The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

The Agile Flywheel

with 8 comments

Readers of The Agile Executive have been exposed to the “All In!” strategy used by Erik Huddleston to transform the software engineering process at Inovis and make it uniquely streamlined. In this post we follow up on the original discussion of the subject to explore the effect of Agile on IT Operations. As the title implies, Agile at Inovis served as a flywheel which created the momentum required to transform IT Operations and blend the best of Agile with the best of ITIL.

This guest post was written by Ray Riescher – a Six Sigma Black Belt, Agile evangelist and a business process change agent. Ray is currently responsible for business process management and IT governance at Inovis, a  leading provider of business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce services, in Alpharetta, GA

Here is Ray:

When we converted to an Agile Scrum software methodology some 24 months ago, I never imagined the lessons I’d learn and the organizational change that would be driven by the adoption of Scrum.

I’ve lived by the philosophy that managing a business is managing its processes and that all of those processes, especially the operational processes, are interconnected.  However, I don’t think I was fully prepared for effect Agile Scrum would have on our company operations.

We dove head first into Agile Scrum and adapted to it very quickly. However, it wasn’t until we landed a very large and demanding customer that Scrum was really put to the test. New enhancements, new features, and new configurations were all needed ASAP.  Scrum delivered with rapid development and deployment in the form of releases that were moving into production with amazing velocity. Our release cadence hit warp drive and at one point we experienced several months where multiple teams’ production releases were deploying at the end of every two week sprint.

We’ve subscribed to the ITIL service support processes for Release, Change, Incident, Problem and Configuration Management. ITIL has served us well, giving us a common language and a clear understanding of process boundaries.

As the Scrum release cadence kicked in, the downstream ITIL processes had to keep up, adapt, and support the dynamics of rapid production changes.  What happened was enlightening and maybe a bit ground breaking.

The Release Management process had to reassess its reliance on artifacts for gate keeping. The levels of sign offs had to be streamlined, the heavyweight deployment documentation had to be lightened, yet the process still had to control the production release to ensure deployment success.  The rapidity of the release cycles meant that maintenance window downtime would be experienced too frequently by customers, so “rolling bounce” deployment strategies were devised and implemented.

Change requests could no longer wait for a weekly Change Management review board to approve and schedule the changes.  Change management risk models had to be relied on for accurate detection of risky changes.

Early on in this dynamic environment, we weren’t quite as good as we needed to be and our Incident Management process was put to the test.  Faster releases meant more opportunity for problems with service degradation and outages. This reality manifested itself more frequently than we’d ever experienced. Monitoring, detecting and repairing became paramount for environment stability and customer satisfaction.

What we found out was that we became very agile at this break/fix game. We developed a small team approach to managing incidents and leveraged the ITIL Problem Management process to rapidly perform root cause analysis. Once the true root cause was determined, a fix would be defined and deployed. Sometimes the fix was software related and went through the Scrum process, sometimes the fix was hardware related and went through the Configuration Management process, other times it was more operational and the fix took the form of training or corrections to procedural documentation.

The point is we’ve become agile across the entire IT spectrum. Whether it’s development via Scrum, the velocity with which we now operate our ITIL processes, or the integrated break/fix operational support processes, we are performing all of these with an agile mindset and discipline. We have small teams, working on priorities, and completing what needs to be completed now.

Scrum set the flywheel in motion and caused the rest of the IT process life cycle to respond.  ITIL’s processes still form the solid core of service support and we’ve improved the processes’ capability to handle intense work velocity. The organization adapted by developing unprecedented speed in the ability to deliver production fixes and to solve root cause problems with agility.

What I think we are witnessing is a manifestation of Agile Business Service Management; a holistic agile methodology running across the IT process spectrum that’s delivering eye popping change and tremendous results.

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8 Responses

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  1. [...] The Agile Flywheel « The Agile Executive "Scrum set the flywheel in motion and caused the rest of the IT process life cycle to respond. ITIL’s processes still form the solid core of service support and we’ve improved the processes’ capability to handle intense work velocity. The organization adapted by developing unprecedented speed in the ability to deliver production fixes and to solve root cause problems with agility." (tags: agility project-management business-culture disintermediation-in-action innovation communities-of-practice management) [...]

  2. [...] streamline and transform our company’s software engineering process. Here is an excerpt from The Agile Flywheel. We dove head first into Agile Scrum and adapted to it very quickly. However, it wasn’t until we [...]

  3. [...] The Agile Flywheel – a short experience report describing how one company melded Scrum with their mature ITIL processes. [...]

  4. [...] a comment » In The Agile Flywheel, colleague Ray Riescher describes how velocity in dev drove corresponding velocity in ops: Scrum [...]

  5. I thought that the state of the art for deployment velocity was about 50x per day using Continuous Deployment (an extension of Continuous Integration).

    This fits into ITIL nicely, but not as it’s envisioned by many practitioners as many of the SD functions evaporate and CIs definitely aren’t just pieces of technology.

    Tim Coote

    June 28, 2010 at 9:39 am

    • Great observation, Tim.

      The ITIL processes really provide a fundamental control structure for supporting the velocity. However,, you do have to adapt and/or automate the processes to meet the velocity. That’s where it helps to creatively apply the “art” of process design and use technology like agentless configuration management systems. Both can greatly help extend control against a high deployment velocity.

      In our case we’ve used risk models for Change Management and Release Management to help the ITIL processes adapt to the velocity.

      Ray Riescher

      June 28, 2010 at 1:58 pm

  6. [...] Ray Riescher berichtet von seiner Erfahrung beim Zusammenbringen von agilem Vorgehen und ITSM: „Bridging Scrum and ITIL„ [...]

  7. [...] 2. Unified processes – The important theme of DevOps is that the entire development-to-operations lifecycle must be viewed as one end-to-end process. Individual methodologies can be followed for individual segments of that processes (such as Agile on one end and Visible Ops on the other), so long as those processes can be plugged together to form a unified process (and, in turn, be managed from that unified point-of-view). Much like the question of measurement and incentives, each organization will have slightly different requirements for achieving that unified process. Here is an excellent post by Six Sigma Blackbelt Ray Riescher on his experience bridging Scrum and ITIL. [...]

    What is DevOps? - dev2ops

    September 26, 2012 at 12:14 am


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