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What matters is "DevOps vs. ITIL" for your team?

In the IT industry, there are a lot of opinions about DevOps and ITIL—and those opinions tend to pit the two IT approaches against each other. In many minds, you’re either an ITIL house or a DevOps house. It’s black or white. One of the other. You have to choose.

But while these debates make for interesting reading in the tech news cycle, this all-or-nothing approach can be costly, confusing, and unhelpful for practitioners and their businesses. Because the truth is there is no all-or-nothing. No side to pick.

DevOps and ITIL are not mutually exclusive. They can be complementary approaches—each bringing its own benefits to the table. Agility and collaboration. Process and control. A mixed approach can benefit from the strengths of both.

What is DevOps?

DevOps is the practice of bridging the gap between development and operations. Its core principles are open communication, collaboration, and shared goals.

As our experts explain:

“Unlike frameworks like ITIL, there is no ‘official’ document of best practices for a DevOps team. But we can generally agree that, at its core, DevOps is about delivering business value to an organization by breaking down organizational silos, increasing transparency, and fostering open communication between developers and IT operations teams.”

What is ITIL?

ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) is a set of guidelines for IT service management. The guidelines cover best practices and tried-and-true processes for everything from incident management to problem management to change management.

Misconceptions about DevOps vs. ITIL

1. DevOps can replace ITIL

“We don’t do ITIL anymore—we’re a DevOps shop now!” If you’ve been in tech for any length of time, you’ve probably heard someone make this proclamation.

The problem is that it simply isn’t true. Because while IT departments may move away from ITIL training and process silos, they still need to do some aspects of service management. Operations. Support. Governance. Costing. These are essential business functions and DevOps doesn’t give us process guidelines the way that ITIL does, so chances are even shops that crow from the rooftops that they’re DevOps-only now are still following some ITIL processes or principles.

2. DevOps = continuous development, integration, and automated delivery

While DevOps does include continuous development, integration, and automated delivery, that’s not all it has to offer and it’s not necessarily the core of the practice. Most of the context and ethos behind DevOps is simply about moving away from old divisions and working together with mutual respect and no blame culture.

That’s it. Collaboration. Shared goals. Mutual respect. No more blame games.

That collaborative approach can improve all manner of business metrics even if your team hasn’t fully embraced automated delivery or continuous development yet.

3. ITIL/ITSM is always documentation-heavy with onerous processes that slow teams down

There are way too many instances of ITIL being misappropriated as “the rules,” rather than guidance, open for interpretation.

The truth is that ITIL is what your team makes it. If it feels rigid, that was a choice made somewhere along the way. And it’s a choice that can change.

ITIL is best seen as a starting point for understanding complex IT processes that most businesses have to manage. It’s a road map, a guidebook. Not meant to be the only way, but meant to give us the context we need to make decisions and run our IT teams as effectively and efficiently as possible.

When ITIL is seen as a rulebook, what usually follows is piles of documentation and bureaucracy. But when ITIL is used as a guideline, it can streamline operations instead of bogging them down.

4. ITIL/ITSM is only for large companies

It’s true that large enterprises have led the charge on ITIL. But that doesn’t mean small businesses don’t or can’t benefit from the guidelines. Businesses of all sizes need to know how to handle change management, major incidents, and knowledge management, among other foundational business tasks that ITIL lays a foundation for.

Cool start-ups have to organize their IT teams at some point. Otherwise, they fail to scale. Same for mid-sized businesses. Even a two-person self-funded app project needs an on-call plan and incident management strategy. Otherwise, a single outage could take it out for good.

Use cases for DevOps and ITIL

The use cases for DevOps and ITIL are pretty endless, but here are a few examples of the different issues they can tackle and how in some cases you need both approaches to reach the best solution.

Speed up new releases with DevOps

DevOps’ agile approach offers both speed and risk management benefits, as small, regular releases are both quicker to move through development and easier to roll back or fix in case of an incident.

Reduce IT service desk calls with ITSM

The ITSM best practice of knowledge management means the IT team is creating documentation while they’re solving problems. This has the potential to greatly reduce the workload on the service desk by providing self-service options for customers both internal and external.

Prevent incidents with ITIL and DevOps

Combine the tried-and-true processes of incident management found in ITIL with the DevOps focus on automating review processes, conducting blameless postmortems, and taking a “you built it, you run it” approach and you’ve got a recipe for fewer and shorter incidents.

Get to the bottom of incidents with DevOps

One of the most valuable things DevOps brings to the table is a culture of blamelessness. This doesn’t mean engineers don’t take responsibility for mistakes. But it does mean they can speak honestly about those mistakes, have more transparent conversations about what went wrong, and do so without fear of getting fired.

This cultural shift helps teams get to the bottom of incidents faster and focus on real fixes instead of just targeting an individual as the problem in a chain of events leading to an incident.

Reduce customer confusion with ITIL

SLAs (Service Level Agreements) are an ITIL best practice. Because they outline what you have—and haven’t—promised in a product or to a customer, they can help reduce confusion and cut back on complaints.

Optimize your processes with DevOps and ITIL

ITIL is the IT process Bible. It’s been around a long time and has evolved to fit the ever-changing needs of the industry.

When coming up with your own processes, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. ITIL provides a tried-and-true starting point.

And where DevOps can add improvements—with blameless postmortems, automation, more collaborative approaches, etc.—ITIL’s processes can be tweaked to make them even better.

Use cases for DevOps and ITIL

As top-performing teams already know, IT needs elements of both ITIL and DevOps.

DevOps is so much more than automated development. It’s a collaboration and a blame-free culture. It’s a practice that makes space for teams to do their best work together instead of working in silos on competing goals.

Likewise, ITIL is so much more than documentation. It doesn’t have to slow teams down or create unnecessary bureaucracy headaches. The core practices are sound and proven—and when approached in an agile way, they can streamline instead of clogging up the IT pipeline.

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