Blending Agile, Lean, and ITSM

Blending Agile, Lean, and ITSM for Better Business Outcomes

I’m old enough such that my IT career began long before popular IT “movements” or frameworks – whether that be IT management or IT service management (ITSM). Back then, our IT and ITSM best practice was learned through trial and error, and based on the documentation given to us by our suppliers, as well as requests from stakeholders who demanded greater use of technology in business operations.

Then came the “movements” of ITSM, Agile, Lean, DevOps, and many others. It sometimes feels that hardly a month goes by without someone announcing they have the latest new best practice available to revolutionize how corporate IT organizations deliver IT services.

It’s a lot to take in, so how do you choose what to use? How do you weigh up their relative pros and cons? And do you have to use only one?

This blog will help you to answer these and other questions about the best approaches and frameworks to use.

Why Do We Seem to Be on an Endless Quest for New Best Practice?

Everyone wants that ITSM magic bullet. Everyone wants to introduce something that makes life better, but then this happens:

Who wants change?

Source: unknown

It’s usually the result of not involving people in the organizational change early enough (along with failing to dealing with other organizational change management issues).

What if people ARE involved in the organizational change earlier? It’s not impossible, in fact it can be quite easy…

Here’s an idea I’d like to propose. Invite a group of 10-12 people to a one-hour session, hand each person two post-it notes, of two different colors (say red and green, for example), and then tell them:

  • On the red post-it note, write down one thing you don’t like about working here.
  • On the green post-it note, write down one thing you like (or value) about working here.

Then, organize the notes onto two flipcharts.

Amazingly, the post-it notes, and their groupings, in my experience usually show that people want better interactions, more collaboration, better processes but not heavy governance, and the capability to respond to change.  They are defining the desired outcomes of organizational change rather than the means of change.

This is the beginning stages of blending ITSM with other IT management approaches such as:

  • Agile – which is about making things better or introducing agility.
  • Lean – which is about thinking how you can do things differently to do things better.

All three (ITSM, Agile, Lean) strive for value, improvement, and a focus on customers and staff.

So, What If We Took, and Used, All Three?

Not in isolation, of course. I mean that by using some of the Agile techniques, we could make or change things iteratively. Using the Lean techniques, we could keep our eyes on the whole flow and the impact on customers and staff. And ITSM techniques could be used to help with established, best practice ways of working and common sense governance.

We could have our cake, with extra icing, and eat it too!

However, it’s very easy to type this concept out into a blog such as this, but it’s a completely different thing to achieve it without some practical help. So let me outline the art of the possible through a personal example.

Blending Agile, Lean, and ITSM in Action

I once led a team of technology program managers, developers, security personnel, and IT operations and service desk individuals in piloting a program for blending Agile, Lean, and ITSM to resolve a specific business issue – the onboarding of new employees.

The company would hire a new employee, and by the time they arrived 2-3 months later, it would still typically take another eleven days until that person was fully functional in terms of everything they needed to fulfill their new role.

So, using Lean, we set a key metric – our North Star – which we called “You Start Work So You Start Working,” such that any new starter would have everything they need to work from day one. This metric would be our guide as we iteratively changed things to ensure that we were going to not only reduce the time it took to onboard someone, but actually let people work on the day they started – with the right technology, facilities, and HR services.

Then using Agile and Scrum we looked at the way the process worked today, and iteratively kept changing things such that we achieved our goal. Finally, using ITSM we created role profiles and a service catalog to simplify the ordering of things such as access rights, technology, or a desk, with these linked to the HR and facilities processes and tools.

Reflecting on Our Success

It was a team effort and the only thing it really cost us was time – which was good as we had set another goal, based on Lean and Agile, of improving without additional spending. It wasn’t easy but it worked.  In one month, new employees started their new job and already had all that they needed to start working.

