On the surface, it would seem the two concepts are diametrically opposed. However, as both have evolved and been integrated into the workplace, the distance between the two has closed. Here’s an argument for how to make both work for you.

by Nancy Van Elsacker Louisnord
June 21, 2021

If you’ve ever worked with ITIL or agile in the past, you might be wondering how the two can coexist. After all, ITIL provides a rigid framework for processes, while agile is a philosophy that fosters flexibility and adaptability, and encourages moving beyond structured frameworks. However, with the release of ITIL 4, agile is now a methodology baked into the recipe for service management success, so to speak.

Let’s take a look at some of these changes and the ways to help ITIL and agile go from not-quite enemies to friends.

ITIL v3/2011 and Agile Service Management: A Look Back

Within ITIL v3/2011, there seemed to be a clash in the values of the agile manifesto and ITIL processes. Before the release of ITIL 4, there were some significant differences in ITIL v3/2011 and agile. For example, ITIL attaches significance to everything that the agile mindset believes to be less important. In agile, individuals and interactions take precedence over processes and tools. On the other end, ITIL v3/2011 focuses almost exclusively on process descriptions and systems with a goal of creating qualitative services offered.

There’s also the fact that the ITIL v3/2011 methodology prefers comprehensive documentation – not to mention that ITIL v3/2011 guidelines fill five books with a total of 1,300 pages meant to explain the 26 ITILv3.

Even still, agile service management and ITIL could be done with ITIL v3/2011, it just takes a bit more creativity and flexibility. Remember the agile methodology does not tell you to get rid of your processes and tools; it rather says individuals and interactions take precedence.

Changes in ITIL 4 to Become More Agile

Now for the most important thing to know: how agile and ITIL 4 have moved beyond a timid friendship and into a burgeoning relationship.

As service management shifted toward the agile methodology, ITIL followed the trend. ITIL 4 evolved to reflect the industry’s shift to agile practices and ways of working. The focus of ITIL 4 shifted to value delivery, making it a better companion to agile methodologies. Suddenly, it is no longer ITIL vs. agile, but agile with ITIL.

Agile emphasizes shortening and strengthening feedback loops, and in ITIL 4 this is a key requirement in the Service Value System (SVS).

There are other similarities between the Agile Manifesto and the ITIL 4 Guiding Principles. For example, the Agile Manifesto includes the concept of “customer collaboration over contract negotiation,” and ITIL 4 now includes a guiding principle which states that we should “focus on value; collaborate and promote visibility.”

The Agile Manifesto also includes “responding to change over following a plan.” Similarly, within ITIL 4, a guiding principle includes the need to “progress iteratively with feedback; keep it simple and practical.”

ITIL 4 did not just change the guiding principles, but the processes traditionally associated with ITIL. In ITIL 4, there is a greater emphasis on value co-creation, collaboration, and feedback.

For example: Change Management was renamed Change Enablement, and was redefined as the following: “To maximize the number of successful product and service changes by ensuring that risks are properly assessed, authorizing changes, and managing a change schedule.”

Moving from change management as a process to a practice put more of an emphasis on the idea of responding differently to changes of varying levels of complexity. At the same time, Change Enablement removes the focus on a Change Advisory Board (CAB) because they may introduce delays. In this way, Change Enablement opens the door to more agile ways of working, such as swarming and scrum teams.

Similarly, Incident Management in ITIL 4 now includes the concept of swarming and workarounds. In this way, there is already a focus on agile methodologies built directly into ITIL 4. ITIL 4’s, incident management has natural periods of feedback, collaboration, and swarming.

How Do you Get Started Integrating ITIL and Agile?

You don’t necessarily need to consider “implementing” or “integrating” agile and ITIL as much as you need to create a cultural shift toward agile thinking.

Agile is a mindset, and as such for your team to embrace agile concepts they must begin thinking agile. This means removing overly cumbersome processes that no longer serve a purpose or function for your team, but also remembering not to “throw the baby out with the bath water” so to speak and remove processes from ITIL that are working. This goes back to changing the way of thinking of ITIL vs agile, and instead thinking of which works best without limiting your team to one or the other.

To create a cultural change, you must shift thinking from processes to outcomes, giving people the opportunity to give feedback. That might mean giving employees the chance for more feedback or giving customers more input. You can also create a culture of agile by encouraging continual learning and growth. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving people courses to take but letting them step out of their comfort zone and try something new.

Agile is a way of thinking that, when paired with ITIL, can help teams stay ahead of incidents and problems and help refine the feedback process. There is no need to think it must be “ITIL vs agile” when it can be both.


Nancy Louisnord is the Chief Marketing Officer of EasyVista, responsible for the company’s global and regional marketing programs and product marketing strategy. With more than 14 years of global leadership experience in the ITSM software industry, she is a sought-after presenter at conferences and contributor to several leading industry publications. She is recognized as an HDI TOP25 Thought Leader in Technical Support and Service Management and is an HDI featured contributor. Follow Nancy on Twitter @NancyVElsacker.

Tag(s): supportworld, service quality, best practice, agile, ITIL

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