The Secret to IT Service Management: The ITIL Service Lifecycle

ITIL Service Lifecycle

What do Sony Ericsson, the UK Passport Agency, MT Gox, and Knights Capital all have in common?

They’ve all suffered massive financial and reputational losses following the mismanagement, or non-existent management, of their new and existing IT services.

  • Major mobile phone operator, Sony Ericsson failed to renew one of their certificates and left 32-million people unable to use their mobile phones for a WHOLE DAY.
  • The UK Passport Agency failed to test its new computer system and left half a million British people without a passport in the UK.
  • Japanese bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, failed to spot several weaknesses in their software systems which enabled hackers to STEAL over 850,000 bitcoins.
  • Knight Capital Group, one of America’s largest traders, failed to spot a major bug in their trading software which cost them $440 million.

What could they have done to avoid these embarrassing, not to mention financially crippling, technical disasters?

Implemented an IT service management system, like the ITIL Service Lifecycle.

Which, coincidentally, is what this post is all about.

By the time you’ve finished reading this Process Street article, you will have answers to the following questions:

Ready? Let’s make a start…

What is the ITIL Service Lifecycle?

ITIL Service Lifecycle artificial intelligence

If you’re a company that uses computers or laptops to perform daily tasks, (which let’s face it, most, if not all companies do), then you need the ITIL Service Lifecycle in your life.

IT services are everywhere. From the common-place computers, laptops, and mobile devices to the more innovative artificial intelligence, robotics, and 3D printing. And, as we’ve seen with the likes of Sony Ericsson and Knights Capital, they need to be managed carefully.

If you don’t actively manage your IT operations, you’re likely to have sudden and catastrophic failures” – Stuart Rance, SysAid

The ITIL Service Lifecycle does exactly that. In basic terms, it’s a framework of best practices for delivering and maintaining effective IT services that are aligned with the wider goals and objectives of the business.

It’s a continuous cycle, which has five stages. Each stage has been designed to help organizations control and manage their computers, clouds, servers, certificates, and software to make sure the company’s IT services help, not hinder, the overall success of the organization. It ensures that an organization’s IT services operate in harmony with its business needs.

It’s a common-sense mechanism for IT service delivery” – ITSM, 10 Common ITIL Myths…Busted!

The ITIL Service Lifecycle is the most widely adopted IT best practice and helps businesses manage risk, strengthen customer relations, establish cost-effective practices, and build a stable IT environment that allows for growth, scale, and change.

When each phase of the ITIL lifecycle for services is managed correctly, the organization can rest assured that their IT services will be aligned with their business strategies” – Master of Project Academy, 5 Stages of ITIL Lifecycle for Services

I’d never heard of the ITIL Service Lifecycle before I started writing this post. I’m ashamed to say that I thought it sounded like a new type of washing machine… (anyone else? …anyone?!) When I realized that this post couldn’t be further away from a washing machine, the first thing I wanted to know was what the heck ITIL stood for…

So, what the heck does ITIL stand for?

ITIL stands for:

  • Information
  • Technology
  • Infrastructure
  • Library

This is an official ITIL definition:

The ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a framework designed to standardize the selection, planning, delivery and maintenance of IT services within a business” – Margaret Rouse, ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library)

Ok, but where did the “Library” bit come from? Library doesn’t sound especially ‘IT‘ to me…and what about the Service Lifecycle? Where does that come in?

Allow me to enlighten you with a little history…

When, where, how, and why did the ITIL Service Lifecycle begin?

To accurately trace the origins of ITIL, you need to go back to the decade of MTV, feathered hair, the Rubik’s Cube, and the earliest days of IT as a profession” – Matt Fish, Mindville

ITIL was born in an era where process control and risk mitigation were the gospel of the day.

ITIL Service Lifecycle 1980s

The 1980’s.

The British Government, with their mullets and shell suits (or should I say perms and shoulder pads), realized that the level of IT service they were getting was nowhere near sufficient enough to support their growing dependence on IT.

They were using these ‘new-fangled’ computers more and more, but because there were no standard IT procedures or processes in place to manage them, errors started to escalate and costs started to skyrocket.

So they developed a set of standard practices for their IT team to follow and called it GITIM (Government Information Technology Infrastructure Management). It wasn’t long before they decided that distributing these best practices would also profit the public-sector and private-sector organizations.

The adoption of the framework was widespread, not only in the UK but across the entire world. The initial IT standard practices quickly grew into a 30-volume strong library that provided businesses with IT service best practices that focused on meeting businesses’ needs as well as creating client satisfaction.

It was at this point it became the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).

Since then, the ITIL best practices have been updated four times. They have been developed into the five-stage cycle that we know as the ITIL Service Lifecycle, and they have been condensed from 30 books into five, with each book covering the processes within the five stages of the ITIL Service Lifecycle.

