How Agile Service Management (ASM) combines the best of both worlds — Agile and ITSM

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The tension between IT service management (ITSM) frameworks and Agile development started years ago when businesses began to recognize technology as a critical business success factor. IT faced increasing demands to do more with less. Software developers, meanwhile, faced mounting pressure to deliver faster, working, incremental software to clients. This lead to “frustrations about delays, rework and customer dissatisfaction that were resulting from constraints and were affecting their ability to get projects done on time and on budget,” according to The Agile Service Management Guide from the DevOps Institute.

At the time, the two key frameworks, CMMI and ITIL, governed modern software development and IT service management (ITSM). Yet a perception was growing that these frameworks impeded the speed of development by making IT more bureaucratic and controlling – leading to a feeling of friction between IT service management (ITSM) and agile framework.

To simplify the complexities around modern-day software development, 17 developers met in Utah in 2001 and drafted the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Their conclusion was to move away from administrative-heavy processes and refocus on the core software development that mattered most. This approach recommended incremental, working products to allow faster changes and closer collaboration with customers and facilitate higher value delivery.

As developers started adopting this Agile/Scrum methodology, operations were challenged to react and collaborate with developers at matching speeds, leading to a need to transform to DevOps organizations that strived for continuous delivery, and the tension began.

Eventually, integration of Agile thinking with the ITIL framework led to the emergence of Agile Service Management (ASM), which has the potential to resolve any perceived conflict and combine the best of both worlds

Enjoy the best of both worlds

ASM brings together the application and integration of Agile principles with service management processes and process design. It counters the rigidity that can creep in due to the ITIL framework, enhancing overall IT efficiency and effectiveness by allowing team members to respond to changing business requirements with agility.

ASM ensures that ITSM processes reflect Agile values and are designed with “just enough” control and structure to effectively and efficiently deliver services that facilitate customer outcomes — when and how they are needed. ASM encourages a learning environment through smaller, faster implementation and shorter feedback loops.

The Agile approach helps create an engineering mindset across end-to-end IT.  ITIL, being systematic and process-oriented, helps create evidence /audit proofs of the work. Together through ASM, they minimize or eliminate any duplicate effort. They also enhance workflow, problem solving and continuous improvement.

How ASM moves the ‘Agile’ needle

Agile follows a real-world progress approach based on empirical process control to measure, monitor and deliver work through planned scheduled releases. Work is divided into small runs known as sprints that can range from one week to a month. At the end of each sprint, the team reviews the results and plans for the next sprint, giving the team members and stakeholders an opportunity to reassess and reprioritize work based on actual work completed rather than on projections.

ASM adapted the Agile vocabulary to inculcate the Agile mindset. As in Agile, ASM focuses on delivering a working “minimal viable product” (MVP) for early adopters that it calls a Minimal Acceptable Process (MAP) and then adds incremental value based on feedback. The focus is on defining the necessary processes in lean process sprints based on a “to-be” approach rather than an “as-is” approach.  Each process story is assigned an estimated level of complexity to help determine its priority and form the MAPs.

In ASM, also as in Agile, measurements are by-products of the work rather than the work itself. Automation is prioritized to help define what, where and how to measure and how to link other metrics as part of an overall measurement and analytics framework. For task support, work instructions are defined with Key Service Areas (KSAs) for each role defined within process steps and linked to a learning management system that provides access to a built-in, in-context learning framework.

ASM emphasizes a “one team” approach for IT and business to ensure end-to-end IT participation in process development. IT brings in business analysis, design skills and systems thinking; business knows the subject matter.

Align Agile principles and service management methodology

Agile may feel anti-methodology, but on closer comparison we can see synergy between Agile principles and service management methodology. ITIL and Agile as such do not have any direct conflict. In fact, they can each “learn” from each other.

What ITIL can learn from Agile Scrum:

  • The need for speed. Software needs to be delivered to clients as quickly as possible, since it has value only when the client starts using it. Products lying in UAT have no value to the customer.
  • Added value. Sometimes you can add more value by delivering a new functionality than by fixing a small incident. This may require a mindset change.
  • ITIL is not good at limiting work in progress. Problem queues are always overcrowded. By limiting work in progress and focusing on requests that really affect the value of the service, ITIL can improve efficiency.

What Agile can learn from ITIL:

  • Customer focus on reliability. Operations teams answer to clients when a service is down. Developers can follow their example and use the operations feedback loop to understand what customers really want, what functionalities they use and how – they may use them differently than originally designed – then focus on those uses to keep customer satisfaction high.
  • Uniform processes with common tools, especially backlog management. Following a more formal approach may feel like letting go of some control, but in the long run it helps improve consistency and efficiency — provided the process has been designed to be lean and focus on essentials.
  • As teams mature and learn each other’s strengths, discipline improves. ITIL’s structured approach helps instill discipline.

Benefits of integrating Agile with service management

A combined ITIL and Agile approach can add value to the entire IT delivery chain and help to define lean processes. Three key benefits of integrating Agile with ITSM are:

Improved workflow

Service Management processes like incident management and problem management can show what is stopping the flow of work and proactively avoid passing a defect downstream. Priority 1 and 2 must be solved immediately as they have a direct impact on customers. Lower priority incidents can be accommodated within the team bandwidth.

This approach demands a mindset change that not all incidents need to be addressed immediately, as at times, more value can be delivered to clients by effective prioritization and selection.

Live dashboards can be used to flash the latest status (number of open incidents) to inspire the team to clean the queue before they sign off for the day.

Shortened and amplified feedback loop

Problem management tasks can be handled as user stories in product backlog. A minimum of problem records (PRs) would still need to be maintained, as in addition to being needed for management reports and dashboards, PRs can give insights into how many incidents are linked to a record and their reoccurrence and can help prioritize problem resolution efforts in the product menu.

Process design can be done through an incremental and iterative approach. For example, if a change management process becomes outdated due to the introduction of new tools, teams can go back to the original reason of what they were trying to achieve and redefine the goals through process sprints.

Processes that “talk” to internal or external customers — like service level management, business relationship management, capacity and availability — can give input that helps development teams understand and respond to customer priorities and needs.

Continual experimentation and learning

Agile methodology encourages rewarding risks. It recommends allocating time for improvements in daily activities and introducing fault into the system to increase resilience. Processes like availability management, IT service continuity management and information security management (ISM) can help developers understand what the critical services are and where they have the most risks to focus on.

Transition gracefully

For many organizations, ITSM is how IT gets done. It may be insisted on in contracts and is used as common language framework. So, moving directly to Agile can be slightly intimidating. One way forward toward making the best of ITIL and Agile work for you is to start with an Agile adaptation rather than aim for overnight adoption. ASM helps that transition. ASM shows that ITIL and Agile can work together to give you the optimal development environment – it just requires an understanding of each approach’s strengths.

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