ITIL vs DevOps

Posted by on June 08, 2018


ITIL and DevOps are two differing paradigms for delivering, supporting, and maintaining IT services at the organization level. While each framework has its own methodologies, both have enjoyed widespread implementation throughout the worlds of information technology and software development. ITIL is the most popular service delivery framework, with over two million ITIL certifications issued, yet DevOps has emerged as a driving productive force in leading software companies like Spotify and Razorfish.

We wrote this article to help clarify the differences between DevOps and ITIL, to explain how and why they're different and how businesses could benefit from understanding and applying both paradigms to different problems. Keep reading to learn more about ITIL vs DevOps and how they could impact your organization.

ITIL - An Established Framework for IT Service Management

ITIL is a framework for IT service management whose goal is to align IT services with the needs of the business. ITIL is available as a set of core books, which outlines the 26 processes that comprise the system as a whole. The ITIL framework is based on a five-stage model of service development:

  1. Service Strategy - Executive managers take guidance from ITIL when it comes to creating a service strategy that ensures the business can handle the costs and risks associated with a service. Best practices for service strategy include consideration of corporate governance, legislation, and business constraints.
  2. Service Design - Service design is the stage where business requirements are translated into technical requirements for the service, a common architecture is decided on and used throughout the design process, and support requirements are assessed for when the service is implemented.
  3. Service Transition - Service transition brings all of the assets needed to deliver a service together for integration and testing. There is a strong focus on quality—ensuring that the service will function correctly and deliver value to the organization.
  4. Service Operation - Live services need to be supported and maintained through a service desk, a team that supports incident management and fulfills requests for users. This also includes application management and technical support teams that can respond decisively when a major IT incident affects the business.
  5. Continual Service Improvement - The last stage of ITIL, continual service improvement is a reflective process that works with the other four stages to ensure that services are continually aligned with the needs of the business.

ITIL is a hugely beneficial set of best practices, especially because of its wide global adoption. It can be much easier to work together with other organizations if you already understand how their IT processes function, and organizations can even obtain an ISO certificate for successfully implementing ITIL.

DevOps - Collaboration, Communication, Cooperation

DevOps is more than just a framework for getting things done in the IT department, it's an agile and collaborative approach to IT service management that manifests itself in many different ways within the organizations that use it. Unlike ITIL, which places a lot of emphasis on the effective management of many discrete processes, DevOps harnesses the power of human communication and cooperation to make things happen.

Many DevOps practitioners are guided by the Agile Manifesto, the document that started the Agile revolution in application development: individuals and their interactions are valued over discrete processes and tools, performance is measured by responsiveness to change rather than adherence to a strict plan, and working software that delivers real value is seen as more critical than thorough documentation throughout the design and development process. Here are some other defining features of DevOps that you should be aware of:

Culture - The culture of DevOps is one of change and experimentation. In the DevOps paradigm, managers recruit talented team members, present them with the challenges and needs of the business, and allow them to experiment with different ways to solve them. Sometimes experiments fail, but workers are engaged and fully leveraged in solving business problems.

Automation - To support innovation within IT, DevOps teams invest time to automate tasks that are repetitive and cumbersome. This frees up more time for creativity in production and helps the business run more smoothly. Instead of conducting repetitive, manual testing of new code, DevOps advocates the use of automated build, deployment and testing scripts to foster a continuous delivery model.

Lean - DevOps teams use Lean methodology throughout their work, focusing on small updates and continuously adding value for the customer.

Measurement - Tracking KPIs and continuously improving performance is important for any DevOps team.

Sharing & Communication - DevOps teams have identified one of the main weaknesses of ITIL: knowledge silos. If just one person or a small team is responsible for implementing an entire process, it can create problems that affect the whole organization. The absence of just a few key employees could seriously cripple the organization's ability to complete a certain process or respond to a specific type of problem. A lack of visibility between teams and departments means that knowledge in the organization is all fragmented. Organizations that use DevOps actively avoid this by separating workers into service delivery teams—not process teams—and effectively collaborate and share information.

Can ITIL and DevOps Be Used Together?

DevOps is a relatively new paradigm for managing service delivery in IT, so it's natural that organizations entrenched in ITIL will be asking "Can I integrate DevOps practices into my business without disrupting my existing ITIL system?" These short descriptions offered above are enough to see that the goals of each system are similar. Continuous improvement is an important aspect of both ITIL and DevOps, as are communication and effectively aligning service offerings with business needs.

Much of the perceived friction between ITIL and DevOps is a result of each side misunderstanding how the other functions and what they can offer to a unified approach to ITSM. DevOps practitioners may see ITIL as too process-oriented and not allowing enough room for innovation, while executive managers that have trained in ITIL see DevOps as too cavalier or lacking adequate oversight.

In reality, aspects of both paradigms are incorporated by leading IT service management organizations. ITIL, after all, is a collection of best practices, not meant as an all or nothing proposition and can be adapted to include some of the most beneficial aspects of DevOps. ITIL's service design process already advocates for iterative and incremental design, and the implementation of service automation, both of which form integral aspects of the DevOps paradigm.

Many ITSM managers continually examine at how they are carrying out processes like Service Design and assess how they could benefit from aspects of DevOps. One of the main strengths of DevOps is that it allows employees more freedom in how they solve problems, meaning that organizations can more fully leverage their human capital.


While they may represent different paradigms for ITSM, it is possible to implement both ITIL and DevOps to maximize IT performance at your organization. ITIL is useful for the standardization it creates, both within and between organizations, but the DevOps culture and framework do a better job of leveraging human capital, promoting innovation, and pushing more releases to customers faster than ITIL could on its own. Effective IT departments should embrace ITIL and DevOps best practices as part of their problem-solving tool kit

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