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6 December 2017

Agile service management: the end of ITIL?

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IT is falling deeply in love with Agile. But is a happy marriage between agile service management and watertight ITIL processes really possible? We think so!

What is Agile service management?

Simply put, Agile service management is applying the agile mindset to IT service management. Nothing more, nothing less.

Agile is based around four core values, and they need only tiny adjustments to be applicable to IT service management:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Working software services over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

The idea is that you keep to these principles when designing and delivering services. Sounds straightforward, but how do these agile principles sit with the ITIL framework - a framework that has been the gold standard of IT departments for decades?

Agile service management vs. ITIL

Is it possible to pair agile service management and ITIL? Compare the 4 basic values of the agile manifesto with ITIL. At first sight, ITIL seems to attach great importance to everything that the agile mindset believes to be less important:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools. ITIL implementations at organizations mostly focus on process descriptions and systems. The goal is to get a steady quality of services. It shouldn’t matter who supplies the service.
  • Working services over comprehensive documentation. ITIL often goes hand in hand with extensive process documentation. It took 5 books with a total of 1,300 pages to explain the 26 ITILv3 processes.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation. Laying down contractual agreements and meeting them is an important part of ITIL Service Level Management. Making SLAs is one of the main goals for many organizations and it’s often the most important criterion for managers or customers to judge the IT organization.
  • Responding to change over following a plan. ITIL is about predictable processes. It's based on the idea that if you think out all the steps in advance and execute them accordingly, you’ll always have the desired outcome. In many cases the change management process is watertight and there’s no way to deviate from the original plan.

Framework vs. Philosophy

So, agile and ITIL - not exactly a match made in heaven, right? That’s jumping to conclusions. They may seem quite different, but it’s not hard to find a way in which they actually complement each other. 

Keep in mind that Agile is a philosophy. It's a set of guidelines for your work. Agile principles help you make decisions in your everyday work, but they don’t tell you how to complete specific tasks.

ITIL is a framework - a collection of procedures that work in practice. As opposed to agile, ITIL does describe how to do your work - in detail. A lot of detail.

Being agile with ITIL

It’s not that difficult to fuse ITIL with agile. You can approach Incident Management with the agile mindset, for example. This means you pick the best option for your organization for each part of the set-up.

The weird thing is that ITIL is quite suitable for an adjusted implementation. ITIL does have a reputation for being rigid and unnecessarily complex, but that was never the starting point. The starting point wasn’t that organizations would implement each aspect of ITIL to the letter. The message of ITIL was always: make sure to apply this way of working in a way that suits your own organization. And your way of implementing ITIL could very well be agile.

So, what does agile ITIL look like?

Say you’re considering a more agile way of working within your IT organization. What’s the next step? 

Check out our Agile Service Management E-book for an all encompassing guide to what Agile can mean for your Service Desk.

Check out the free Agile Service Management e-book

Bas Blanken



Bas Blanken, Service Management Consultant

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