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Hol-Agile: Using ITIL’s Guiding Principles to Succeed in a VUCA World


Learn why using ITIL’s guiding principles and Hol-Agile can help enterprises thrive in a VUCA World.

A recent post on the Back2ITSM Facebook group talked about ITIL4 and stated that the Guiding Principles were the best part of ITIL4. Well, technically, they were introduced in ITIL 3, but that’s beside the point. And yes, the principles are best when they are all used together, and it isn’t enough to be Agile.

Agility is Critical in a VUCA World

There’s no question that VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) make the business world challenging. Companies used to invest in long planning cycles at considerable expense, building five-year strategic plans and sticking to them. But as disruptive new businesses like Uber and Airbnb, along with COVID, taught us, there’s no guarantee that the business environment will be the same in five years as it is today. It’s the rigid long-term planning, combined with an inability to change that have strangled businesses: Kodak who never dreamed film and developing materials wouldn’t be needed, Blockbuster who couldn’t adjust their business model to take advantage of new technologies, and thousands of small businesses out edged between Amazon and COVID without the ability to adjust and be successful.

Agility is the ability to dance with chaos and perform well. It’s how local care services compete with UBER by releasing apps that enable their customers to arrange a ride and pay for it. It’s how small hotels and motels list boutique rooms on Airbnb to compete with mega-companies. And it is how small businesses succeed by putting their products up on Amazon, Etsy, and eBay, finding entirely new markets during COVID. Agility is the ability to make small changes quickly, growing them into bigger and bigger programs.

Things Fall Apart in a VUCA World

But what happens when agile organizations lose their way? When do the small changes start taking different directions? Or when the direction is lost because no one remembers what they were trying to achieve? This is where the need to think holistically becomes critical. Organizations need to keep the big picture in mind as they find ways to progress iteratively and in an agile manner. Without a holistic vision of where the effort is going, it’s possible to introduce the wrong changes and derail the longer-term effort.

Thus, “hol-agile” is about not making agile the only tool in the toolbox but using all of the guiding principles to think holistically while acting in an agile manner. 

  • Hol-agile is about knowing what to do to deliver value and having a loose plan in place that sets the direction needed to achieve it.
  • Hol-agile is about assessing the organization’s readiness to engage in that plan and starting there with a program of small changes to reach the desired goal.
  • Hol-agile is about progressing iteratively through those small changes, but with feedback to ensure things are working correctly (and changing the approach when they’re not)
  • Hol-agile is about working together towards a common goal, making sure everyone is being informed of progress.
  • Hol-agile is thinking and working holistically overall, keeping the big picture in mind as you deploy changes in an agile manner.
  • Hol-agile should be simple and practical: do what makes sense and no more, don’t overcomplicate processes or solutions.
  • Hol-agile also means keeping the big picture and growth in mind: optimizing and automating so you can scale.

Hol-agile is a fun way to think of the guiding principles as you work to adopt best practices in an organization.

The Guiding Principles of ITIL4 Can Help VUCA 

The ITIL4 Guiding principles, as shown below, embody the thinking just outlined. Before getting into all the intricacies of a best practice framework, an organization can see good progress by adopting these principles and working on mastering them, embedding them in the culture before moving on. Then, starting where they are, they can look at gaps in their effectiveness and determine which best practice frameworks might help them. It might be ITIL4 but could be any of several other frameworks that are equally or more effective, depending on the gaps the organization is experiencing.

The Business Value of Hol-Agile

In a VUCA world, adopting the Guiding Principles and the ways in which they provide a hol-agile approach starts with a focus on value. IT often gets mired in its own goals and objectives and forgets to engage with the business and focus on what’s of value to them. If they transition to a hol-agile approach that focuses first on the value IT can bring to the company, a tremendous paradigm shift can occur. Instead of looking at how robotics can help IT fulfill requests, IT is looking at the repetitive tasks performed by the business and how robotics (or other technology) could improve the business. The remaining guiding principles could be leveraged to gain effectiveness until IT can meet business needs. Then, IT can iteratively progress to other aspects of best practice frameworks as needed.

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