Crossing the Streams: ITSM and DevOps (an IT post)

One of the great sticking points for DevOps in large organisations is finding a reconciliation between IT Service Management practitioners and the DevOps community. The hot zone for conflicting world-views is usually between Continuous Delivery on the one hand, and Change and/or Release Management on the other. If you don’t immediately know what I mean, then you probably don’t have this problem.

There are recent developments that are opening up this issue, making it possible to find common ground and effective ways forward.

The three streams

The release of ITIL® 4 has generated growing interest in reconciling the ITSM and DevOps views of the world. At least, there is growing interest for me. This is a personal interest that began with my Kamu initiative in 2012 and has grown with a keynote presentation on this to New Zealand’s first DevOpsDays in 2013, and three presentations to the DevOps Enterprise Summit in the USA and UK, the last one (with Dr Cherry Vu) called Crossing the Streams.

That’s a Ghostbusters movie reference, for those not geeky enough to know. In the movie, they are told not to cross the streams of plasma energy from their anti-ghost guns because nobody knows what will happen.  When they meet the ultimate malevolent spirit, they cross the streams of their three guns and create a super-stream that wins the day. (You don’t need a spoiler alert for Ghostbusters – it’s not about the plot).

All these activities that I have been doing were all looking at the common ground between ITIL and DevOps. In that time, I’ve had experience consulting and training in a number of largish clients in New Zealand with hundreds of IT staff – big enough for siloed tribalism between Dev and Ops to be an issue. I was a reviewer of The Phoenix Project and a contributor to The Devops Handbook. Recently I contributed to the new ITIL 4 High-velocity IT (HVIT) book.  In that book, Mark Smalley and his co-authors have produced a work that many would be surprised to hear was actually part of the ITIL canon. ITIL has come a long way!  Finally Agile/DevOps and ITSM meet. Two streams cross.

ITIL has always been a lagging indicator of industry practice. Such is the nature of best practice: it needs to be generally accepted and validated before it can be documented. But boy was ITIL lagging by the time ITIL 4 came out and finally embraced some agile principles. (There was a bridging effort with what I jokingly called ITIL 3.5: the ITIL Practitioner book, which codified some very familiar principles, laying the groundwork for ITIL 4’s integration of them).

A third stream that cross with the others (bringing us even closer to the Ghostbusters analogy) is new ways of managing (NWOM), a broad term we use at Teal Unicorn for business agility, servant leader, humanistics, agile management … all the new thinking in management which has been reshaping work for a decade. [We describe it here. Read Aaron Dignan’s Brave New Work and/or Gary Hamel’s Humanocracy]. This has been an area of activity for Dr Vu and I for three years now, especially in Vietnam, with many executives of large and small organisations. We wrote a book The agile Manager (small a) which has five-star rating on Amazon (#proud).

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When these three streams come together – NWOM, ITSM, and DevOps – it creates a sweet spot where we can finally GSD (get stuff done). We can bring the three communities together to achieve better flow of value through IT.

  • ITSM practitioners now have an authorative source reassuring them that Continuous Delivery is the way forward.
  • DevOps practitioners have the language and mechanisms to make CD work within the service management practices.
  • Management have new ways of working so that they can empower their practitioners to make the changes, and so that they can get out of the way of the resulting practices.

I am working in this sweet spot at the nexus of management, DevOps, and ITIL, developing more experience and better models, through our consulting company Two Hills. We welcome your contributions to the thinking. What have you seen and learned in this interaction between ITIL, DevOps, and management practices?