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Getting started with Kanban and IT Service Management

Getting started with Kanban and IT Service Management

Many IT departments struggle when trying to adopt Kanban, especially at first. Whether they are moving from an established but ad hoc work management structure, or from a more standardized traditional IT Service Management (ITSM) work management model, they often find it hard to get started.

In this post, we’re focusing on the most widely-adopted part of ITSM, IT Operations, rather than trying to cover all lifecycle stages and processes. There is certainly enough to cover in Operations alone.

Many IT Operations professionals have grown up in an environment where having more work than capacity was the norm, and finding creative solutions to keep the fires under control was part of their daily work. While widely acknowledged as being unsustainable, this model has prevailed for a long time, and has, among other things, been partially responsible for the emergence of the ‘hero culture’, where the IT Operations specialist saves the day. Again.

To start unpicking this conundrum, we must first recognize that there indeed is a problem with the current way of working. Besides the undeniable stress caused within the IT Operations team, and the detrimental effect this model has on IT Operations professionals’ health – which are both issues that must be taken seriously – as professionals, it is important to remember what we’re there for.

IT Operations have been remarkably good at hiding the deficiencies of existing work models. Consequently, any concerns we raise are frequently not given the consideration they merit. Our experience has shown that, in most organizations, the success of any change initiative depends on strong and explicit management support.

To secure this support, we need to relate any proposed improvement to the goals of the organization. This means the sense of urgency needs to be conveyed using the language of the organization or team. The benefits of moving to Kanban, therefore, should be explained through the value it brings to the whole organization and its customers.

Concept of work in ITSM

While ITIL® recommends tracking various work items through their lifecycle (from creation to resolve/close), most improvement initiatives that lead from ad hoc work management to organized work management are performed as process-based or team-based initiatives. Rarely is work management addressed across the lifecycle.

The result of this traditional approach is a set of stand-alone workflows, one per process. While specifying the type of work item needed for better planning and reporting, performing the work required to handle any work item is still just that – work. Having to follow different and often disconnected workflows adds to the cognitive load of IT Operations professionals, and creates significant confusion over work priorities, as well as challenges regarding work visibility.

The varied nature of IT Operations work makes it difficult to estimate and organize our workload, much more so than, for example, with software development. A significant amount of IT Operations work is unplanned, which is why applying Scrum principles to IT Operations work is rarely successful. Agreeing on the scope of the work and committing to its completion at the next Sprint (be it two weeks or longer) is not realistic. IT Operations specialists can, of course, be included in Sprints as contributors but, for them, the work coming from this stream is only one type of work out of many. And, while many organizations are undergoing major improvements as they align workstreams and business processes, still in too many organizations, IT Operations receive work over-the-wall, rather than being involved in planning from day one.

We believe Kanban can help IT Operations control the quantity and type of work on their plate at any given time, enabling them to manage their time, the expectations of their colleagues upstream and downstream, and to ensure they are working on the work that matters.

See our ITIL section for more information.

New Guidance Paper Coming Soon: This blog post is an excerpt from the guidance paper Using Kanban in IT Operations, co-authored by Dominica DeGrandis and Kaimar Karu. A joint effort by LeanKit and AXELOS, the guidance paper will be available at the DevOps Enterprise Summit, held in San Francisco from 7-9 November 2016. Pick up your printed copy at the AXELOS booth (328), or follow us @AXELOS_GBP for the digital copy release announcement.

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