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What does it mean to have CIO and management support

By ITIL® from Experience ©

It is common for people to say that management support is needed to successfully implement ITIL®1. After all "you can achieve isolated wins with ITIL® without management commitment, but these wins will be few and far between. Commitment itself is not enough; those in management must show their commitment to ITIL® by their presence and involvement1. However, in real life what does it mean to have "CIO and management support"?

In addition to their role as a manager2 the following are specific actions to support the implementation of ITIL and to enable the project to succeed. They are not listed in any specific order as they are all important.

  • Be available to the Project Manager and the project:
    • Move other commitments and accept meeting invitations (do not push them off by a few weeks)
    • Attend meetings (i.e. show up!)
    • Review documents in a timely fashion
  • Provide Leadership
    • Actively participate in defining and shaping the vision and agree as a management team on the new way of doing business
    • Challenge the project if it appears to be diverting from the vision and plan –or- adjust the vision and plan if new insight is uncovered as the project unfolds
    • Review documents and provide feedback/comments/opinion
    • Understand the content of briefings and documents or ask for explanations. If it’s not clear to management it will not be clear to the people. As the saying goes: “When it’s foggy in the pulpit it’s fuzzy in the pew.”3
  • Manage:
    • Make decisions quickly
    • Deal with resistance and opposition
    • Clear obstacles and barriers to progress
    • Deliver on commitments for resources
    • Communicate policies and take disciplinary actions when people consciously do not comply with the new process and policies
  • Involvement through action:
    • Talk positively about the vision. “No doubt in your talk” about the success of the project
    • Make an appearance to events like information sessions, training and team meetings, (show that management is interested by being there)
    • Manage by walking around (MBWA)4: and talk to people involved in the transformation and the project team. Listen to their concerns. However, if action is required, do so after discussing it with the Project Manager so that the project is not undermined
    • Follow the new processes (Incident Management, Request Fulfillment, Change Management, etc.) and not use your management power to fast track your way ahead of the queue (Walk the talk!). And yes, it does mean calling the Service Desk. If the process doesn’t work for you, it does not work for users either - get it fixed (a great way to launch an improvement initiative)
  • Learn about ITIL®
    • Receive ITIL® Foundation training or at a minimum receive a half day executive overview
    • Attend local events of itSMF , vendor events or the annual Pink Elephant Conference
    • Attend ITIL® or Service Management related presentations made by staff at industry events


The CIO, in addition to the above, has the following actions:

  • Hold managers accountable to their commitment
  • Assign a project sponsor from his/her direct reports
  • Assign specific ITIL® program objectives to managers and particularly to the project sponsor which are linked to their quarterly or annual performance objectives
  • Ask managers for operational reports from the ITSM tool
  • Attend events when invited by the project
  • Be available to the project manager to clear obstacles or open doors (like the “red telephone”5) such as:
    • Sending an email or leaving a voice-mail to someone to announce that the project manager will be at their office tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m. and to provide assistance as required
    • Being available to discuss project challenges with an unsupportive manager or the project sponsor
  • Create a sense of urgency6 7 8
  • Attend ITIL® or Service Management related presentations made by staff at industry events. Having the CIO or their manager’s in attendance usually invokes the same kind of feelings in adults as it does when a child’s parents attends their little league playoff game.


Given that management support is a critical success factor, it is recommended that these expectations be explained in the Assumption Section of the project charter and that managers and the CIO understand that they may be tasked to do some of these actions.

Ultimately, the project has management and CIO support if the project manager can assign a task to any of them and it gets completed in a timely fashion. Moreover, Management's buy-in also known as "the importance given to the initiative" is directly proportional to the amount of time dedicated to it. For example, to implement a new financial management framework "participants spend an average of a day or two a week working on the project. Ideally, a management team continually invests this level of effort in leadership, whether it's this process or other planning and transformational initiatives."9


Last updated on: 2016-02-16

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"In cultural change, the leadership team has to plan how its own behaviors will mirror the desired change in culture. If executives continue to behave more in line with the past than the future, the culture will not change for the better, and it is likely to change for the worse as cynicism takes hold among the rank and file." Fast Forward: Organizational Change in 100 Days by Elspeth J. Murray, Peter R. Richardson, 2002, p. 224
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