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ITIL® 4 and DevOps

White Paper

ITIL® 4 and DevOps

White Paper

  • White Paper
  • DevOps
  • IT Services
  • Service management
  • ITIL

Author  Axelos

October 20, 2020 |

 13 min read

  • White Paper
  • DevOps
  • IT Services
  • Service management
  • ITIL

For IT and service management (IT&SM) professionals who are faced with the frequent ITIL® versus DevOps conversation (or argument), it can be hard to find an easy-to-read guide on how the two approaches differ and, just as importantly, how they complement each other and can be used together for better business outcomes.


The tension between those who prefer DevOps and those who prefer ITIL is often centred around the pace of IT change. It also centres around the change advisory board (CAB), which is often incorrectly perceived, referred to, and implemented as the change approval board. There are, of course, other points of contention. However, if an unbiased view is taken, many commonalities between the approaches can be found, along with the opportunity to improve the IT organization’s service delivery, support operations, and the associated business outcomes.

So, read this paper to gain:

  • a better understanding of the basic concepts of ITIL 4 (including change enablement) and DevOps, as well as the alignment between the two approaches
  • guidance on, and examples of, the integration of DevOps and ITIL.

ITIL 4: the basic concepts

First published in the 1980s, the ITIL framework is described as a ‘widely adopted IT&SM guidance’. It has evolved through a number of iterations; the latest is ITIL 4.

ITIL 4 better reflects the newer approaches to service delivery and support when compared with previous iterations. Important examples are in the approach to customer experience, value streams, and digital transformation, as well as new ways of working, such as Agile, Lean, and DevOps.

ITIL is a framework for service management and a professionally recognized certification scheme that supports organizations and individuals in gaining optimal value from IT and digital services. Where service management is ‘a set of specialized organizational capabilities for enabling value for customers in the form of services’1, IT&SM is the use of service management capabilities in an IT service provider context.

The key changes in ITIL 4

If you are new to ITIL 4, the following will help you understand how it has moved closer to other IT management approaches, such a DevOps.

Whereas previous versions of ITIL have been perceived to focus overly on IT&SM processes, ITIL 4 now provides 34 management practices that incorporate guidance on how best to achieve the desired outcomes and value. These practices provide guidance on architecture, organizational change, projects, workforce and talent, stakeholder relationships, risks, business analysis, IT assets, and others.

These 34 practices are part of the ITIL service value system, shown in Figure 3.1, along with:

  • the ITIL service value chain
  • the ITIL guiding principles
  • governance
  • continual improvement. Image of Figure 3.1 shows ITIL Service Value System

The drivers for DevOps

The origin of DevOps (a portmanteau of development and operations) can be viewed through several different lenses. For example, a long-standing IT&SM view is that corporate development (Dev) and IT operation (Ops) teams work in silos; the Dev team throws new code to the Ops team, who then struggle with the daily management of the new or changed IT service. A key tenet of DevOps is that the two teams are working towards the same business outcome, just using different objectives and different performance and success measures. DevOps, therefore, opposes this siloed way of working.

Another example of a problem that DevOps solves is the traditional waterfall approach, which is at odds with the rapid rate of change required by modern businesses. The waterfall approach can deliver too little, too infrequently, and too late. Also, this is a high-risk approach that could compromise business operations and results. DevOps was born as a solution to these and other issues that are associated with technology development and delivery.

DevOps: the basic concepts

DevOps An organizational culture that aims to improve the flow of value to customers. DevOps focuses on culture, automation, Lean, measurement, and sharing (CALMS).

DevOps is an approach to technology development and delivery, comprised of a set of cultural norms, principles, technical practices, and tooling.

Although cloud adoption and automation are often regarded as key enablers for DevOps, culture is the most significant contributor to its successful use. Christopher Little succinctly expresses this: ‘DevOps isn’t about automation, just as astronomy isn’t about telescopes.’2 However, it is also important to recognize that astronomy relies on the use of telescopes. Automation allows more work to be done and enables skilled professionals to focus on value-adding activities, rather than toil.

