Remedyforce Consulting: How to use the Agile methodology for a successful ITSM implementation
By Priten Nayak, Country Head, Cloudaction India
Because ITSM implementations are by definition enterprise projects, it follows that ITSM project management as a professional discipline is complex, detail-intensive, multi-phased, and involve many “moving parts” and no small measure of ambiguity and unpredictability. As such, one’s choice of project management methodology is extremely important in ITSM implementations. In comparison to traditional project management approaches, the Agile methodology presents a compelling alternative for ITSM implementations. Agile enables project teams to respond more effectively to ambiguity and unpredictability. Because it is an incremental, evolutionary and adaptive methodology, Agile enables project requirements and solutions to evolve over time through the collaborative efforts of self-organized and cross-functional teams, and to continuously deliver work of the highest possible value and quality.
The Pressing Need for Agility in ITSM
ITSM projects seek to bring discipline to a defined set of organizational and process challenges, to include:
- Management of erratic workflow and balancing workload across delivery cycle
- Transformation of IT to a customer-focused culture by dealing with pervasive internalized focus and the lack of business understanding in terms of value, outcomes, cost and risk
- Improvement of end-to-end delivery, ownership and accountability of project teams, while boosting collaboration
- Engagement with business at all levels to bring about better understanding of how one chunk of work fits into the grand machinery of the service being delivered
- Continuous, traceable improvement in service performance metrics
A fair percentage of ITSM activities need process standardization, which has fuelled an obsession with process control. An essential accompaniment to that is process development, an area where there is a marked need for continuous improvement with Lean-Agile techniques to build a solution that is resilient and responsive to change.
Given these challenges of aligning business and IT, the Agile methodology promotes a number of core concepts and project management principles that can bring a much needed breather against the problems endemic to ITSM.
- Enhanced Business-Oriented Perspective and Systems Thinking. The best work and ideas emerge from empowered, self-organized teams. When they receive business need and acceptance criteria, and when they are responsible for determining the solution, they are more likely to be invested in project success, feel more motivated, and perform better under any and all conditions. Via frequent interactions with the customer, examination of requirements, and the resulting reprioritization of work, Agile teams are better aligned to the needs of the business, and equipped to understand end-to-end delivery.
- Improved Quality through Focus. One of the core principles of the Agile approach is to limit the work-in-progress, which is to say to train teams to finish work instead of taking on more. With focus comes attention to detail, fewer errors, and better quality. If the team has no concept of prioritizing work according to the needs of the business, they are likely to attempt doing everything at once, resulting the minimal possible degree of quality. Thus, focus is essential for less context switching, enabling teams to complete work to the appropriate quality standards according to a previously established “Definition of Done.”
- Maximum Flexibility to Respond Rapidly to Change. Targeted at complex projects with dynamic, non-deterministic and non-linear characteristics, such as ITSM implementations, Agile seeks to plan into the distant future with only minimal detail, focusing in granular detail only on immediate and foreseeable tasks, thereby allowing absorption of changing business requirements. Laying stress on adaptive planning and emergent requirements, Agile has a far lower cost-of-change in comparison to other approaches, thus being flexible to mid-stream changes in market conditions. Additionally, test automation and continuous integration help ensure high quality standards even with successive changes.
- Improved Service Performance Metrics. With Agile, turnaround time is reduced due to reduction of waste and less context-switching due to limited work-in-progress. Productivity increases because of empowered cross-functional teams, ownership of work in team, transparency, and streamlined processes, which manifests itself in reduction in lead time, cycle time and increase in number of requests completed. In addition, the number of defects is reduced due to test automation.
- Continuous Improvement and Adaptation. An Agile environment enables emergent innovation by creating a sustainable development environment where individuals have the time to think proactively about the business, explore and continually enhance their knowledge.
- Greater Customer Satisfaction. As a product evolves incrementally over the course of time with a constant stream of value and short feedback loop, the most valuable product features are delivered first, providing for greater customer trust and lowering the overall risk of the project. Agile reduces project “wastes” and streamlines processes using minimal overhead approaches.
- Increased Productivity. Agile focuses the attention of the team on delivering the highest-priority, highest-value features first, using the most productive mechanisms possible. Also, autonomous teams are empowered to make informed decisions without the need for constant managerial direction. In addition to expediting action, it leads to more energized and engaged teams, often resulting in extraordinary productivity gains.
- Reduced Risk. With frequent delivery of working software, which provides business users the opportunity to provide feedback based on frequent inspection while keeping schedules and budgets in check, the Agile environment provides the added benefit of risk minimization. Delivery of features sliced vertically through the architectural layers lends a great deal of transparency and eliminates the delayed integration and quality issues so frequently encountered otherwise.
- Superior Work Environment. With Agile, trust is gradually built though continuously delivered value and transparency in work, including frequent dialog and the ability to accommodate changing business requirements, which leads to an inclusive dynamic between the team and the customer. Within the autonomous and self-organized teams, shared goals take precedence over segmented functional roles, building team cohesion and motivation. A sustainable development environment is created by balancing workload, limiting work in progress, while maintaining quality. In effect, the team’s focus moves to working smarter, not harder.
In conclusion, for the various problems that hinder ITSM projects today, the Agile approach to project management presents a much-needed option. That said, one of the central issues concerning its adoption is that comprehensive and successful implementation requires a thorough understanding of the underlying principles and premises that make up its schema. As the adage goes, half knowledge is worse than none. Effective Agile adoption in ITSM begins with the understanding that Agile is not the goal, but the means to an end. It encourages customization of the process and practices in keeping with the specific needs of a particular business problem, while maintaining a primary and unwavering focus on the central guiding principles that define an organization’s strategic core.
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