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Agile and Lean Service Management for Enterprises

by Ben Linders on May 07, 2014 |

Agile software development or Scrum is not enough to make your enterprise truly deliver on the Agile promises, says Dave van Herpen. His suggestion is that IT service management should apply agile and lean practices combined with DevOps to improve collaboration throughout the entire enterprise. 

At the Agile Governance conference in Amsterdam on May 13 Dave will give the talk "the road to enterprise agility is paved with good intentions". InfoQ interviewed him about doing service management in an agile and lean way and on how you can continuously improving IT services.

InfoQ: In ITIL you have continual service improvement (CSI). Can you explain what CSI is and why organizations would want to do it?

Dave: Continual Service Improvement according to ITIL is a process which continually improves the efficiency and effectiveness of IT processes and services. You might compare this to (System) Kaizen from the Toyota Production System, or the Retrospective ceremony in Scrum. All are aimed at continuously improving the system (for instance organization, processes, products or services). The main difference between the ITIL approach versus these other ones, is that ITIL regards CSI to be a separate process, whereas the other methodologies consider continuous improvement to be part of the (business as usual) process. Next to CSI, ITIL has identified 4 other process areas or publications: Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition and Service Operation. CSI is aimed to be the flying wheel for all those process areas, enabling IT service organizations to continuously optimize their processes and services, and therefore continuously improve the value they deliver to their (internal or external) customers.

InfoQ: In your article Agile CSI: continual service improvement done right you described how you applied agile and lean practices for IT Service Management. Why agile and lean?

Dave: The main issues IT service organizations have been facing in the past, say 10, years mostly relate to speed of delivery (changes), quality of service, flexibility, cultural and behavioral aspects, customer satisfaction, business involvement, and the growing complexity of the IT (process and service) landscape. ITIL has only managed to provide guidance to a very small number of these issues. In fact, the recent growth in number of processes has only increased the complexity and administrative burden of service organizations.

Specifically Lean and Agile principles, methods and instruments have proven to fill these gaps for numerous organizations, both business and IT related. For instance, Lean is a pure enabler of a learning culture, with a focus on effective value streams and customer orientation. Agile has illustrated to be a successful contribution to flexible and fast delivery of products and services, focusing on continuous improvement and multidisciplinary collaboration.

InfoQ: Can you tell us about the way that you tracked continuous improvement and the results that came out of them using agile and lean concepts?

Dave: At the organization I wrote about in my blog, we first used Scrum to get rid of the huge improvement backlog that was built up in the past years. After all, until then the organizational culture, personal attitudes, IT processes and objectives were not aimed at proactive and continuous improvements. Once we established focus and explicitly put value on improving daily work and services, instead of just doing a specific job, this all started to change. This led to a complete backlog of improvements, which were tracked on a Scrum board, and followed up by the team by means of stand ups and burn down charts. At the end of the 3 sprints, we moved the improvements to the kanban board, which then included incidents, problems, changes and improvements. From then on, the kanban board was used to track performance and progress of improvements. We also used the mother of tools, Excel, to keep track of past improvements (metrics, like cycle time, value) once they were off the board. 

InfoQ: DevOps is a way for development and operations to work more closely together. Does it also help them to improve continuously? Can you give some examples how to do it?

Dave: If you really look at the DevOps mindset and philosophy, it is not just about Dev and Ops. It also involves closer collaboration with the business, suppliers, architecture, security, testing, etcetera. In doing so, fundamental principles from Lean, Agile and ToC are used to secure customer focus, speed of delivery, and also continuous improvement. Some DevOps teams I’ve seen working with Retrospectives, some have actually embraced System and/or Gemba Kaizen, other have found their own ways. In addition, DevOps not only has a strong focus on collaboration and culture, but also heavily relies on automation to ensure fast throughput and feedback loops, as well as predictable quality. Finally, DevOps cultures strongly adhere to metrics (eg. Time to Value, MTTR), as the fundamental basis for continuous improvement. 

InfoQ: If organizations want to find better ways to improve IT services to their customers, what would you suggest them to do?

Dave: I would suggest them to focus on achieving a mindset for continuous improvement first. This should always be accompanied by a change in IT governance as well. After all, if you have created a continuous improvement mindset with your employees, but your (middle) managers still do not reward this behavior, or even do not provide any room (time, focus) for these improvements, it will never fly. Using Agile or Lean principles and instruments can take a you really far (in my vision a lot farther than ITIL CSI for example), but never underestimate the effort needed to acquire the desired attitude and behavior from the people involved, including those of the customer, suppliers and management.

InfoQ: At the Agile Governance conference in Amsterdam you will be talking about the road to enterprise agility. How does this road look, and how can it be travelled?

Dave: In my presentation I will address four critical patterns for Enterprise Agility:

  1. Strategy & risk alignment (eg. portfolio);
  2. Dealing with size and complexity (eg. scaling);
  3. Collaboration throughout the lifecycle (eg. DevOps);
  4. Integrating external parties (eg. SIAM).

These four patterns are fundamental to organizations of a substantial size, seeking to realize agility throughout their entire enterprise, instead of just in their individual, internal software development teams. I will use some real life examples and address practical instruments how to achieve this agility on an enterprise level.

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