DevOps in an ITIL environment

At IPExpo in London a couple of weeks ago, I was asked if it was possible to “Do DevOps in an ITIL environment”.

My simple answer is “yes”.

ITIL and DevOps are two different things, they both attempt to provide a set of “best practices”; ITIL for Service Delivery and Maintenance, DevOps for Software Delivery and Support.

DevOps is mostly concerned with a couple of things:

  • The mechanics of building and delivering software changes (we’re talking about Continuous Delivery, deployment automation, Configuration automation and so on).
  • The behaviours, interactions and collaboration between the different functions involved in delivering software (Business, Dev, Test, Ops etc)

ITIL largely stays away from anything to do with the mechanics, and doesn’t touch on culture and collaboration – preferring instead to focus more on the tangible concepts of IT service support. It’s essentially a collection of procedures and processes for delivering and supporting IT services. Most of those procedures and practices are just common sense good ideas.

DevOps isn’t a prescriptive framework, it’s more like a philosophy (in the same way as Agile isn’t a framework). Because it’s not prescriptive, it can work with any framework (such as scrum) provided that framework isn’t at odds with the DevOps philosophy (such as waterfall).

ITIL provides a set of concepts which you then implement in your own way. For example, ITIL promotes the concepts of Incident and Problem Management. It doesn’t tell you exactly HOW you should do them, it simply suggests that these are good processes to have. There are recommendations around actions such as trend analysis and root-cause analysis, but it doesn’t prescribe how you should implement these.

Change Control

Probably the area with the greatest amount of cross-over is change management. ITIL explicitly mentions it as a procedure for the efficient handling of all changes, and goes on to talk about Change Advisory Boards, Types of Change, Change Scheduling and a bunch of other “things to do with deploying changes to an environment”.

DevOps also advocates smooth and efficient processes for deploying changes through environments – so there’s no conflict here. The only slight misalignment is that in ITIL, change management is seen as an activity that happens during the Service Transition phase, while in DevOps we tend to advocate the identification and promotion of pre-authorised changes (standard change), which means the change management process effectively starts prior to service transition. But that’s about it really.

Some people get a bit carried away with the role of the Change Advisory Board in ITIL, and insist that every change must pass through some sort of CAB process (usually involving a monthly CAB meeting, where a bunch of stakeholders review all changes queued up for a production deployment, which usually only serves to cause a delay in your software delivery process and add very little value). ITIL doesn’t explicitly say it has to happen this way – it’s not that prescriptive!

Similarly, DevOps doesn’t say you can’t have a CAB process. If you’ve got a highly complex and unstable environment that’s receiving some sporadic high-risk changes, then CAB review is probably a good idea. The only difference here is that DevOps would encourage these Change Advisory Board reviews to happen earlier in the process to ensure risk is mitigated right from the start, rather than right at the end.

 

So, in summary, ITIL and DevOps are not having a fight in the schoolyard at home time, there’s nothing to see here, go about your business. 🙂

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When Scrum and DevOps go Bad

We all know a good agile organisation, or at least we’ve all heard about them, where everyone just *gets it*, they’re agile through-and-through, from the top down, bottom up, agile in the middle, and everyone’s a mini Martin Fowler. Yay for them.

We’ve also heard about these DevOps companies, who are leveraging automation in every step of their delivery pipeline. And they’re deploying to production 8,000 times a day with zero downtime and they rebuild their live VMs every 12 seconds. Great work.

Unfortunately the rest of the world sits outside those two extremes (recall Rogers Diffusion of Innovation Curve, principally the early and late majority). A lot of organisations simply don’t know what Agile and DevOps are, where they’ve come from, what the point is, and most importantly, how to do it.

So here’s what happens:

  • To become agile they “go scrum” and hire a scrum master or ten
  • To be “DevOps” they automate their environments and deployments

Why do they do this? I suspect it’s a number of reasons, but largely it’s because there’s a shit tonne of material out there that supports the view that Scrum is the best agile framework and DevOps means automating stuff.

The results are fairly predictable:

If you “do scrum” instead of understanding agile, you get what’s called Agile Cargo Cult. That basically ends up with people doing all these great scrum practices and ceremonies, but things don’t actually improve, and eventually they start to get worse, so to rectify the situation, teams apply the scrum ceremonies and practices with even greater rigour. Obviously this gets them nowhere, and eventually people within the organisation start to believe “Agile doesn’t work here”, blissfully unaware that they were never actually “agile” in the first place.

Organisations who think DevOps is about automating the Ops tasks just end up “slinging shit quicker”. If you don’t sort out the real problems in your system, you’re basically just making localised optimisations. There’s just no point. If your problem is that your software is hard to run, scale, operate and maintain – don’t try to automate your deployments.

Also, many DevOps initiatives, in my experience, are either driven by Dev, or Ops, but not usually both. And that says it all really.

So, for a lot of organisations who are new to this whole Agile and DevOps thing, there’s clearly an easy path sucking a lot of people in. And that’s a shame, because it results in a lot of frustration. It would be easy to laugh at these organisations, but it’s not their fault. Scrum has become a self-serving framework, seemingly more interested in its own popularity than its effectiveness, and DevOps is anything to anyone.

So, in summary, don’t do scrum, be agile. And don’t confuse DevOps with automating the Ops work.