ITIL® and the Rise of Agile, DevOps, and Lean: Integrating Best Practices to Make High Velocity IT Possible

Blog Post • Industry Insights • [read_meter]

Although ITIL continued to be adopted due to its proven IT practices implemented by many thousands of organizations through the mid-2000s, many organizations were looking for something more when it comes to service management.

Why? To become high-performing IT that can help speed application development, operate more cost-effectively, and break down the silos between development and operations.

Fortunately, the three key practices emerged: Agile, DevOps, and Lean. Each of these practices brought something of real value to IT service providers but in different, complementary ways.

How? For this, you first need to know about the three practices in little detail and their ultimate purpose of emergence.

Agile: a framework for rapid, quality development

To keep up with the increasing pace of business and technology change, a new framework for application development was required. The focus of Agile is on speedy development through developing and delivering the features of applications and products in production in smaller functional units in an iterative manner basis the Agile Manifesto.

Agile Manifesto focuses on:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools: Too much attention was being paid to processes and tools; rather, the importance should be placed on the importance and contribution of individuals.
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation: Rather than documenting everything, organizations should pay attention to working software – the major component of a service.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation: Too much attention was being paid to service level agreements and contracts, and not enough attention to collaborating with the customer.
  • Responding to change over following a plan: Too much attention was being paid to planning activities in the face of rapid business and technology change. A new approach was required, one that was more “Agile” and quick to respond to changing business requirements.

Agile aimed to address these inequities, providing a software development framework that filled a real need – enabling development teams to carry out fast, effective delivery of software that provided value in a constantly changing environment.

DevOps: a movement to break down silos between teams

Although many development teams had adopted Agile to speed the lifecycle and delivery of new and improved software, a barrier still seemed to exist between many Dev and Ops teams. DevOps emerged around the mid-2000 as a “movement” to address this common barrier, and the “siloed” nature of many IT organizations – with the fact that many IT organizations were structured around technology, with departments composed of technical teams, application teams, and other operational teams.

Because of their “siloed” nature, teams within many IT organizations were not collaborating and communicating optimally. This resulted in misunderstandings, too much time to spin up test environments, and as a result very slow time-to-market for new and improved apps – developed by their newly formed, speedy Agile development teams.

By adopting DevOps, organizations began to learn how critical it was for Development and Operations teams to work closely together. The notion of vertical cross-functional teams became popular among many “high-velocity” organizations as a way to tear down silos and empower teams to work in a collaborative way and take End-to-End responsibility for a service and its components.

Lean: a practice to maximize quality by eliminating waste

During the same decade, organizations realized that change was the order of the day, and keeping pace with the changing environment was critical to long term success. Thus, in addition to Agile and DevOps, many organizations began adopting the practice of Lean IT to bring added focus on continuous improvement. Lean IT practices focused on increasing customer value, eliminating waste from the existing processes and procedures, and optimizing operations. While the key components of Lean can be applied to all types of business and processes, Lean IT is the extension of Lean principles to the development and management of Information Technology (IT) products and services.

In addition to reducing wastes and improving a specific process, Lean IT also emphasized building a culture, one that respects all employees and enables them to pursue opportunities to improve their work and share ideas for continuous improvement.

Each of the three practices brought something to the “IT Table.” However, an overall operating model was required.

Need for an overall operating model

Although each of these emerging best practices has brought something of value to the “IT Table,” and each has been very valuable to a lot of IT service providers, each has also fallen short in terms of acting as an overall operating framework for an IT service provider. Some common themes stood out that meant that something more — an overall operating model — was still required.

  • Lack of attention to the concept of a “service,” the intangible entity that includes products like code, but also supporting components, people, and processes. Failing to realize that it is a service, and the perception of “value” that the service creates, that enables value to be realized by the customer, users, and other stakeholders.
  • Although the “customer” was certainly an important stakeholder, other stakeholders also required to be considered in the design, development, launch, and maintenance of apps, and the services of which these are a part. Suppliers, internal teams, users – they too must be considered alongside the customer.
  • While the software was certainly now a key component of customer-facing and supporting services, organizations realized the lack of a “holistic” approach could place the success of the new/revised service at risk. While Agile did acknowledge people (individuals) as key to success, the strategy, direction, and culture of the organization should also be considered, along with optimized supporting practices, suppliers, and support tools.
  • The value was certainly a key focus on Agile, most of the emphasis was on developing or improving the features and functionality of the app – what ITIL called the “utility” aspect of service. The “warranty” aspects – the app and its ability to perform to specifications on a daily basis in a production environment – received little attention. Organizations realized that both elements – utility and warranty – are key aspects that drive the perception of value in a customer’s mind.
  • A lack of focus on the need for business alignment, and how the development and operations functions of an IT organization are still part of an overall business environment that must work together to design, develop, and offer value-enabled services to its customers and users.

Conclusion — ITIL 4 provides the overall framework for High-Velocity organizations

Due to the complexity of the environment, and the nature of service solutions, ITIL 4 provides a four-dimensional “holistic” approach – so that not just the software, but all aspects are considered in the development of a new/revised service offering.

To enable organizations to be responsive to the faster pace of business change, and to function as a flexible and adaptable framework for all types of businesses, ITIL 4 provides a new operating model — the Service Value System, so that all the components and activities of an organization can quickly and effectively work together to enable value realization for all stakeholders.

ITIL 4’s guiding principles provide the high-level decision-making guidance that Agile, DevOps, and Lean practices need — enabling an organization to improve the quality of decision making under all circumstances. Addressing the need for business alignment, ITIL 4’s Governance element ensures the service provider is aligned with its parent organization and is compliant with standards and regulations.

A series of Service Value Change activities ensures that the organization carries out the key activities quickly and effectively to produce products and services that enable value realization by its stakeholders. Finally, supporting practices provides the necessary support for all service value chain activities, and continual improvement becomes the mindset of all personnel involved in the provision of services.

The ITIL 4 framework is the overall, integrated framework that helps guide, enable, and equip organizations of all types and sizes to meet the challenges of the new digital age that is upon us.


About the author

Paul Dooley
ITIL Expert, HDI and ITIL Instructor, ITSM Consultant, Author

With over 30 years of experience in high technology and IT services and support, Paul has held numerous positions in IT support services and service marketing. Experience includes delivery of front line technical support (levels 1, 2 and 3), support team lead, international support manager, manager of service business development, support marketing manager and director of solutions marketing.

Paul is the current President and Principal Consultant at Optimal Connections, LLC, which delivers IT service and support training and consulting services to businesses and organizations of all types. For more information visit

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