Someone pointed out today that ITIL 3 is to be launched on 30 May. This caused a similar sense of irritation to that which would be induced by, say, poking me with a sharp stick.
You see, I have a problem with standards like ITIL. Now, to be fair to ITIL, I hate it far less than I hate PRINCE2, but despite my distaste for the latter there's still a little loathing left for ITIL. Oh, and Agile, but let's not go there.
You can get a hint at why I hold this dislike by reading the Wikipedia entry for ITIL. It says that ITIL is "a standard for IT Service Management", and that it "is similar to Information Services Procurement Library (ISPL), the Application Services Library (ASL), Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), and Control Objectives for Information and related Technology (COBIT)".
Spotted the problem yet? Let's have some more from Wikipedia on ITIL's bloody annoying sibling, PRINCE2. To be a PRINCE2 practitioner you have to pass: "a three hour, open-book, essay type exam". You can self-study, or you can go to a training agency - such agencies being governed by "a non-mandatory accreditation scheme for training providers". Okay, I can just about contemplate there being a modicum of value in something where any idiot can set up as a trainer, because at least you have to pass an exam - though you can take your book with you. What gets me is the next bit. Here goes.
"Project Management is a complex discipline and it would be wrong to assume that blind application of PRINCE2 will result in a successful project". Fair enough: you can plan something to death, but if you've got buffoons doing the work, you'll end up with a crap product.
Next bit, then. "By the same token, it would be wrong to assume that every aspect of PRINCE2 will be applicable to every project". So you learn all this nice stuff about the project lifecycle, and then decide not to use lumps of it in many projects because they're irrelevant. But that's OK because "every process has a note on scaleability [which] provides guidance to the project manager ... as to how much of the process to apply". So it tells you what the things to do are, and then tells you how to leave out those things when they're not relevant. Kind of like the recipe that starts off with "4oz plain flour", but goes on to say: "Put the flour back in the jar, as you didn't need to get it out anyway".
The clincher for me, though, is the "positive aspect" of PRINCE2 - which goes like this: "The positive aspect of this is that PRINCE2 can be tailored to the needs of projects".
Have you figured out why I'm so bloody annoyed yet? If not, here's why.
Take ITIL for a start. It's clear that there are actually several similar "official" ways to achieve best practice in IT, of which ITIL is just one. Yet there are squillions of job ads that list ITIL as a necessary qualification. I once met a bloody good project manager who's a bit of a whiz with DSDM, who was bemoaning the fact that he got turned down for a contract because he didn't know ITIL. I'm sure many readers have had similar experiences, or know someone who has.
Now take PRINCE2. I once met a chap (actually I know him quite well - he's been married to my mum since the 1950s) who project-managed a sizeable project to move a large chunk of the company he worked for to a new site 30-odd miles away. It was done on time and to everyone's satisfaction, and rather than formal techniques, his approach was CBS: Common Bloody Sense. Yet he wouldn't stand a chance of getting many of today's PM jobs, because he doesn't have any formal skills - just a natural, innate ability to get on and make stuff happen. And as for "PRINCE2 can be tailored to the needs of projects": that's basically screaming at me: "PRINCE2 probably won't have everything you need, so if it doesn't quite fit, make stuff up".
The third strand to my negative viewpoint is the sheer commercial exploitation of the poor bastards who have to jump on the bandwagon in order to earn a crust. If you're in search of a job and 50 percent of the ads say you have to know ITIL, PRINCE2 or whatever in order to get an interview, there's often no alternative but to open your wallet and pay for the books, the CBT CDs or the training courses (possibly with an unaccredited muppet in ITIL's case) and get the qualification. But hang on a minute: ITIL and PRINCE2 are both government-owned concepts: they come under the auspices of the Office of Government Commerce. Why, then, is there such a hefty price tag on materials that are simply printed versions of concepts that you, I and the rest of the taxpayers of this country have already paid to develop? For instance, the 460-page large-print PRINCE2 handbook is priced at £52.00 (and that's Amazon's discounted price); this is, as far as I can see, the most expensive book on my office bookshelf - and it's less than half the thickness of the largest on the shelf. So a government-owned concept is licensed to a commercial entity (remember, even HMSO got privatised) and made available at hefty prices to people whose main benefit from spending all that money will be so they can tick a box on an application form and perhaps never actually have to use the qualification in anger.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that ITIL and PRINCE2 are alone in being used as irrelevant bollocks by employers who ought to know better. For instance, I've seen jobs that list IT degrees as a requirement, yet I've known people who've never been near a lecture theatre who could have done the jobs standing on their heads. And on the other side of the coin I'm sure there are jobs out there that list B.Sc. Media Studies as a necessary qualification: a paradox if ever I saw one.
What pisses me off, though, is that I've seen for myself that common sense and sheer, unadulterated ability are often far more useful than a formal qualification in writing vast rafts of buzzword-laden documents. Yet I know that the poor sods who would rather just get on with the job than sit studying weird terminology they'll never use (because it's peculiar to their PRINCE2/ITIL dialect) will miss out on the jobs. Just as importantly, the employers will miss out on the good candidates.
For sure, you need to go about doing stuff properly and in an organised fashion. And you certainly need to write stuff down, and have a process for checking on progress and reacting to problems (and, of course, to changes in the spec). But what the world keeps failing to spot is that in a vast number of cases you can discard formal methodologies and instead use a couple of traditional tools: a list and a brain.