Agile operations: closing the loop and delivering on the agile promise

foto dave 2013Agile is hot. Scrum is booming. For quite some time already. As it originates from software development, we mostly see agile methods, Scrum in particular, implemented within development teams. However, in order to actually realize the agile promise, IT operations (including support) will have to take its position in the ‘agile lifecycle’.

Agile Interruptus

We see Agile practices enrich ever more IT and business functions, such as architecture, testing and business process improvement. Nevertheless, too often IT operations is not included in this agile expansion. Agile teams usually consist of software developers, a Scrum Master (facilitator), a Product Owner (business representative), and some occasional testers. Input from operations’ perspective is rarely assured in these teams. As a direct consequence, IT falls short in fulfilling the entire delivery chain, which transforms agile into ‘agile interruptus’: three-weekly, weekly, or even daily sprints are moved to production with undesired delays, missing out on valuable user and operational feedback. Discussions on documentation, acceptance criteria for operations and support, maintainability and rigid release processes lead to waste in terms of time, misunderstanding and user dissatisfaction. That is why it is no surprise that operations (hence IT) is considered as a hindering factor, instead of a service-oriented enabler of business growth and changes.

As a matter of fact, operations has become so used to waterfall deliveries, that it tends to implement its own improvements in the same way. This causes assessments and improvement projects to be too lengthy, and their effects to become visible too late. In addition, operations traditionally hold on to rules, procedures and frameworks too tightly, leaving too little room for creativity and entrepreneurship. By applying agile principles and techniques, such as multidisciplinary teams, visual management (eg. Kanban) and Scrum (eg sprints), in operations, it can finally get rid of its bureaucratic image.


Derived from and in line with the Agile Manifesto, four basic principles can be drawn up specifically for Agile Operations. As in the original manifesto, the rule applies here: ‘right’ is still important, yet ‘left’ is more important. For instance, compliance with the SLA is still important, but a satisfied customer is more important. The basic principles are:
•Customer satisfaction over SLA compliance
•Attitude & collaboration over certification
•Focus on results over focus on activities
•Adaptivity over procedures

Good Practices

Now, how do these principles come to life in actual practices. Here are some examples I have seen working at several organizations:
•Appointing and mandating an Operations Owner. Agile teams have Product Owners as business representatives. The Operations Owner is part of the Agile team, and will optimize the input and interests of operations during the sprints. Topics include software maintainability, error traceability, knowledge assurance, etc.
•(Non-standard) incidents and changes are visualized on the Kanban board, structuring the Agile team’s workflows.The Operations Owner assures the input and fulfilment with the required priority, in concurrence with the Product Owner.
•Requirements from operations and support perspective are included in the Definition of Done. During the subsequent sprints the team can refer to this, but foremost this provides the team with a sound understanding of the organizational interests after go-live.
•The implementation of CSI (Continual Service Improvement) is enriched with agile principles and techniques. Service and process improvements take place incrementally, are visualized using Kanban and, most importantly, show a high degree of empowerment during identification and realization.

Above that, several best practices are available with regard to release and test automation, estimating and control in Agile environments, flexible resource management, etc. Of course, as much as with the renowned frameworks, it is not a matter of rigidly implementing all available Agile techniques. Instead, organization and competence development should be combined with any useful technique (cherry picking), in order to facilitate the organization in moving towards the reliable delivery of Agile IT services.


-Dave van Herpen

Management Consultant at Sogeti Netherlands

Company website:


Dave van Herpen will be speaking at our Application LifeCycle Management  conference 2014 on the 27 February”

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