Introduction to IT methodologies

Agile. Lean. DevOps. These methodologies, once rooted in software development, have now entered the general lexicon in most workplaces. Product, support, and even marketing teams rely on tenets of these methodologies to iterate faster and deliver better customer experiences.

As a member of an IT team, you may find that your organization relies on different methodologies for distinct types of work. Some of these methods are hotly debated — but each has its place depending on the organization you are part of or the type of project you are working on.

At a basic level, methodologies help you structure your work. You are able to take a unified approach so everyone knows what the expectations are for planning new projects and completing tasks. When you are aligned around a consistent set of practices, you can focus on solving the technical problems rather than managing workflow chaos.

The methodology that you use is typically selected by a chief technology officer (CTO) or another company executive. Depending on your role, you may be able to influence key phases within a given method — such as the testing, deployment, or maintenance phases. When you understand the core principles of the methods, you can better evaluate when one may be more suitable than the next.

Common IT methodologies

Some methodologies are unique to a functional area in IT, while others are used across the IT department. This table includes some of the most common methodologies used by development, IT operations, and project-based teams.

Agile

A collection of methodologies that promotes an incremental and iterative approach to work. Agile emphasizes short, ongoing release cycles — with fast feedback loops. Agile IT allows for flexibility as requirements and projects unfold. For many organizations, the term agile has become a stand-in for any workflow that improves efficiency and transparency.

DevOps

Represents a shift in how once-siloed IT operations and development teams work together for better, more reliable code releases. John Willis and Damon Edwards coined the terms CAMS (culture, automation, measurement, and sharing) to describe the key attributes of DevOps.

Kanban

A workflow management method that emphasizes the continual delivery of value. Originally developed by Toyota to improve manufacturing processes, kanban is used by IT teams to limit work in process and reduce lead time. Kanban boards provide a visual display of task cards and statuses, with a focus on moving a backlog of tasks through to completion.

Lean Six Sigma

A combination of two approaches: Lean and Six Sigma. It is aimed at minimizing defects and waste while optimizing processes. It is an approach steeped in data that relies on tools such as control charts, failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), process mapping, and statistical process control (SPC).

IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL)

A methodology that describes best practices for risk management, customer relationship management, and infrastructure stability. It is divided into two key areas: services delivery and support services. ITIL is one of the frameworks used to implement IT service management (ITSM).

Scrum

An agile methodology that focuses on adaptive development. Cross-functional teams work as a unit to reach a common goal within a specified period of time (typically one to four weeks).

Waterfall

Refers to a sequential model for planning, building, and delivering software. The IT team completes linear phases, such as requirements gathering, design, implementation, verification, and maintenance.

If you are part of an enterprise architecture team, you may be familiar with another set of methodologies. These are the four most common enterprise architecture frameworks:

The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF)

Contains best practices for creating architecture — from compliance methods to recommended tools and structured models. It was created to help businesses align their architecture with their larger objectives.

The Zachman Framework

Provides connections and taxonomies to help organizations structure their data, functions, networks, resources, motivations, and time.

Federal Enterprise Architectural Framework (FEA)

Developed by the federal government, FEA covers best practices for five organizational areas: business, service, components, technical, and data.

The Gartner Enterprise Architecture Process and Framework

Developed by the IT research firm Gartner, this framework stands in contrast to the other three. Rather than focusing on structures and models, the Gartner framework is process- and people-driven. This framework outlines how business owners, information specialists, and IT practitioners can constantly adapt and course correct.

Workflows

Your workflows and processes will be impacted by other factors as well, such as suppliers, expectations for uptime and usability, and governing bodies. You need to select a methodology that allows you to build and support the technologies that deliver a great customer experience.

Keeping operations running smoothly is critical as well. Most companies need to purchase supplies and services from outside vendors. So you need a framework in place for measuring and reporting on inventory.

IT teams help employees do their jobs — by providing tools, automating manual tasks, and supporting the infrastructure employees depend on. The methodology that you choose for internal projects should improve employee productivity and help keep people happy at work.

Finally, compliance requirements set by the government, client contracts, and other third parties can also impact how IT teams work. You want to provide adequate checks and balances — saving you time and effort and reducing potential errors.

Which IT methodology is appropriate for your organization?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for IT teams — the best methodology for your organization will depend on company structure, maturity, goals, project type, timelines, and skillsets.

Think of the methodology you choose as a framework for how a specific type of work can be completed — with a set of proven techniques that can help you stay in lockstep with your teammates. The right methodology will help you solve problems and support customers.

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