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Implementing ITIL Using Agile

Is agile really the way to implement ITIL? ITSMWatch investigates.
Jan 20, 2011

Elizabeth Harrin

Talk to any IT service management professional and they'll tell you that implementing ITIL isn't easy. It's a struggle to win over all the people involved, roll out the processes and adopt a service culture. So is agile, which is more commonly known as an approach for software development, really the way forward for ITIL deployments?

What is agile?

"Agile project management allows for direct customer inclusion, adjustments and even redirection utilizing a type of iterative approach that deals with the level of uncertainty encountered," said Karen R. J. White in her book Agile Project Management. "Agility implies agency: an increased ownership and authority for the individuals involved, along with the commensurate increased responsibility."

Agile as an approach was really kick-started by the Agile Manifesto for software development. It goes something like this:

"We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

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

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more."

Agility, then, is being able to deal with a changing environment. Sound familiar? In a service management environment we often need to respond to problems quickly, with a flexible approach to getting the issue resolved. The principles in the Manifesto can apply to a service management environment, too.

Agile and ITIL

You don't have to develop software to be agile (as in flexible). As well as the fundamentals of being able to react quickly, and work closely with the customer, agility is also about how you do things. The basics of an agile approach to getting things done center around prioritizing features, and deploying things in a timely way.

Basically, in a service management environment, this translates into splitting your ITIL implementation up into chunks. Pick the most important processes first. Then set a date for when you'll have something deployed relating to that process and work to it. Breaking the deployment of ITIL into smaller pieces ensures that you can deliver some quick wins, and start seeing the benefits early.

Once you have your ITIL implementation up and running, you can add new processes using the same approach, as well as amending existing processes to improve the service. This keeps the momentum going and allows you to build organically on existing capability.

"It's important to consider the maturity," said Linh Ho, Product Marketing director at business transaction management software company OpTier, speaking during a recentITIL webinar . "I think that those that already have ITIL figured out and already have processes in place and have certain levels of maturity are probably going to be more likely to be more agile than those who have not quite figured out ITIL because you really do need to understand your processes, you need to understand the workflow."

Do it step-by-step

It's important to understand the processes, because in order to implement something the agile way, you need to split it up into smaller pieces. This gives you a step-by-step, iterative approach instead of a big bang ITIL deployment.

Why is small good? When it comes to making changes, it is often easier to bring people along with you when they only have to adopt small changes at any one time. "Implementing ITIL is really changing behavior and changing people," said Sheri Cassidy, ITSM Program Manager at Progress Energy in North Carolina, speaking at the same event.

Progress Energy have been working on their ITIL implementation for over eight years; although they didn't expect to be doing so when they set out.

"In 2003, when we started our implementation journey the very first thing that we did was to identify and create a program office," Cassidy explained. "That consisted of a few individuals who were focused full time on evaluating where we were in terms of our process maturity and identifying those processes that we wanted to tackle first and then actually engaging the organization from a people standpoint, a process standpoint and also a technology standpoint."

She believes the program office helped make the change effective by managing a staged rollout of process changes and improvements. They took an iterative approach, and with each of the ITIL processes they agreed clearly defined objectives. They took the same approach with metrics, starting out by finding ways to measure the most important metrics, and building up to a full suite of useful numbers.

"Start small," she advised, "and over time as you mature and you are able to institutionalize change and people are adhering to what you have implemented then you identify 'what do we do next'."

Consider agile a philosophy of implementation -- take from it what you can and apply the concepts of the Agile Manifesto and implementation approaches in a way that makes sense to deliver early benefits and structured, iterative, change for your ITIL implementation.

Elizabeth Harrin is Computer Weekly's IT Blogger of the Year 2010. She is also director of The Otobos Group The Otobos Group, a business writing consultancy specializing in IT and project management. She's the author of "Social Media for Project Managers " and "Project Management in the Real World". She has a decade of experience in IT and business change functions in healthcare and financial services, and is ITIL v3 Foundation certified.

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