Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Leveraging Agile Principles in IT Operations: Part 1

Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools

Agile Overview

“Agile” refers to a set of methodologies that focuses on iterative and incremental software development, emphasizing collaboration between cross-functional teams. I was recently asked by a CEO to explain the value of using Agile principles in IT operations, a group that doesn't typically embrace Agile tools and processes.

At its foundation, relating Agile to IT operations rather than to the development world, where Agile was founded, means understanding the differences between the needs of a group that follows a pattern of planned work (software development) and a group that is largely interrupt-driven (operations).

The Agile Manifesto lists four main precepts:

  • · Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • · Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • · Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • · Responding to change over following a plan

In this series of blog posts I will discuss how each precept can bring value to the responsibilities of your IT operations team.

Traditional Frameworks

When seeking an organizational approach, there are compelling reasons behind constructing an IT department using an ordered framework such as ITIL or MOF. This approach locks the team into a safe, prescriptive approach that is hard to fault. It reduces the need for personal judgment and critical thought while defining roles and responsibilities, offering a clear trail for audits.

However, there are associated drawbacks. Frameworks don’t foster creativity. They’re often top-heavy, requiring a great deal of time and effort to implement and maintain. Additionally, overlaying a framework on a disorganized IT team won’t create useful process and can bog down the team when implementing the framework, rather than providing structure for the department, becomes the goal.

Structured frameworks also fail because they don’t foster continuous improvement. Even though root cause analysis is often included within the framework, the step that remediates the root cause and creates process improvement is frequently not addressed. Thus the value of understanding the root cause is lost.

Individuals and Interactions

Fortunately, you can reap the benefits of a structured framework and create opportunities for continuous improvement in your IT operations team by following Agile’s first precept: individuals and interaction over processes and tools.

The processes and tools that your IT operations team uses, including the organizational framework, should be driven by the team’s values rather than the desire to watchdog productivity. Focusing on individuals and interactions puts a framework into perspective; it becomes a set of guidelines that support the team rather than setting the framework itself up as the goal.

The concept of individuals and interaction over processes and tools also forms a philosophical stance for the management of teams. Trust your IT team. Many IT people are intelligent, internally-driven professionals who want to find ways to improve department processes and customer service. If you don’t trust your team, get a different team, either by getting different people on the bus or by shifting yourself to a new bus. Using processes and tools to lock down the behavior of team members as a substitute for trust can be disheartening for teams and is an ineffective management approach.

Looking Ahead

In part 2 of this series I will address the second precept of the Agile Manifesto, working software over comprehensive documentation, and discuss how it applies in an IT operations environment.

Jen Browne and Patrick Phillips

Popular Posts