According to their common characterisations, Agile and IT management framework ITIL could not be more different. The former is seen as loose and flexible, the latter staid and bureaucratic. But according to Unboxed Consulting’s Richard Stobart, the two approaches to IT management make very complementary partners.
ITIL’s chapters on change management explain how to prevent the introduction of new systems or functionality from breaking existing infrastructure. They recommend such methods as establishing a change advisory board (CAB), on which architects and systems owners convene to approve or deny requests for changes to IT systems based on their knowledge of what the impact would be. These measures are sensible when using a waterfall approach to development but, says Stobart, essential in an Agile shop.
“With a waterfall project, delivering functionality every six months or so, you have the luxury of dress-rehearsing the delivery into production, or taking business systems out for a day,” he explains. “Change can be carefully controlled.”
“But when you are delivering every two weeks, the organisation can no longer handle that much change manually. You’ve got to have a change control team that meets regularly, and you’ve got to have a CAB. All the transitional element of ITIL become vital.” Does this not corroborate the perception of Agile as anarchic and, perhaps, dangerous? Stobart says no: “With Agile, everything is tested, everything is documented in executable code, you know exactly when you will deliver and you can guarantee that the code will pass the [change management controls].
“This means that you can raise a change control request in advance, whereas for most of the CABs I’ve worked on, at least half of the change management requests are emergencies, or for something that has already happened anyway.”
Rather than simply providing a measure of control to the chaos, says Stobart, the combination of ITIL and Agile adds up to more than the sum of its parts: “Agile is the catalyst for change, and ITIL helps the organisation deal with it.”