Agile Infrastructures: The Future of IT Operations Happening Now

For organizations to adapt at the rate the market demands, the IT infrastructure of an organization must be an Agile infrastructure. Learn how to get there.

I’ve never really been excited about the Hype-Cycle of Technology. However, in order for organizations to adapt at the rate the market demands, the organization’s IT infrastructure must be able to adapt at the same rate… in other words… it must be an Agile infrastructure.

Some common reasons organizations need Agile Infrastructures

  • CIOs are largely responsible for the burden of Digital Transformation of any organization.
  • Rate of change facing IT Operations due to rate of change in delivering new or updated products to markets, and the emphasis on user experience and self-service portals.
  • Rate of change in product development technologies.

Typically when somebody mentions the word Agile, instantly most folks think of a product development framework. Sometimes when somebody mentions the phrase Agile Infrastructure folks think of the Developer Operations (DevOps) supporting the software development teams. That is not what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is an IT Infrastructure and the management practices encompassing it that creates one or more of the following:

  • Ability for development staff to setup and/or reset environments to known states through Web-based self-service portal.
  • Provisioning automation that takes into account current the inventory of what capacity and capabilities are already available.
  • Seamless integration between legacy and dedicated infrastructures, and private/public cloud infrastructures regardless of the platform or language.
  • The ability to centrally manage an inventory of physical and virtual system resources Near-real-time tracking through a graphical interface.
  • Reservation and deployment of environments based on known business cycles like enrollment periods to deal with surge.
  • Simple, drill-down system resource reporting of utilization.

This is no easy feat and often takes years to implement. It also takes a disciplined approach to managing the organization’s IT infrastructure, possibly even more discipline than that of a traditional infrastructure. Something that is useful, it to still use a common vernacular for describing this discipline. I still use ITIL®, the IT Infrastructure Library, and have found it useful for mapping the transformation from a traditional infrastructure to an Agile infrastructure.

The 2011 version of the ITIL® “provides a framework of Best Practice guidance for IT Service Management and since its creation, ITIL® has grown to become the most widely accepted approach to IT Service Management in the world.” Okay - the important thing to understand for this discussion is that the ITIL® contains five core books to cover each stage of the service lifecycle, from initial definition and analysis of customer wants and needs through the transition of a product and its associated services into an operational state with support.

The five core knowledge areas are:

  • Service Strategy
  • Service Design
  • Service Transition
  • Service Operation
  • Continuous Service

It turns out that a combination of several Agile practices and frameworks fit nicely with the five core knowledge areas of the ITIL®. What follows is a set of tables to help you gauge where Agile practices and frameworks fit into each knowledge areas. The first table maps the five knowledge areas to applicable Agile practices. The second table maps the five knowledge areas to the most naturally fitting Agile management frameworks.

Please note that these lists weren’t meant to be all-inclusive, nor do I think that for each knowledge area that there is a one-size-fits-all Agile management framework. The results were pulled out of coaching plans and notes from various engagements over the past decade.

Relationship of ITIL® and an Agile Infrastructure

Context Agile Practices
Service Strategy Agile Portfolio Management
Agile Product Development
Lean Architectures
Service Design Lean Architectures
Backlog Development and Grooming
Release Planning
Iteration Planning
Story Mapping
Acceptance Test Driven Development
Behavior Driven Development
Service Transition Automated Testing
Continuous Integration
Continuous Deployment
Service Operation Continuous Deployment
Continual Service Improvement Agile Retrospectives

Methods of Managing an Agile Infrastructure

Context Agile Practices
Service Strategy Agile Portfolio Management
Agile Product Development
SAFe or Eliassen Scaled Agile Framework
Service Design Scrum/Kanban Management Framework
Service Transition Scrum/Kanban Management Framework
Service Operation Kanban Management Framework
Continual Service Improvement Agile Retrospectives

Financial Services Case Study


One of Eliasen’s Financial Services clients is organized by vertical “lines of business” to support the product offerings that the company offers the marketplace. These lines of business are supported by horizontal shared services such as infrastructure and data warehousing.

The client’s IT department is one of these horizontal lines of business. They support the lines of business by preparing development environments and other necessary functionality. This includes setting up hardware, network configuration, virtualized servers, etc.

Eliassen Group Agile Infrastructure Practice Approach

Eliassen Group had two coaches working within the client’s IT Infrastructure group. After analyzing the structure of the organization and the support needed, a Kanban approach was recommended as having the greatest value to the organization.

Through the implementation of Kanban, the client’s IT Infrastructure group was able to get visibility into their support metrics and baseline the cycle time that it took to provide their services to the lines of business they supported.

Value Realized to Date

By changing the organizational structure and implementing techniques such as work visualization, work in progress (WIP) limits and Kaizen principles, Eliassen Group’s Agile Coaches were able to impact:

  • Cycle time – For example, execution time on a server set up went from 40 days to 3 days.
  • Alignment to the business – Through organizational change, the client’s IT Infrastructure group groups become more aligned to supporting the particular lines of business.
  • Work in Progress (WIP) limits – A true understanding of the capacity of the teams was understood for the first time, which resulted in smarter business decisions being made
  • Team Morale – Through confidential surveys team morale was reported to have improved due to a clearer understanding of individual roles and work limits.

What about your experience?

We have been successfully shifting the IT Infrastructures of Fortune 500 organizations with deeply entrenched cultures and long cycle times to lean and Agile teams. The key benefit of Agile infrastructure is that teams are able to change priorities quickly while dropping cycle times. What has your experience been? To learn more, evaluate where you are today using our Enterprise Agile Maturity Matrix, read about our approach to Agile retrospectives, or explore one of our many Agile consulting services.

ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark, and a Registered Community Trade Mark, of the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and is registered in the US Patent and Trade Mark Office.