introduction, it has been applied to management as well (you can argue there are 7 stages, but managing them would be very similar).

The stages usually look like this:

  • Shock and Denial – People stick to a preferable reality because of lack of information, fear of looking stupid or doing something wrong, and being comfortable with the status quo: “ITIL v3 is perfect for us. Nothing has changed in how we work so we don’t need a new version of ITIL.”
  • Anger – People get frustrated and look for someone to blame, a scapegoat, in the shape of an organization, group or individual: “ITIL 4 is much too high-level. We can never use this in our organization.”
  • Bargaining – People try to avoid the change: “If you give me more time, I’m sure we can make ITIL v3 work in this modern era.”
  • Depression – People realize this really is happening and think that there is nothing they can do about it. They might isolate themselves from the rest of the group: “Why to bother with ITIL 4 at all, what’s the point?”
  • Acceptance – And finally people realize they actually have to prepare for it and maybe even feel impatience for the change to be complete: “Well, things aren’t so bad, I may as well prepare for it.”

Don’t fear the resistance but manage and shape it

The introduction of new methodologies is more than defining new practices, implementing new tools and techniques. It is important to realize how to manage the change carefully. Armed with the right knowledge, you can now see the difficulties before they arise and guide the process along the path of least resistance.

You can manage the 5 stages as follows:

  • Shock and Denial- help learners understand why the change is being made and what’s in it for them.
  • Anger – your training delivery could strand in chaos here. Consider the objectives people have and respond to their objections.
  • Bargaining – allow time for this stage and be open to suggestions as they are most likely already part of ITIL 4.
  • Depression – be positive and deliver exciting training.
  • Acceptance – now we’re getting somewhere, make sure to repeat and reinforce the objectives.


Even in the Train the trainer sessions for ITIL 4 Foundation, I experienced a certain level of resistance among trainers as they were asking questions similar to those you can expect in the denial and anger stages

For trainers and organizations, it is important to realize the importance of managing these changes very carefully after the training is delivered. This is even recognized in ITIL 4 in a specific practice, called Organizational Change Management.

If you want to know more about these aspects and what you can do to coach such a journey, please contact me via

About the author

Marcel Foederer
Master Trainer at ITpreneurs and ITIL 4 Lead Architect

As an IT Service Management trainer, consultant and line manager with over 25 years of experience in IT, Marcel has performed strategic and tactical assignments in a wide variety of areas. For the ITIL 4 update, Marcel has been part of the ITIL 4 Lead Architect Team and Review Team at AXELOS. Through his association with AXELOS, Marcel comprehends the background, the architecture, and the underlying reasons of the ITIL 4 update.

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