Which segues us quite nicely into this next section…

What are the 5 stages of the ITIL Service Lifecycle?

Now we understand where ITIL came from and what it looked like back then, let’s talk about what ITIL is at this moment in time.

As we’ve already established, during its three decades of reign, the ITIL underwent four updates. The biggest update was the creation of the ITIL Service Lifecycle.

ITIL Service Lifecycle diagram

The ITIL Service Lifecycle is a continuous five-stage cycle that determines the strategy, design, delivery, implementation and ongoing management of an organization’s IT services.

Each of the below five stages contains a set of processes, key principles, and tasks that relate to that area of IT Service Management and are interlinked to ensure that the end-goal is always kept in mind:

    1. Service strategy
    2. Service design
    3. Service transition
    4. Service operation
    5. Continual service improvement

By religiously following these stages and continuously monitoring and rectifying issues that arise, organizations can rest assured that their IT services will run smoothly and avoid harmful disruptions.

ITIL is not a “project”; it’s an ongoing journey to improve IT service management” – CIO, What is ITIL? Your guide to the IT Infrastructure Library

So, let’s get to grips with each of the five stages. To help me explain the processes within each of the stages and how they all link together, I’ve created an imaginary scenario. To make it as interesting as possible, it has nothing to do with IT, but everything to do with food.

ITIL Service Lifecycle stage 1. Service strategy

This stage looks at what IT services the organization needs to offer and what IT capabilities need to be developed to satisfy business needs.

The processes in this stage will provide the business with an understanding of what the IT strategy is, give direction for the other four lifecycle stages, and outline the guidelines and objectives for the management of IT services.

Some of the processes that are usually followed during the service strategy stage include:

  • Processes to manage the portfolio of IT services to ensure that services remain aligned with the business strategy
  • Processes to manage the financial spending and service budgeting
  • Processes to analyze the market, review customer needs and plan for market expansion
  • Processes to assess customer demand
  • Processes to understand customer needs and provide services to meet those needs

For example, imagine this scenario:

ITIL Service Lifecycle Hunger

It’s 7 pm and you’re hungry. Your cupboards are bare. You’ve had a long, hard day at work, you have a mild headache, and it’s still over a week until payday.

Let’s work out what your needs are and what you can do to satisfy them.

You need to eat. Because it’s 7 pm and you’re hungry.
You need to go out to eat. Because your cupboards are bare.
You need to go out to eat somewhere close. Because you’ve had a long, hard day at work.
You need to go out to eat, somewhere close and somewhere quiet. Because you have a headache
You need to go out to eat, somewhere close and somewhere cheap. Because you haven’t been paid yet.

So, to satisfy your needs, your ‘service strategy’ would be to go out to eat, somewhere local, quiet, and cheap.

ITIL Service Lifecycle stage 2. Service design

This is where the IT strategies are turned into action. It starts with the business requirements and ends with the service solution. The processes within this stage convert the IT service strategy into carefully designed IT services and plans that will deliver the IT objectives of the business.

Services must be designed with the business objective in mind for them to be able to provide true value to the business” – Invensis Learning, An Overview of ITIL Service Lifecycle Modules

Some of the processes that are usually followed during the service design stage include:

  • Processes to manage service level agreements so that delivery targets can be set and performance measured against those targets
  • Processes to ensure an updated service catalog is always available
  • Processes to manage capacity to make sure that systems are operating efficiently to meet business needs
  • Processes to make sure that services are always available to the end-user
  • Processes to manage risk and ensure business continuity
  • Processes to detect, limit and prevent security intrusions
  • Processes to manage the service design so that service needs are met

For example, now we have our ‘service strategy’, which is to ‘go out to eat, somewhere local, quiet and cheap‘, we can start thinking about what that strategy looks like.

Let’s revisit each part of the ‘service strategy’ and design a plan of action:

    1. You need to eat out. But what do you fancy? Hmmmmmm…perhaps Italian or Mexican.
    2. You need to eat out, somewhere close. You do a quick google search. You find one Italian and one Mexican restaurant within a one-mile radius.
    3. You need to eat out, somewhere close and somewhere quiet. You read the first three online reviews for both places. The first three Mexican reviews include the words “lively”, “fun-filled” and “entertaining”. The first three Italian reviews include “tranquil”, “relaxing”, and “calm”. The tranquil, relaxing and calm Italian it is.
    4. You need to eat out, somewhere close, somewhere quiet, and somewhere cheap. You check out the Italian’s website and look at the menu prices. Cheap as chips! And they even have a meal deal. Perfect.

So, the ‘service design’ that will meet your ‘service strategy’, would look like this: A quiet Italian restaurant, one mile away, that does great meal deals.

