Service Management (ITIL) and Project Management – a contrast in execution

Today many IT organizations are redefining their approach to delivery and support of IT of their customers. Some of those IT organizations are adopting a customer oriented approach to meet the requirements of flawless execution of the services customers receive. As a result, IT organizations adopt both Service Management (ITIL) and the use of Project Management to achieve that requirement.

While many of those organizations are maturing in the use of these frameworks and methodologies many IT colleagues question specifically how ITIL and Project management create a synergy. This was raised by a client who was building a Project Management Center of Excellence who wanted to determine how the two complement each other to improve his team’s effectiveness.

At a high level we discussed the need to recognize the differences, similarities and where the complementary approaches exist between ITIL and Project Management.


Sources: &

First, the key difference noted between ITIL and Project management is the ongoing lifecycle approach of ITIL versus the temporary nature of projects. Expanding on that below is a very high level overview of both ITIL and Project Management.

  • ITIL is a best practices for a lifecycle approach to align IT services to the needs of the organization by relying on 26 processes and functions across the five lifecycles known as Service Strategy; Service Design; Service Transition; Service Operations; and Continuous Service Improvement
  • Project management is defined as a temporary undertaking to deliver a unique goal for an organization. It is constrained by time, scope and budget. According to PMI’s PMBOK there uses five processes such as Initiation, Planning, Execution, Control and Monitor and Close across 9 bodies of knowledge that span across the management of Budget;  Supplier; Risk; Procurement; Human Resources; Schedule; Quality; Communications and Integration.

ITIL and Project Management are similar in two ways.

  • One, they both leverage a process based approach to fulfill an organizations goals and allow teams to align and collaborate to develop a customer orientation;
  • Two, both frameworks enable the use of tools to manage their processes while driving transparency, control and verification that improve delivery and organizational accountabilities.

Overall, both ITIL and Project Management add value to drive quality management systems for organizations to achieve compliance requirements, which for this client was an important criteria to establish their PMO, or improve an organizations maturity to meet business needs.

With this context in mind, the client was now ready to discuss how ITIL and Project Management complement each other in the use of best practice approaches. There are two scenarios to establish whether there is a PMO to run large initiatives or alternatively leverage Project Management practices across the ITIL lifecycle.

In my future updates I will delve into each of the ITIL lifecycles and point out the complementary Project Management approach to create that synergy.

The purpose of the updates will be to continue to show how these two best practices provide synergy to improve effectiveness and drive overall maturity for organizations to meet the needs of the business.

 Peter Tarhanidis – PA Consulting Group




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  • Mark Lewis, PMP  On October 27, 2011 at 9:46 am

    An interesting comparison and article. In my role as a Project Management SME it was always interesting talking to Service Managers vs Project Managers. Much of the same process, collateral and discipline is equally applicable in both. The main difference is that in projects you are producing a unique product or service, whereas in service you are reacting to events. However in each case there is a duration – Service tends to be estimated on an annual budget basis.
    I worked with Service Managers to set up default umbrella processes and frameworks that fixes and improvement initiatives could operate within – very much like a portfolio programme exept that required projects are less predictable up front and the risk perspective can be quite an interesting chat.

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