Agile – can the dream become a reality for ITSM?

Agile – can the dream become a reality for ITSM?

Why should IT Service Management (ITSM) professionals care about agile delivery of technology services?

Joanne Molesky – Principal Consultant, ThoughtWorksWith the business world changing rapidly under our feet, being agile allows rapid response to those changes in a timely manner and shifts your organization in the right direction for success.

The agile manifesto was born out of people concerned about wasting resources on software that didn’t work well rather than helping people and delivering something that works. Its principles are very much in line with ITSM and ITIL®: the highest priority is satisfying the customer.

As with the manifesto, ITSM focuses on customer value for the services provided along with welcoming changing requirements, which translates to constant review of tools and processes to deliver better value to the customer. The agile concept of delivering working software more frequently, allows improvements along the way and creates shorter feedback cycles that reduce long term risk.

So how should ITSM professionals become more agile?

  1. Value individuals and interactions over processes and tools: talk to your internal customers and understand what services you are providing to external customers; get an overall view of the company mission and what it does to provide a better service and deliver better value. Get out and see how the processes and tools that you employ today affect people’s ability to get their work done and provide value to external customers.
  2. Choose good working processes and tools over comprehensive documentation: there’s no sense in automating a bad process – then you’ve got bad automation! Start with the most minimal process possible and build it up over time. Don’t be afraid to experiment and learn from mistakes, as long as you learn fast and adjust as needed. You’ll know when your process is too heavy when you find people intentionally working around it to get their work done faster.
  3. Bring customers into your feedback loop and shorten it: for this you need good working relationships and regular conversations with customers about how to make services better. Most IT organizations commonly work in functional silos but communication doesn’t work if you are obliged to submit a ticket first before speaking to someone! One of the biggest mistakes we can make in ITSM is not talking to each other; this needs to be broken down by having regular conversations about improving services. If you have to deal with globally dispersed teams, video conferences are a good alternative to emails and can be performed from just about anywhere.
  4. Read the agile manifesto at and stop thinking in terms of “give me a recipe I can follow”. Instead of being a short order cook in the world of ITSM, learn to be a master chef who can make a better service! Go back and look at the basics of agile and think how it would apply to the services you’re providing to customers,
  5. Start by changing low-risk items to get comfortable with change: it’s not a “big bang approach”, but rather what can you do in the next two weeks – working either with internal customers or other teams – to deliver better services; work cross-functionally by getting together for coffee once a week and figuring out ways to work better.
  6. Don’t believe you know it all because you have the certification. Certifications are not misaligned with agile working unless you believe that “because I’m certified I know it all”. The biggest failures we can make is to not learn from our mistakes and not change the way we think and work with customers. Best practice is a good place to start, especially within a chaotic environment; it brings structure to help people figure out what’s going on. But don’t think you’re done there! Start experimenting to see how you can improve, which might mean throwing out some things you’ve already got in place.

You might recognize this typical ITSM scenario: “We trained everybody, put in tools and now we’re done.” Unfortunately this is just wrong. This only changes peoples’ knowledge, not their behaviour. To change behaviour, we need to check and measure constantly to see how we can improve. This means providing the people doing the work freedom and responsibility to make the processes fit for the way they work; not making them work to fit the process.

Frameworks and best practice will help install a structure from which you can begin to get organized with agile. The agile manifesto may well be rooted in software development; but when you read it, try substituting ‘software development’ with ‘IT Services’ to see what happens. Believe me, it’s possible.

Have you used agile methods when managing IT services? Do you agree with Joanne's approach and ideas? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments box below.

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