The DevOps handbook explains how DevOps benefits organizations:

‘Imagine a world where product owners, Development, QA, IT Operations, and InfoSec work together, not only to help each other, but also to ensure that the overall organization succeeds. By working toward a common goal, they enable the fast flow of planned work into production (e.g., performing tens, hundreds, or even thousands of code deploys per day), while achieving world-class stability, reliability, availability, and security.’3

The benefits of DevOps

DevOps benefits both the Dev and Ops teams. Nevertheless, the business greatly benefits from the adoption of DevOps, which can result in the following improvements:

  • higher-quality products and services
  • increased efficiency and reduced costs
  • quicker time-to-market for new features and products/services
  • optimization of business value and risk
  • increased competitive advantage
  • improved customer satisfaction and retention.

However, the adoption of DevOps improves IT’s performance leading to greater velocity and a greater alignment with customer needs. The State of DevOps 2019 report shows that it is ‘possible to optimize for stability without sacrificing speed.’4 It also says that when the elite group (the top-performing companies, 20% of the survey sample) is compared to the low performers (the lowest-performing companies, 12% of the survey sample) they have:

  • 208 times more frequent code deployments
  • 106 times faster lead times from commit to deploy
  • 2604 times faster time to recover from incidents
  • seven times lower change failure rate.

How ITIL 4 and DevOps align

It does not need to be an either/or situation with DevOps and ITIL. ITIL and DevOps are different, especially because DevOps is not a best practice framework like ITIL. However, both DevOps and ITIL are philosophies, organizational mindsets, and sets of principles that aim to continually increase value.

Thankfully, the DevOps Handbook5 dispelled many DevOps myths, such as:

  • DevOps is only for start-ups
  • DevOps means eliminating IT operations, or NoOps
  • DevOps is incompatible with ITIL.

In response to the latter of these, the handbook states that: ‘DevOps practices can be made compatible with ITIL process. However, to support the shorter lead times and higher deployment frequencies associated with DevOps, many areas of the ITIL processes become fully automated, solving many problems associated with the configuration and release management processes (e.g., keeping the configuration management database and definitive software libraries up to date). And because DevOps requires fast detection and recovery when service incidents occur, the ITIL disciplines of service design, incident, and problem management remain as relevant as ever.’6

More recently, ITIL 4 has adopted many of DevOps’ ways of thinking and working, which is evident in ITIL’s seven guiding principles, including:

  • focus on value: a clear overlap between ITIL 4 and DevOps regarding customer value
  • progress iteratively with feedback: continual analysis of feedback provided for IT services at every stage of its lifecycle
  • think and work holistically: an end-to-end approach to the service lifecycle, plus the integration of product and service management practices
  • optimize and automate: encouraging the extensive automation of the service value chain.

The current state of DevOps and IT&SM

So, where are we currently? The short answer is that there is still much to be done. In the future of ITSM survey 20197, only 6% of survey respondents, taken from a sample of IT&SM professionals, stated that IT&SM personnel had been fully involved in their company’s DevOps activities and ambitions. This was down from 13% in 2017. Partial involvement had also dropped from 40% to 27% between the 2017 and 2019 surveys.

Looking forward, things look marginally better. When asked, ‘What level of IT&SM personnel involvement in DevOps activities do you foresee for 2021?’ the ‘no, or close to no, involvement’ option fell from 38% to 18%, as shown in Table 8.1.

Table 8.1 What level of ITSM personnel involvement in DevOps activities do you foresee for 2021?8

Answer OptionsFuture %Current %
Full, totally playing a part15%6%
Partial, but it's insufficient38%27%
No, or close to no, involvement18%38%
DevOps will have killed ITSM1%-
Don't know/not applicable24%28%
What's DevOps4%3%

As to why IT&SM professionals have not been as involved with DevOps, it could be a mix of not being invited to participate and not wanting to participate. However, the state of DevOps 2019 report statistics proves that IT&SM professionals can no longer ignore the existence of DevOps. This is because the report confirms that DevOps improves the development and delivery of technology, therefore benefitting the IT value chain.

