Where do ITSM and DevOps overlap? All the way along the value stream

value stream

Sponsored Conference organisers and commentators might delight in setting the DevOps and IT service management (ITSM) communities against each other, but the reality is the two disciplines are complementary at the very least and increasingly are overlapping.

This is demonstrated by ITIL® 4, which debuted in 2019, and embeds DevOps, as well as Lean and Agile techniques, at the heart of its syllabus when it comes to delivering IT and digitally enabled products and services.

However, the shift is still filtering through to practitioners on the ground, with research suggesting ITSM pros are not taking as big a role in their employers’ DevOps initiatives as they could, or indeed should.

Last year’s Future of ITSM Survey 2019 showed that just six per cent of respondents said ITSM staff were fully involved in their firms’ DevOps activities and ambitions. If that is a puzzlingly low number, even more puzzling it that this represented a drop on the 13 per cent who were involved in 2017. The proportion of ITSM practitioners who described themselves as partially involved slipped from 40 per cent to 27 per cent over the same period. Just over a quarter said they didn’t know, or that the question wasn’t applicable, while three per cent were compelled to ask, “What’s DevOps?”

Thankfully, the future looks more encouraging, with 15 per cent of respondents expecting to take part fully in DevOps efforts by 2021, and 38 per cent saying they would be partially involved. Just under a quarter replied “don’t know” or “not applicable”, though the number still in the dark about DevOps crept up to four per cent, while one per cent think DevOps will have killed ITSM by 2021. And while 38 per cent of respondents currently have no or close to no involvement in DevOps initiatives, this will slip to 18 per cent in future.

The upshot is that expertise that could be brought to bear on important problems is being squandered.

There are some quick fixes that AXELOS – the organisation that develops and enhances ITIL – advises for its community in its ITIL 4 and DevOps whitepaper (login/registration required), which can be found on t. For starters, ITSM pros should not wait for an invite into DevOps projects. At the same time, it recommends that ITIL professionals should view their practices through a DevOps lens, which will help identify areas of conflict and duplication. And they should work towards common metrics with their DevOps counterparts – otherwise at least one team will be out of sync with what the company needs.

Let’s talk about this

But at a deeper level, getting the best out of ITSM and DevOps practices requires a rethink by technology pros from both disciplines. That’s why ITIL has put systems thinking at the heart of its approach to delivering value.

This means taking a holistic approach to value creation along the entire service value chain. Among other things this ensures that changes or improvements don’t just benefit localised teams, while creating bottlenecks elsewhere in the chain. This aims to provide “end to end visibility and appropriate controls and is essential to the achievement of both organisational agility and resilience.”

These themes should resonate with DevOps adherents, as well as ITSM staffers. One of the DevOps movement’s key insights is the need to break down silos, such as those encircling Dev and Ops staffers respectively, to speed deployment, posing the question, “can’t we all work together?”

So, how to ensure this actually happens? Well, it’s already started, with ITIL 4, and with the IT services management community at large.

“I think the ITSM community has realised that things have changed quite fundamentally and they need to open up, need to collaborate better, try to engage with other parties. I think that’s extremely encouraging,” says Mark Smalley, lead editor of the ITIL 4 Specialist: High-velocity IT module of ITIL 4.

There’s a delicate balance to be struck here. As Smalley says, one of the paradoxical things about humans is “we like to hang out with our kind of people, we feel comfortable with our kind of people”. But, he continues, “If you don’t mix with other people who think slightly differently, you’ll get groupthink. You have to make the effort. You have to extend your hand. You have to be vulnerable. To trust.”

At the same time, he says, too much heterogeneity can lead to teams that are arguing all the time, which is equally unproductive. “You need a degree of coherent diversity.”

Central to this is the notion of the T-shaped professional, which ITIL puts at the heart of its thinking about professional development and the creation of value. the syllabus aims to help individuals and organisations develop the characteristics of T-shaped individuals able to contribute in multiple roles, all the while bringing that broader context that benefits the organisation as a whole.

T comes to the rescue, again

What is a T-shaped individual? Like many good ideas, the origins of the term are shrouded in the mists of time. But the meaning comes into focus as we consider two types of professional.

A generalist will take a holistic view, and respect other areas of knowledge. They’ll also be collaborative and adaptable. But they may lack deep expertise in any specific area and may show shallow understanding of some problems.

By contrast, the specialist will have deep and specific knowledge of a specific topic or domain and is capable of dealing with very challenging problems in their domain, and even uncovering new truths. But they may also hoard knowledge, devalue other areas of knowledge, and even have a dismissive view of work outside their areas. And they can be vulnerable – and resistant – to change.

Do any of these characteristics, and the threats they bring, ring a bell? The specialist-generalist dichotomy may have been less of an issue when organisations and workflows were more siloed. But we’re the middle of an era of digital transformation and unprecedented change where collaboration is essential and the value of particular types of knowledge can change very quickly.

So, the T-shaped professional is someone who has deep knowledge in a particular vertical area, but who also possesses more broad knowledge and is able and – crucially – willing to collaborate across disciplines. Other types of shorthand might be polymaths, or generalising specialists.

The benefits, for technology delivery in particular and the organisation in general, are that T-shaped professionals excel at creating informal relationships and empathy. They also facilitate knowledge transfer, look outside their domain to think “how can I add value?” and focus on the workflow across the entire system. And crucially, they create stable and cross-functional teams and break down silos.

So, DevOps may help address bottlenecks in the development and deployment of software, but there is also a need to look at the broader context of delivering software and technology in particular, and value in general. And both disciplines can contribute here.

This philosophy works against traditional ideas of “things being organised functionally, so you’d have the designers, the developers, the testers as different functions all in their own departments.”

Follow the value

On a purely practical level, this suggests fundamental changes to the way work, and value flows through an organisation, with integrated, multi-disciplinary teams, rather than separate and occasionally antagonistic teams moving on work in sequence.

Smalley also says that the ITSM world is having a broader conversation about what contributes to successful outcomes and talking about empathy with stakeholders right along the chain to customers and end-users – something that should again resonate with the DevOps world.

“That is an area where IT Service Management is trying to try to co-create value and go to the end of the chain, making sure that we have not only built the right system, we’ve not only done it quickly, it’s not only resilient in production, but that people are actually getting value out of their outcomes.”

Learn more about ITIL 4 Foundation, including how to take an exam, find training or purchase the publication.

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