When It Comes to MSPs, What Does Agile Even Mean?

Agile is a term first widely applied to software development, but now is used just about everywhere (maybe overused is a better way to put it). Being nimble, able to change course quickly, and not bogged down by minutia can make even the largest MSP Agile.

Do a Google search on “Agile MSP” and you’ll get 4,630 results, only a minority of which actually refer to managed service providers.

Dig into the results that do, and you’ll find about a dozen different takes on what it means to be an Agile MSP. For some, it just means being flexible and forward thinking. Others try to apply Agile development directives 100% to MSPs, which really only works if the MSP is likewise development focused.

Some of the Agile development techniques make sense, but applying Agile development lock stock and barrel doesn’t truly fit the MSP model.

We can’t, in this blog, precisely define what an Agile MSP and how to be one, since it is a complex issue and still subject to opinion. And the “Agile MSP” term is not in as common use as MSP 2.0 is.

Instead, we’ll walk through the discussions, and reach some conclusions as to what being an Agile MSP is all about.

There are two main ways to look at Agile in the MSP context. You can use Agile as a broad term as meaning flexible, quick to effective action, and able to handle multiple complex projects without getting ruffled. If you are to be true to the technology meaning of Agile, either you do software development and apply well established Agile precepts, or more likely, you apply Agile project management approaches. It is here that Agile, I believe, has the most MSP meaning.

The More General View

A piece on Forbes.com by CenturyLink’s Wendy White has its own take on what constitutes an Agile MSP.

“Businesses around the world are in the midst of an unprecedented digital transformation, empowering them to collaborate and conduct business like never before. Led by cloud, big data, and an expanding social universe – highly Agile data centers are now the foundation upon which new revenue, cost efficiencies, and great customer service are built. But enterprises must act quickly and align their infrastructures to capitalize on this emerging opportunity. What’s required is a new breed of Managed Service Provider (MSP) – a specialty partner with the technology and track-record to help embrace the journey toward a hybrid infrastructure. The new Agile MSP is your “IT Wingman,” White wrote.

When it comes to Agile, time is of the essence. “Companies realize this transformation must happen quickly to remain competitive, but they need help: With know-how, strategy development, and just getting started. A dedicated, Agile MSP fully supports these requirements – with a strong platform and expertise capable of optimizing current business, while injecting the necessary flexibility to keep pace with innovation and any direction the business may take.”

These Agile MSPs are true partners in changing how a client’s IT processes are performed and transformed.  “Similar to a general contractor, these MSPs provide ways to reduce the complexity associated with a digital transformation. This partner can play a leading or supporting role depending on the situation. Agile MSPs assist with the “plumbing” or basics of keeping the traditional IT function operating while augmenting internal capabilities to build new business strategy and bringing new, flexible platforms and methods to accelerate delivery,” White concluded.

The Agile MSP Deep Dive

The Agile MSP is a Web site devoted to promoting the Agile concept and building a community. It even has its own Facebook page.

The Web site offers a high-level view of what Agile means. “As a tech, Agile means exactly that; Agility. It means being able to change focus quickly, getting help when needed, and using the combined knowledge of the group instead of dealing with the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals. It means getting everyone a general overview of the day instead of narrowing the focus to their specific tasks. Most importantly though, Agile means being able to calmly take on the tasks at hand instead of fighting them off as they come,” the organization said.

According to The Agile MSP, moving to Agile is do or die, or at least nearly die. MSPs that don’t incorporate Agile will be nothing more than a commodity player, they contend.

And Agile represents both an evolution of ITIL, and a whole new approach. “It is high time the traditional and accepted ITIL methodologies within the service support space be challenged and ultimately improved upon. There has been chatter for several years of finding new and innovative alternatives but nothing has surfaced as a reasonable, well-thought-out alternative,” the Web site argued.” We believe the agile tenets are the catalyst needed to revolutionize the service support business. Technology is progressing at a rate that doesn’t just create room for Agile, it necessitates it – in other words, we feel we must “change or die”.”

Here are some of The Agile MSP’s main precepts:

  • Implementing Kanban on Service Boards and Projects
  • Hosting Daily Standup meetings
  • Using real-time communication tools to increase project visibility within the team and customer engagement
  • Working in time bound cycles

One key aspect of the Agile Methodology is Scrum; an approach named after rugby and designed to improve teamwork.

Scrum is a project management approach wherein team members have specific assigned tasks and work with other members to knock off each part of the overall task one by one.

Each task is called a ‘sprint’ and sprints are tracked and ticked off the list when accomplished. A sprint is successful when that aspect of the project is provably complete.

The scrum part relates to the process because each day or so team members meet in a scrum to talk about how the project is going and what issues need to be resolved.

Also related to project management is Kanban, a visual way to track progress, especially trouble tickets in the case of MSPs. Part of this is regular meetings.

“Kanban consists simply of a board, separated into work progress columns (to-do, doing, done), with Kanban cards representing individual jobs moving across the board as they’re completed. Kanban traditionally manifested as a whiteboard divided into progress columns, with sticky notes or index cards traveling across. Lately, there has been a flood of software Kanban solutions, our favorite being Kanbanize,” the Web site said.

If you are interested in Agile training, you may want to check out MSPtraining.com.

Agile and Project Management

The right software can help an MSP manage projects with Agility, especially helping clients transition to new complex services.

Kaseya BMS is such a solution.  With BMS, everything is built from the project out. BMS also schedules all resources for the MSP. At the same time, you can track and manage inventory as well as people, contracts, and with billing all tied to projects (and all dependencies). This work is made easier through Kaseya BMS’s modern, intuitive interface. This makes the product super easy to use, which ensures that ALL functional workers in an MSP work within their solution, NOT AROUND the solution.

Using BMS, MSPs can quickly and easily launch new services demanded by their customers – to achieve the goal of an Agile MSP. You can request a demo here.

Posted by Doug Barney
Doug Barney was the founding editor of Redmond Magazine, Redmond Channel Partner, Redmond Developer News and Virtualization Review. Doug also served as Executive Editor of Network World, Editor in Chief of AmigaWorld, and Editor in Chief of Network Computing.

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