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Is ITIL Slowing You Down? 3 Ways to Become More Agile

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How well does IT enable your business? Are you considered a roadblock in an otherwise fast-moving operation? If you want to motivate your team members and improve their speed and performance, you need to integrate the principles of agile development into your existing ITIL approach.

When ITIL emerged, it brought standards, processes, and much-needed structure to IT—but not speed. In recognizing the need to move faster, some IT organizations began looking at the agile methodologies of their software development peers. The adoption of some of these practices works to loosen up rigid processes, inspire cross-team efficiencies and boost productivity. At this point, as a modern IT organization, you must include agile in your approach if you haven’t already.

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Not sure how to get started? Here are three agile principles taken directly from the Agile Manifesto that most ITIL-based organizations could benefit from immediately.

Agile Tip #1: Place Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools

With agile, there is an imperative to focus on people and their interactions, not tools. If you were to survey organizations and ask, “What are some of your biggest barriers to optimizing your team’s performance?” very few of them will say “Tools.” Rather, they will cite the need to motivate a group of talented people to do their best and hold each other accountable through projects. The tools for the job are not their biggest concern.

On the other hand, ITSM tools are key in supporting and automating processes such as ITIL, so that teams can focus on higher value services. The problem is that ITIL-focused ITSM tools often can’t be modified in such a way as to support the evolution of those processes to better fit the needs of the business. And after all the time spent researching and procuring an ITSM tool, many vendors lock customers in with significant up-front financial investments and development-intensive customizations and that make the cost of switching down the road extremely high. To top it off, those customizations are often lost when the ITSM tool is upgraded, leaving teams locked into older versions or scrambling to re-configure the technology.

None of these approaches supports or motivates the people involved. The turnover from one software package to the next is a waste of human resources. Your goal should be to find tools that can move fast with you, so your people can work together efficiently and stay agile. You need to look for tools that are flexible, allow people to make changes and updates that suite their needs, without fear of having to start again. That way, it’s the “people smarts” that are optimized for versus trying to find a tool that is a perfect fit out of the box.

Agile Tip #2: Emphasize Collaboration Over Specialization

How do you decide who works on an IT project? How often do you mix people across departments?

Enterprise IT, to date, has been extremely siloed. Everyone works in their own domain, even within a department. Your client management experts are here, your network experts are over here, and your storage experts are in another place. They don’t work together much. Yet, the IT department would have the business believe that the IT service desk effectively manages the end-to-end environment.

Strict adherence to ITIL processes generally aligns well with this siloed approach, in that teams are comprised of IT professionals with similar skill sets grouped together around set goals and responsibilities. Agile, however, teaches us that the ability to move the ball forward is about more than this; it’s about having a team of empowered, trustworthy individuals who can get things done.

Agile teaches us that the best “team” consists of whoever you need to get stuff done. Your security expert and a rep from customer service could easily be on the same team. The question is, “Who do we need to bring together on a regular basis? Who can be accountable, responsible, trustworthy and motivated?”

You may not have even representation from every domain or department every time, and that’s okay. The agile manifesto reminds us that this flexible, cross-silo collaboration produces top speed and performance.

Agile Tip #3: Embrace Modest Iteration Over Monolithic Implementation

Consider the following situation: the marketing organization in a fast-growing company says to the IT department, “We need a marketing automation suite, right now.”

In discussing some of the requirements, it is determined that the primary need is a set of capabilities that tracks anonymous and known leads and nurtures those leads with effective email marketing. In the traditional ITIL framework, IT may investigate solutions and come up with a list of requirements. This research could take three months but, unfortunately for the marketing team, they needed the app yesterday.

How can this process be improved to require fewer resources, produce better results and happen faster?

Agile’s iterative process, where change is embraced and addressed quickly, encourages better responsiveness to business stakeholders. With agile, teams are set up to deliver early and continuously. Compared to the first scenario with ITIL, an agile team would get the basic requirements from marketing, build a flexible, viable concept quickly and be ready to make adjustments after some feedback. Perhaps implementing just one module that tracks known leads is the first step, followed by anonymous leads. Once solved, moving onto the email marketing functionality, whether it’s the same tool or something it integrates with, would be a practical next step.

This approach is realistic because it allows that product to evolve over time as users share their needs and wishes. Marketing doesn’t know exactly what it wants until it starts to use the app. It’s not wise to throw a bunch of money at a mega-vendor right away. It’s much wiser to be agile.

It’s Time to Be Agile

If you haven’t already begun to move towards an agile approach in your IT department, it’s time to get started. Without any special training, you can start with the three suggestions above: focus on people smarts over perfect tools, encourage cross-departmental collaboration and embrace change.