ITIL Service Lifecycle stage 3. Service transition

The purpose of this stage is to take the carefully designed IT services and build, test and transition them into a live environment. The processes in this stage have been designed to make sure no unforeseen glitches arise when the organization or customers start to use them in the live environment.

Some of the processes that are usually followed during the service transition stage include:

  • Processes to manage change so that services remain scalable and reliable as business needs change
  • Processes to evaluate the changes made to IT services
  • Processes to manage releases and deployments to ensure the active/live environment is not impacted
  • Processes to test and measure results
  • Processes to manage the service assets and configuration items
  • Processes to accumulate useful knowledge that technicians and customers can use to resolve issues
  • Processes to plan for the transition of a new or updated service into production
ITIL Service Lifecycle Italian

For example, to make sure the ‘service design’, a quiet Italian restaurant, one mile away that does great meal deals, is transitioned into reality with no hiccups, you do the following:

  • Ring the Italian restaurant to check they have availability
  • Check you have money in your bank account to pay for your meal
  • Enter the restaurant location details into your sat nav to make sure you get there ok

ITIL Service Lifecycle stage 4. Service operation

This stage is all about the management of the services that were put live, during the service transition stage. It defines how to manage services once they’re in production use. The processes in this stage have been created to make sure that customers are satisfied with the services and that the IT services and plans have been delivered efficiently and effectively.

Restoring the disrupted services quickly and bringing them back to normal functioning levels to minimize the impact of the disruption on the business” – Invensis Learning, An Overview of ITIL Service Lifecycle Modules

Some of the processes that are usually followed during the service operation stage include:

  • Processes to manage incidents and restore service interruptions as quickly as possible
  • Processes to manage service events to ensure service continuity
  • Processes to control who has access to systems and prevent unauthorized access attempts
  • Processes to fulfill service requests
  • Processes to prevent the recurrence of problems and incidents

For example, you’ve arrived at the local, quiet and cheap Italian restaurant, thanks to the sat nav directions. They have a table ready for you, good job you rang ahead to check availability. It’s lovely and quiet, thank god you looked at the reviews and chose this over the Mexican place. You look at the meal deal menu and place your order, knowing you have enough money in the bank to pay for it.

The plan is in operation and it is running smoothly – thanks to the work you put in during the previous three stages.

ITIL Service Lifecycle stage 5. Continual service improvement

Organisations should never be content with the quality of their services, as there will always be snags and things that can be improved” – Luke Irwin, IT Governance

This is where the performance of new and ongoing IT services is assessed and improvements are made. Processes in this stage have been designed to continuously increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization’s IT services.

While you need to keep moving forward, you also need to look back (and from side to side) to identify opportunities for improvement” – Cherwell, 7 Deadly Sins of ITIL Implementation

Some of the processes that are usually followed during the continual service improvement stage include:

  • Processes to analyze, review and choose continual improvement initiatives
  • Processes to monitor continual improvement initiatives
  • Processes to analyze procedures for improvement options

For example, as you’re sitting in the local, quiet and cheap Italian, you take stock for a moment. You feel satisfied that you’ve met every single one of the needs you’d identified in the service strategy stage.

But then…

The door bursts open. A gaggle of cackling, whooping, screeching women stumbles through it. One is wearing “L” plates, a veil and a “BRIDE TO BE!” sash. They take the table next to yours. As the waiters turn up the music, turn down the lights, and pour out the drinks, you lose your appetite and you feel your headache returning.


ITIL Service Lifecycle Hen party

This place was supposed to be “tranquil”, “relaxing” and “calm”?

You revisit the review site and scroll down to find hundreds of rave reviews about what a great hen party venue this place is.

This is something that can be improved. Next time, you will read more than the first three reviews before choosing a restaurant.

And so you have it. The five stages of the ITIL Service Lifecycle and the five stages of the ‘How to Choose Where to Go for Dinner’ cycle.

It’s worth reiterating that each stage relies on principles, processes, roles, and performance measures, and that each stage is dependent on the other lifecycle stages for inputs and feedback.

The only simple truth is that there is nothing simple in this complex universe. Everything relates. Everything connects”― Johnny Rich, The Human Script

So, as we’ve established, the ITIL Service Lifecycle is a constant set of checks that allow IT services to adapt and respond effectively to changes in demand and business needs.

But the next question is, how do you use it?

It’s a great question and to answer it, I’m going to need a little help from Disney.

How does Disney use the ITIL Service Lifecycle?

ITIL Service Lifecycle Disney

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing” – Walt Disney

It can be difficult to read and digest the vast amount of information surrounding the ITIL Service Lifecycle and come away with a clear understanding of how adopting ITIL processes and best practices can benefit your business.

