ITIL Running at the Speed of Agile


Can ITIL run at the speed of Agile? It’s an interesting – and important – question. The answer is an absolute, yes.

Here’s why: The principles of the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe) are aligned. They’re both designed to make enterprise IT operations run more efficiently and effectively. They are value-driven approaches that have immense benefits for organizations’ missions and users.

Bringing them together for customers doesn’t happen as often as it should, but it is something we’ve done a lot at GDIT. And in doing that work, we’ve gained perspective about how to combine the two platforms in ways that work for everyone.

At its core, combining ITIL and SAFe is all about supporting organizations as they make informed decisions. It’s about feeding that process with information that can open up their appetite for change. ITIL helps facilitate considered decision-making, while Agile presents a model for fast feedback loops that can accelerate and decentralize the decision-making process.

Of course, in practice, there are some challenges associated with asking ITIL to run at the speed of SAFe.

1. Technologies mitigate risk

First, you need technologies that mitigate risk and allow for change. Often, within IT teams, mitigating risk equals inertia; but you can accomplish risk mitigation with technologies that deliver robotic process automation, machine learning, or AI, for example, that can present an appropriate risk analysis to elevate stakeholders’ awareness of impact, making them comfortable and ready to move forward with change.

While SAFe promises you speed of delivery, ITIL gives you stability in your environments, with both practices incorporating security throughout the life cycle. Technology enables the two practices to work together harmoniously; real-time determination of risk associated with a change can be nothing short of transformative.

2. Culture that embraces change

Second, you need a culture that helps people embrace change. Let’s be honest, sometimes people can be afraid to stick out their necks and advocate for change because if things go wrong, they’ll take the heat.

Instead, people need to have technologies available that enable them to facilitate change in a way that allows them to anticipate and plan for changes. These tools will support their analysis and mitigate risk to their respective mission responsibilities. One successful change begets another and another, and – over time – a culture change takes root, but it all depends on being able to perform proper risk analyses and getting people comfortable.

3. Leadership drives collaboration

Finally, you need governance and leadership to drive collaboration for better processes. Engineer, statistician, and management consultant Dr. W. Edwards Deming famously said, “People work in the system that management created.” What he meant by that was that people will do their best, but sometimes the systems they’re working within need to change.

It’s incumbent on IT managers to champion the best approaches – or marriages of approaches in this case – that will allow their people to be successful. For teams, inefficient processes that have “grown up” within changes of the past will always be roadblocks. Removing them can make a world of difference.

At the end of the day, technology should enable the right process for the organizations to make changes that make them more efficient and that allow them to repurpose people for high-function, deep-thinking, mission-critical tasks. Using ITIL and SAFe together means teams can manage legacy, virtual or future cloud-based infrastructures at the speed necessary to match the changing needs of the business – whether that change is new software, new maintenance, or other activity.

While it took Agile awhile to gain its footing, the result of its maturation from a purely development focused approach to one that involves ensuring new products work in production is DevOps. The old wall between “Dev” and “Ops” was really a wall between the desire to accelerate change and keeping steady state (with security firmly in the middle).

ITIL and SAFe, together, enable a DevOps and DevSecOps mindset where there is shared responsibility, relentless improvement and a healthier feedback loop that invites input from existing systems as well as customers.