Management was impressed and gave us the approval to improve other processes and activities. They of course particularly liked that we were making things better without asking to spend more money.  And we went on to improve in other areas such as:

  • The escalation process for incidents
  • How incidents are passed from Level 1 to other teams or external suppliers
  • The speed of change – removing change approval meetings and automating requests (we called this “automating trust”)

Importantly, the improvement teams saw how, with each sprint, they could devote a portion of their time to improve things.

Within 18 months we had: removed €150m of recurring costs from the technology budget (and with no fired people), improved the customer satisfaction percentage from the 60s to high 90s, increased service quality, and found that our staff were more attentive and retentive.

So not only does the blending of approaches work, it can work extremely well.

Try blending Agile, Lean, and ITSM. If you already have, I’d love to know what you achieved.


Posted by Daniel Breston

Daniel Breston
Daniel Breston

Daniel is an independent IT consultant with over 30 years experience. He has worked at as a director or senior consultant for a variety of organizations with a strong focus on financial services, insurance, high-transaction companies, or small companies beginning to wonder how to scale to the next step. Daniel blends Agile, Lean, DevOps, and ITSM to help businesses get the most from their investments in technology, Daniel is also a well-established speaker, mentor, and trainer, as well as a fellow of the BCS. In addition he is an Associate Consultant at

7 thoughts on “Blending Agile, Lean, and ITSM for Better Business Outcomes”

  1. Pingback: ITSM and DevOps 101: Your Questions Answered -

  2. Avatar Tony Price


    As always great stuff. I really do agree that we can blend best practices to deliver fantastic outcomes but that assumes a willingness to do so. I know most people would just say this is a Management of organisational change challenge (and it is) but we must realise the complexities that this must address. So going back to your question:

    Why do we have an endless quest for new best practices?
    1. Not invented here syndrome
    2. I know better (than best practice) syndrome
    3. Rebellion syndrome (if someone tells me to do something I will always do the opposite)
    4. Vested interests
    5. And the one I can’t explain in a short a snappy way …… take the example of the Law. There are individuals that will always try to find a way around it. So unless the Law continues to change and be updated they will always find a way to get round it. This then creates two situations …..

    1) A completely different approach is established to capture the people who have been getting around the Law

    2) A completely different approach is created by the very people that have been getting around the law to allow them to continue but within the “new law”

    I have seen all of the above in a single organisation (on several occasions) with the added complexity of vendor influence as well and this does create a big challenge. This should not stop people of course as like always there are examples of organisations that do overcome these challenges and I see this predominantly because of:
    1. Great leadership
    2. A true common sense of urgency
    3. Focus on delivering value as opposed to technical solutions
    4. True collaborative culture

    Thanks again Daniel and hopefully you have prompted people to be a bit more open and not just cling to their favourite best practice. Interesting this is why the OpenGroup designed IT4IT in such a way that it does not replace other best practices and allows organisations to use a blend of them…. there strap line is after all “making standards work”


    1. Avatar Daniel Breston

      Hi Tony

      Thanks for the kind words. I think that many look at all of the different things happening and are beginning to wonder where does it stop. Is Open Group or IT4IT another way to sell certification and tools or is it something we can all contribute to and get value from for instance? Best of luck!


      1. Avatar Tony Price

        I totally agree Daniel. Thats why I have been very public in saying do not train everyone in IT4IT (like we did with ITIL) because a) there is no value in doing so b) it will just get the reputation as another way of generating revenue for training providers.

        As for tools it should actually make organisations realise they need less tools and can achieve significant efficiency improvements and cost savings through tooling rationalisation.

        As you know I am a fan of IT4IT – but the reason i am such a fan is I have repeatedly witnessed value being delivered by the organisations who use it and when I say value I mean something the business recognises as value and not just the IT department. I fear the amount of standards and best practices out there often miss this and just focus on adding value to IT rather than the business.

    1. Avatar Daniel Breston

      Thank you Wings2i for your comment. There are other important ones like IT4IT, The Theory of Constraints, SIAM and a host of business movements but I hope I illustrated that blending is the best way forward for all.


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