So, to help put the ITIL Service Lifecycle into context, let’s look at an organization that uses it, on a daily basis, to manage its IT assets.

That organization is Disney.

You probably don’t automatically associate Disney with IT, but their IT department employs nearly 1,000 people globally, the Walt Disney Company has over 1,800 servers and 800 applications and nearly 45% of those applications are dedicated to theme parks and resorts. For example, they have a mobile app that gives guests waiting times for their favorite rides and the locations of their favorite Disney characters.

The multi-billion dollar, multinational, mass media, and entertainment conglomerate began adopting ITIL best practices in the mid-2000s. Their biggest goal as a business was to make sure they were offering the best experience to visitors in their parks and resorts. To do that, they needed to make sure that their IT services were 100% available, reliable and maintainable, that changes made to their IT services didn’t result in any incidents, and that they were confident with their release management processes and new capabilities. Adopting the ITIL Service Lifecycle was a no-brainer for the Vice President of Technology, Glen Taylor.

He was right of course. Disney was able to align its IT systems with the goals of the company. They were able to offer a consistently great customer experience to all their visitors in theme parks, cruise ships, and resorts. And they were able to make sure this experience was not affected by any updates, innovations or changes to the technology that powered the apps, servers, and technology.

It allowed them to improve the overall service experience, develop long-lasting customer relations and strategize service modules” – ITIL Training, How and Why ITIL Was Adopted by Disney

So, I hope Disney has given you a clear example of how the ITIL Service Lifecycle can help deliver and maintain effective IT services that are aligned with the wider goals and objectives of the business.

But what about your business? How can you use the ITIL Service Lifecycle to manage risk, strengthen customer relationships, establish cost-effective practices, and build a stable IT environment that allows for growth, scale, and change?

How do I use the ITIL Service Lifecycle in my business?

As we’ve discussed, the ITIL Service Lifecycle is a five-stage framework that describes a range of processes, procedures, tasks, and checklists applicable to virtually any organization with IT assets.

Did someone mention checklists?

Well, that’s handy! Process Street is super-powered checklists!

If you don’t already know Process Street, watch this introductory video:

As we’ve seen, each stage of the lifecycle needs a set of processes to make sure the cycle works properly.

With Process Street you can create a process for everything.

With our bespoke Business Process Management (BPM) software, you can create templates and run individual checklists for each stage of the lifecycle. You can check tasks off as you work through them, set deadlines, request approval, assign tasks, and track each team member’s progress.

Like this IT Service SLA Management Checklist for example:

This template will guide you through the process of creating a comprehensive SLA from scratch to ensure the relationship between you and your IT service providers runs smoothly.

Sign up to Process Street, for free, and start using this template right away.

Once you’ve signed up, here are four more checklists you can use during the various stages of the ITIL Service Lifecycle:

SQL Server Audit Checklist

Use this checklist to give you a head-start for preparation ahead of and including an SQL Server Audit.

Ubuntu Server Setup Process

Use this checklist to carry you through the server setup process and make your life a lot easier.

Helpdesk Management Checklist

Use this checklist to resolve technical issues and create optimum customer satisfaction.

IT Support Process

Use this checklist to help you find the answers and resolve support tickets.

Coming soon! We are busy creating a whole pack of ITIL templates, specifically for each stage of the ITIL Service Lifecycle, so keep your eyes peeled for those!

So, you’re free to use our ready-made templates, but what if you want to create your own, bespoke, templates for each stage of the ITIL Service Lifecycle?

Go for it! To make your workflows super-efficient and effective you can connect to thousands of apps through Zapier, webhooks and API access and use the below extra features to add another dimension to your workflows:

This webinar has some handy hints about workflow automation and is well worth a watch:

Here’s how TechMD, an award-winning IT solutions firm specializing in cloud solutions, cybersecurity services, and IT consulting, uses Process Street to create standardized processes that create accountability, provide visibility, track the accuracy of projects, and generate efficiencies.

If you’re keen to find out more about ITIL and the ITIL Service Lifecycle, check these articles out:

ITIL Service Lifecycle related articles

I hope you found this post useful, but before I go, let me leave you with this quote from Cherwell, a technology company specializing in IT Service Management:

ITIL holds many timeless truths and provides a solid foundation and a common language for IT service management (ITSM) in these rapidly changing times

We’d love to hear about your experiences with the ITIL Service Lifecycle in the comments below. Who knows? You may even get featured in an upcoming article!

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Amanda Greenwood

Amanda is a content writer for Process Street. Her main mission in life is to write content that makes business processes fun, interesting, and easy to understand. Her background is in marketing and project management, so she has a wealth of experience to draw from, which adds a touch of reality and a whole heap of depth to the content she writes.

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