Instead, it is time for IT&SM and DevOps professionals to treat DevOps and IT&SM as complementary approaches, which can produce better business outcomes through better IT. The best of both approaches needs to be adopted to find and utilize a single way of working in shared areas. This should be a way of working focused on products and services, business value and outcomes, and continual improvement.

Guidance on the integration of DevOps and ITIL

When reflecting on the statistics related to the current level of IT&SM professional involvement in DevOps, there are several ways that they could become more involved with their organization’s DevOps activities:

  • Stop waiting for an invite: be proactive, get involved. Silos or no silos, it is time for Dev and Ops to unite into DevOps. Not doing so will adversely affect your organization and its increasing reliance on technology.
  • View your current ITIL practices through a DevOps lens: identify what fits and what does not. Where is there a duplication of effort or potential conflicts? Also, identify the areas where working together better will help either/both Dev and Ops. DevOps and IT&SM are complementary, so decide what needs to change to allow people to work collectively.
  • Ensure that teams use common metrics: due to the Dev and Ops silos, there is often a disparate set of metrics employed by each team. In such scenarios, it is difficult for these teams to cooperate, likely leaving at least one at odds with the business’s wants and needs.

Examples of the integration of DevOps and ITIL

There are many ways in which DevOps and ITIL can complement and support each other in improving the business outcomes. For example:

  • Incorporate operational supportability early on: removing the organizational barriers between Dev and Ops increases the levels of communication, collaboration, and accountability. Consequently, there can be a greater focus during development on how support services, resources, and capabilities will need to change.
  • Improving service design: this is not just about better collaboration; it is about showing people what they can achieve and contribute. It is about the value that they can co-create. This involves overcoming established processes to see the business outcomes and the associated value streams, with new or changed services considered in the context of the entire service and support ecosystem, rather than in isolation.
  • Creating business-appropriate change and release capabilities: as already mentioned in terms of the CAB, ITIL’s change and release processes have long caused Dev teams issues. This is mostly due to perceived bureaucracy and delays. On the other hand, Ops might perceive DevOps practices as neglecting change control in favour of increased velocity. However, this view of DevOps is unfounded, when technology is used for constant error checking to release automation, to increase both assurance and velocity. It is time for IT&SM professionals to get on board with using continuous integration, continuous delivery, and continuous deployment where possible. The state of DevOps metrics is proof of this and other DevOps successes.


ITIL and DevOps are not incompatible; although they are different there is scope to use them as complementary approaches. For instance, ITIL’s seven guiding principles complement DevOps as both approaches focus on customer value, encourage the automation of the service value chain, and have an end-to-end approach to the service lifecycle, plus the integration of product and service management practices. The DevOps Handbook clarifies some of the assumptions made about the assumed incompatibility around the two approaches. It states that many ITIL processes can be automated, to support the shorter lead times associated with DevOps. Furthermore, IT&SM and DevOps professionals are slowly starting to realize that the best aspects of ITIL and DevOps can be adopted to create better outcomes. Nonetheless, IT&SM professionals need to be proactive and get involved in DevOps to benefit from the best that ITIL and DevOps offer.

Further reading

Shift-left: Move closer to the source with ITIL and DevOps. Available at: [Accessed 4 September 2020].

ITIL 4 and DevOps: a cultural perspective Discussion Paper. Available at: [Accessed 4 September 2020].

Kim, G., Humble, J., Debois, P. and Willis, J. (2016). The DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations. Portland: IT revolution press.

End Notes

  1., (2019). Key Concepts of Service Management in ITIL 4. [online]. Available at: [Accessed 3 September 2020].
  2., (2020). Common DevOps Myths. [online]. Available at: [Accessed 4 September 2020].
  3. Kim, G., Humble, J., Debois, P. and Willis, J. (2016). The DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations. Portland: IT revolution press.
  4., (2019). The 2019 Accelerate State of DevOps: Elite performance, productivity, and scaling. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2020].
  5. Kim, G., Humble, J., Debois, P. and Willis, J. (2016). The DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations. Portland: IT revolution press.
  6. Ibid
  7., (2019). The future of ITSM – survey results 2019. [online]. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2020].
  8. Ibid

ITIL® 4 and DevOps White Paper