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Can ITIL and DevOps Work Together?

IT Service Management (ITSM) is how organizations design, build, and deliver IT services to customers. The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is the framework that defines processes, procedures, and checklists that standardizes ITSM to deliver value to customers. The first version was created in the 1980s by the UK government; the second release was in 2001, V3 was released in 2007, and V4 in 2019. If you earned a certification in ITIL V3 or earlier, you’d remember many processes that seemed cumbersome. ITIL’s thoroughness in anticipating most scenarios could feel like a lot of red tape. Change management, with approvals, was critical in ITSM. Meanwhile, DevOps cheers on frequent changes–with some DevOps teams releasing multiple times an hour in their quest toward continuous deployment. How can a framework with so much focus on change control and change approvals work well with DevOps?

ITIL V4 Guiding Principles

Because ITIL V4 dropped many of ITIL v3’s defined processes in favor of practices that organizations can customize, it is not as rigid as previous versions. The guiding principles even start to resemble many of the lessons of DevOps.

The seven guiding principles of ITIL V4

  1. Focus on value
  2. Start where you are
  3. Progress iteratively with feedback
  4. Collaborate and promote visibility
  5. Think and work holistically
  6. Keep it simple and practical
  7. Optimize and automate

Reconciling the approaches of ITIL and DevOps

ITIL V4 comprises six books, each including Agile, DevOps, or Lean methodology references. Given the seven guiding principles, this isn’t surprising. As a quick exercise, let’s map the ITIL V4 principles to the Three Ways of DevOps:
  • In the First Way of DevOps (Flow/Systems Thinking), companies collaborate and promote visibility, think and work holistically, and optimize and automate. Organizations could perform value stream mapping to ensure they’re focusing on value and starting from where they currently are.
  • In the Second Way of DevOps (Amplify Feedback Loops), the corresponding ITIL principles include progressing iteratively with feedback, and collaboration and promoting visibility.
  • The Third Way of DevOps (Culture of Continual Learning and Experimentation) maps to thinking and working holistically and automating tasks so people can focus on solving more complex challenges.
In fact, many of the ITIL processes that were formerly cumbersome can be sped up through automation – such as automating approvals for low-risk, known changes. At the same time, a little more of ITIL’s focus on controls can be applied to DevOps to catch riskier changes that require more of the team to review before pushing to production. If your ITIL organization is curious about DevOps, ITIL V4 is more flexible and provides guidance on integrating these two frameworks. And remember – you don’t need to adopt all of ITIL or try to change every project to DevOps overnight. Adopt the components that work well for where you are while setting your teams up to iterate and improve continually.

Atlassian and AXELOS have partnered to help jumpstart your agile journey with this free guide: The future of ITSM is agile.

Case Study: Hear how we helped the Colorado Secretary of State office migrate and consolidate multiple legacy tools and processes into Jira Service Desk, aligned with the DevSecOps principles of fast flow, continuous feedback, and high trust.

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