IT groups often struggle to manage the introduction of systems into production. Challenges they face include planning for releases into production, preparing the business and IT, creating and executing test plans, and so on. The better this is done, the fewer issues there will be once these systems go live. What many IT organizations do not realize is that 78-80% of availability incidents stem from human error and many would never have entered production had better controls and processes been in place.
In the past, many IT organizations had to evolve their own processes to properly manage these activities. Typically, the value of an organization's processes depended on the perspectives of IT leadership. Today, rather than relying only on internal knowledge, IT management can use the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) version 3 and its perspective on IT service management (ITSM).
The benefits of ITIL v3 service transition
Fundamental to ITIL is the understanding that IT provides services that enable the business. For those services to yield the necessary elements of value creation and protection, a lifecycle perspective of strategy, design, transition, operation and continual service improvement is needed. The ITIL v3 service transition lifecycle stage provides guidance to IT organizations seeking to deploy new or changed services into operations or even retire existing services out of production.
We want to ensure that IT understands the goals of the business in order to design the correct services -- hardware, software, people, documentation, etc. -- to meet the organization's objectives. IT must then ensure that the service is transitioned into production correctly so it will operate as intended. A service is irrelevant unless it can actually operate in production and the business can make use of it. With continual service improvement, we must always seek for means to improve the services that IT provides, and this includes the processes as well as the hardware and software.
The goals of the ITIL v3 service transition lifecycle involve preparing customers and users use the service and IT to support the service, while also ensuring the service enters production according to the service design plans. It's this addition or change of services that we will focus on rather than retirement for the sake of brevity. The scope of the ITIL v3 service transition is significant, and what it aims to accomplish is very important. In this article, I review how the various processes in service transition help accomplish its intended goals.
In ITIL v2, release management was a single process, but truth be told, it had the potential to be the single largest, most complex process with multiple sub-processes intended to accommodate the management of releases into production. Thankfully, ITIL v3 splits release management into a four processes and provides much more guidance. Those processes are transition planning and support; release and deployment; service validation and testing; and evaluation.
In addition, the ITIL v3 service transition lifecycle still contains the familiar processes of change management and service asset and configuration, with the latter being a revamped version of v2's configuration management. There's also have a new complementary process relating to knowledge management.
The following is a brief overview of each process in the ITIL v3 service transition lifecycle.
Transition planning and support: the planning and coordination necessary to properly introduce the functionality specified in service design into production. This stage defines the transition strategy, prepares for service transition, develops the service transition plan and supports stakeholders.
Change management: Every change to a service carries one or more elements of risk. Change management helps balance the risk of making a change against the risk of not making a change. As such, it involves reviewing and approving requests for change (RFC) as well as scheduling and communicating changes. This process spans the entire service lifecycle.
Service asset and configuration management: provides the logical view of IT's world to the other processes. Notably, it provides accurate information about configuration items and their relationships to one another. Without change management, this data would become out of synch with reality. When working properly, all other processes exchange information with it.
Release and deployment management: builds, tests and delivers services into production that meet requirements. This includes the creation of release plans and definition of release packages as well as managing organizational change, risks, and knowledge transfer. In short, it improves the likelihood that the business will obtain value as expected from services.
Service validation and testing: responsible for the creation and execution of test plans that validate that requirements have been met. This includes the service being fit for purpose (the business purpose it was designed for) and fit for use (that there will be appropriate levels of availability, capacity, security and continuity, which are why those processes are also referred to as "warranty processes"). The service must meet the design requirements of both categories.
Evaluation: This process can be used generically to independently verify whether something meets requirements. Essentially, the process creates a test plan and formally evaluates predicted and actual results. The output is then reviewed with the appropriate stakeholders to make management decisions. For example, evaluation could take the output from service validation and testing and compare it to the service design requirements and create an evaluation report. Findings such as deviations between design and the current state of the service are then reviewed with customers to determine if the service is approved, if it's conditionally approved pending some changes or if it is outright rejected.
Knowledge management: Underpinning ITIL v3 is a strongly held belief that IT needs to focus on improving the flow of data to information to knowledge and on to wisdom -- to constantly strive to improve the quality of decision making to yield a better organization. Knowledge management courses through the entire lifecycle of service management and is intended to capture and share knowledge between processes and organizational units. Without such a process, a great deal of valuable knowledge is lost.
In closing, organizations seeking to better manage the introduction of new and changed services into production will be well served to review the ITIL v3 service transition lifecycle phase to determine how best to design and implement processes that will enable them to achieve their goals. As always, ITIL is a good source of reference material, but the hard part -- thinking of how to make use of it in your organization to get results that matter -- is still up to you.