Agile methodologies have become mainstream and more than 90% of the organizations had indicated that they are practising Agile in some form or the other (Version One, State of Agile Survey, 2016). In this post, I will highlight how a specific Agile methodology is used in the infrastructure space to manage routine operations work.
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In the infrastructure domain, there are not many organizations which are using Agile as it is not easy to implement the scaled Agile framework (Scrum) as the nature of work is more from the operational perspective as compared to the product development space where the focus is on knowledge work. However, in large enterprise organizations (> 5000 members), if an organization has to become agile, all the divisions will sooner or later need to focus on Agile. The organization does not derive much benefit if only one division in the organization is focused on Agile and all the other divisions are not being agile. Hence, initially as part of the Agile transformation, the product development division adopts Agile and subsequently, other support divisions also focus on exploring Agile and how to implement Agile for their activities.
With this background context, I would like to explain how the Infrastructure teams which are engaged in operational activities focus on implementing Agile in their projects/activities. Taking the specific example of a Unix Server Support team which is offering support for L1, L2
activities (L1, L2 and L3
– different and increasingly varying and higher levels of support where the team focuses on providing support to the customer, e.g. – L1 – call center support
, L2 – Basic configuration and minor changes
, L3 – Deep Dive and resolution of problems
). Generally, the Infrastructure teams follow the ITIL Best Practices to ensure that their services are providing optimal support to the customer (24*7 support – also enabling follow the sun approach). In this case, when we are implementing Agile practices for these teams, I have observed that Kanban practices and a good Kanban framework help the team integrate ITIL with Agile practices.
These teams are focused on operations work which is routine and is undertaken daily through the implementation of a help desk support system (Service Now, Impulse, Jump, Remedy and other tools) utilizing tickets that are raised by people and non – humans (computer programs). The tickets are raised automatically by computer programs (incidents), raised by humans (mostly requests), problems (raised by humans), change requests/ctasks (change tasks) by humans. Hence, ITIL implementation provides a good focus on the key areas – Incident Management, Problem Management, Change Management, Help Desk and related areas. In such a scenario, the implementation of Kanban helps to integrate ITIL and Agile and the team does not feel the extra burden of the Agile implementation. Kanban easily dovetails with the existing ITIL framework and the team is able to implement both Kanban and ITIL at the same time. This ensures that the team is meeting the organizational requirements and at the same time, the team is also able to implement Agile as per the requirements.
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The routine operational work of these teams is considered as one big project focused on delivering operational support and meeting the service level agreements for the customer. Kanban is basically a framework for managing the process flow and change in a visual manner. It starts with the as-is state and slowly builds on incremental improvements to improve the process over a period of time. Hence, it becomes easier to start with the already existing ITIL processes which the teams are already following in their day to day work. The Kanban system focuses on visualizing the process flow and identifying the bottlenecks in the process and how they could be eliminated so that the process becomes faster from concept to cash. In this case, it derives the basic inspiration from Lean principles which are also focused on identifying and maximizing value, while minimizing waste at the same time.
The focus on implementing Kanban frameworks for the Operations team in the Infrastructure domain leads to the following benefits–
- The team can manage its process flow with the already existing systems in place (e.g. lean, ITIL and other process models/frameworks).
- Workload Management, Capacity Adaptation, and Capability/Competency Improvement in the teams.
- It is easier for the team to implement Agile practices as Kanban focuses on starting with the existing processes instead of making any drastic changes in the basic process.
- The team is able to visualize the basic work through the technique of value stream mapping (VSM) and it is able to eliminate bottlenecks using the Theory of Constraints (ToC).
- The team is able to identify the core values and focus on how to enhance customer delight.
- Implementing Agile practices leads to improved team motivation and team morale.
- Focus on working at a sustainable pace instead of working in death march projects which leads to quicker burnout and increased attrition.
- It helps the team to visualize the workflows which enables the team to focus on out-of-the-box thinking and innovative techniques to improve lead times of their processes.
- Simple metrics like – lead time, cumulative flow diagrams and Yamazumi charts help the team to focus on their processes and check how they could fine tune their processes further.
- Lessons learnt as part of the Kanban meetings and workshops enable the team to focus on continuous improvement.
- The focus on Kanban practices enables the team to set up a robust ecosystem in the organization that engenders continuous learning and enables the organization to build the skill level of its employees.
- Assimilation of new processes by the team through design thinking and other techniques for providing operational support helps the team to improve customer satisfaction.
Thus, we can observe that the choice of selecting Kanban as an Agile implementation methodology for the Operations Support Teams in the Infrastructure domain is a prudent option as it helps the team to continue following its existing processes and at the same time also implement Agile practices in their projects with minimal conflicts. In future posts, I will highlight how we could go about implementing Kanban and Agile practices in the Infrastructure Operations Support teams, providing support to the product development teams in the organization.