How To Bring Agility Into Your Service Management – And Why (Part 1)

Dirk Fuhrmann

Part 1 of a 2-part series about bringing agile methodology to IT service management. Read Part 2.

In a previous article, I explored the bimodal working method; here I will dive a little deeper into the topic of agile service management. A brief reminder: DevOps is a philosophy that follows the five CALMS principles:

  • C – Culture
  • A – Automation
  • L – Lean
  • M – Measurement
  • S – Sharing

DevOps endeavors to ensure the smoothest possible connection between the development and operation of IT solutions. This is supported by numerous approaches, but mainly by the development, further development, and application of agile methods (such as scrum).

Four important reasons to bring agility to service management

When we talk about agility, we are not speaking exclusively of speed. If we take a closer look at the origin of the word “agile,” the Latin word “agilis” translates to nimble, active, or mobile. In the complex world of IT, with its drastic increase in changes and the accompanying uncertainties – which some call “VUCA” (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) – it is important to create very nimble IT. The aim is to react more quickly to predictable and (more importantly) unpredictable events.

Now we face the challenge of adopting and maintaining the agile methods we’ve practiced in development in our normal operations. How can we achieve that?

The DevOps Institute has placed its focus in agile service management on the application of agile methods to the design of IT service management processes and their continuous improvement.

But, let’s take a step back first: What do we expect from the use of agile practices? Why do we need agility in IT and in the company?

A quick start to added business value. Minor changes, for example, functional extensions in software, can be integrated into operations considerably more quickly and, thereby, significantly reduce time to market as compared to large releases (Figure 1).

The ability to change. The advantage of implementing changes in incremental steps is that you can counteract any deviations from the main target (the kaizen principle) early on. This way, the ability to change, and thus agility, is retained over time (Figure 2).

Figure 1 (left) and Figure 2 (right)

Creation of visibility. Implementing changes in small steps paired with quick feedback to the stakeholders, both internal and external, increases the visibility of changes drastically (kaizen principle). Major, drastic changes are counteracted by implementing them gradually. This creates transparency throughout the entire service lifecycle and builds trust among all people involved. Changes become comprehensible, and the level of acceptance rises (Figure 3).

Minimization of risks. At the start, the risk is very high – for example, when changing IT services. However, when using iterative steps, the risks involved in a fallback are usually far smaller. Failing fast is even desired here. The sooner we encounter a risk, the quicker we can learn from it and improve. Opportunities to counteract are used at an earlier stage.

Now that we are familiar with the general advantages of using agile methods, let’s take a look at service management with this knowledge as a basis. To do this, we will transfer agility to the familiar ITIL, which has been around in its current state for quite some time (Figure 4).

Figure 3 (left) and Figure 4 (right)

Kaizen and kaikaku

Kaizen stands for continuous improvement by means of small, incremental changes. It roughly translates from Japanese to change [kai] for the better [zen].

Kaikaku is the Japanese word for radical change. It is a business concept that makes fundamental, transforming, and radical changes, in contrast to kaizen, which focuses on minor changes.

(Source: Lean IT Association)

The three pillars of ITIL 3: functions, processes, and roles

  • The purpose of functions is to form various teams, including “one-person shows,” that bring structure and stability to an organization.
  • Processes describe how activities are structured and implemented.
  • The purpose of roles is to define responsibilities within as well as outside of processes.

Example of functions: agile service management and the service desk

Our beloved service desk will serve as an example function. Due to its strategically important position as a single point of contact (SPOC), the service desk is instrumental to the success of a healthy IT company. It is up to the managers of the service desk, in particular, to ensure agility here. They should be able to literally “let go.”

A service desk team that works independently and decides which tasks are to be performed next, thereby initiating improvement measures for its work independently, accelerates all flows of information between customers, internal departments, and the service desk team.

ITIL 4 – The Service Desk as a General Management Practice

The service desk is also included in the new best-practice framework, but this time in a new category. The service desk, which is no longer “just” a function, but will be declared a General Management Practice in ITIL 4 in the future, is still a central component of service management. The main purpose of the service desk practice has not really changed as compared to ITIL 3. It still involves recording the demand for incident solutions and service requests. The service desk is still the single and central point of contact for the service provider and all its users.

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This article originally appeared on and is republished by permission. itelligence is an SAP platinum partner.

Dirk Fuhrmann

About Dirk Fuhrmann

Dirk Fuhrmann is service delivery manager for intelligence's Managed Services, as well as an ITSM and ITOM consultant. For more than 10 years, Dirk has been at home in the IT industry. With his enthusiasm for ITSM topics and focus on the customer, he is a reliable contact person for newly emerging trends as well as established standards within the company.