Why problem management in an agile environment is key in 2017

Why problem management in an agile environment is key in 2017

Barry Corless30 years ago in the manufacturing industry, if you brought out a new product you may have had between three and nine months before your main competitors would catch on and create something to challenge you. Now, in a digitally-led market, you can often count your time of exclusivity in seconds.

Because of this, an agile mindset, with its speed and flexibility, is the new paradigm in IT service management and will continue to be relevant in 2017 and beyond.

But what does that mean for the problem manager?

Agile is good news for problem managers and – in an agile environment – problem management techniques are extremely valuable. In fact, the nature of agile and its iterative approach, coupled with problem management’s goals, are a marriage made in heaven. The tighter feedback loops that agile encourages when injected into problem management practices reduce the risk of failure occurring, and give us the ability, if a potential issue does occur, to spot it and rectify it before it becomes service affecting.

Agile vs waterfall

Problem managers encountering an agile environment for the first time will see some differences from more traditional, waterfall approaches and one of these is around inputs and outputs.

Take a software change for example: with agile, this will likely be centred on a user story rather than a request for change. However, fundamental elements like governance and knowledge management will still be essential with either approach.

Agile environments also require a different culture; but as this culture focuses primarily on collaboration and self-managing teams it’s something that shouldn’t be alien to problem managers as they are used to pulling together teams for problem resolution. In fact, a culture focused on collaboration and being information-rich within the team should be music to the problem manager’s ears.

An agile approach will also see the problem manager moving away from the more traditional structure where problem analysts work remotely from their colleagues. With agile, problem analysts can be inside those teams working with others to resolve issues utilising their strong problem solving abilities.

A further difference, but one that will be very much welcome, is that agile environments discourage the ‘it wasn’t me’ response we often hear when things go wrong. Agile, at its heart, focuses on finding a solution, not someone to blame, which is a refreshing and much more customer-focused.

Making the change

If problem managers aren’t familiar with agile ways of working, there are lots of places where they can get advice and guidance over and above ‘Agile’ publications. One of these would be ITIL Practitioner and, specifically, its nine Guiding Principles. Many of the ITIL® Practitioner Guiding Principles have lines drawn through them straight to the principles of Lean, Kanban, DevOps and Agile. I see these principles as ITIL®’s “agile manifesto” and can be used to pinpoint a lot of service improvements and the culture required to make them endemic within your organization.

For instance, in problem management, you might choose to rectify a problem keeping the ‘design for experience’ principle to the fore. Trialling new working solutions to problems by involving the users in the design would satisfy many of the principles of both Agile and DevOps. If your organization is lucky enough to have Agile Coaches they can be a good sounding board for ideas too.

Most critically, ITIL reminds problem managers of the need to adopt and adapt: something that is particularly important as agile approaches become more common within businesses. As technology, digitalization and shifting working patterns continue to evolve, problem managers must too make the change to ensure their skills and approaches reflect, and are as effective in, this new era.

Further insight from Barry on ITIL and problem management can be found in itSMF-UK Service Talk magazine.

See our ITIL and ITIL Practitioner Nine Guiding Principles sections for more information.

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5 Mar 2017 Thomas Fruin
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Excellent contribution with very useful insights, thanks.
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