How to reconcile ITIL and agile approaches to managing infrastructures

To manage our infrastructures at OVH, we have deployed the ITIL* set of best practices. It's important to note that we are an agile organisation and use SCRUM concepts in developing our services. The ITIL framework has become essential in the field of IT service management all over the world. On the other hand, it is also often considered cumbersome and prone to drag down an organisation by robbing it of its agility. How can we get SCRUM to sit comfortably with ITIL? By combining the best of both worlds and coming up with "Agile Service Management".

The agile method rests on three basic elements:

  • Interactions between individuals
  • The importance of tools
  • Continuous adaptation to change

When you design a service, it’s important to keep these values in mind. But what about delivering the service? How can you combine these agile principles with an ITIL approach?

Let's compare these basic principles with those of ITIL. First of all, ITIL seems to attach great importance to processes and their documentation. It takes more than a thousand pages to explain the 26 processes in ITIL v4. Their aim is to achieve a high quality of service, without taking into account the quality of interactions between individuals.

Similarly, contractual agreements are translated into internal (OLA, Operating Level Agreement) and external (SLA, Service Level Agreement) commitments that make it possible to measure service quality independently of perceptions of the service provided.

In addition, processes are predictable: the same inputs always produce the same effects. All the steps are clearly defined and the response to changes is inflexible, because no deviations are permitted.

A priori, there is therefore a strong antagonism between the two methodologies. But before we jump to any hasty conclusions, let’s see how the two approaches can also complement one another.

In fact, ITIL and SCRUM are nothing more than good practices applied to IT production and IT development respectively. SCRUM is above all a working method. Its principles help us to make decisions quickly, but it does not provide any sort of reference framework. In contrast, ITIL provides a framework through defined processes, but does not in any way indicate how to carry out the work.

So as you can see, combining SCRUM and ITIL is not impossible. We are simply taking the best of both worlds, based on the ITIL philosophy to "be inspired by the method and apply it however it suits you best”.

For example, we have set up a change management process to ensure that change takes place smoothly and benefits everyone. Although we have a high level of process automation, sometimes some operations have to remain manual due to their complexity or low frequency. This is why the procedure for implementing a change is reviewed by a Change Advisory Board (CAB).

At OVH, the CAB is not an all-controlling administrative body. It is distributed so that operational challenges are dealt with by people who know what they’re talking about. We ask ourselves all the classic questions related to change so that we can properly plan what preparation we need (staffing, timing, roll-back...) and any inherent risks. Changes are then tracked, archived and communicated internally and externally through the "work" tasks.

In a future article, we will come back to other ITIL processes and their integration into the OVH ecosystem.

*Formerly an acronym for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, ITIL is a set of good practices for IT service management. To find out more, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITIL