Much has been written about the business benefits of being an agile organization. Becoming agile encompasses much more than just technology. To achieve the expected gains in efficiency and innovation, enterprises must ask themselves: What path will we take? Who will need be involved? Will the agile delivery approach provide the quantitative and qualitative improvements we need?
Success or failure depends on how willing your organization is to adapt to a new way of application delivery in concert with cross-functional teams. The organization also must be ready to engage all functions in the technology stack – infrastructure, data, business process, architecture and others. Aligning technology with business capability is a key element. Even though what is being directly consumed to enable business capability may be an application, the entire stack must be engaged to address that consumption holistically.
The agile transformation journey can be broken into five distinct segments. The diagram below depicts the progression. Note that it is critical to recognize and address your organization’s business alignment goals early in the journey toward an agile delivery model.
Figure 1: Phases of Agile Transformation
Align Technology to Business Capabilities
Often known as product alignment or productization, this step entails modeling the technology environment based on how technology is consumed by product or business capabilities. Often conducted with key business stakeholders, technology may be aligned to stages of a customer journey, to steps in a business process, to business value streams, business units/segments, or other segmentation methods – generally this reflects how the business is run (whether financially, operationally or functionally). The result is a portfolio of products, often combined into product families of coupled or more highly dependent products. The crucial determinant relates to the business stakeholders or user constituency to drive alignment and ownership of requirements and priorities.
Identify Business and Technology Leaders
Show the organization that IT is focused on delivering to the business in a new way by building a culture that aligns IT and the business. This alignment should identify counterpart business and technology leaders. Reduce finger pointing and give way to joint ownership of problems and their associated resolution, with joint accountability for product capabilities. Aligning technology products and services with business ownership creates focus on the business needs and priorities while using a two-in-the-box approach to manage critical technical needs, including technical debt. This stage should also identify objectives.
To properly introduce agility into an organization, the business and technology owner(s) must establish clear and concise objectives that will keep agile teams in sync and allow them to remain focused on the aspects of delivery that support the goals of the business. This business partnership is imperative. Clear objectives also enable the team to measure success or failure only if supported and aligned to business goals and objectives. Involving business owners prior to establishing the teams communicates to employees and leadership alike that the business takes objective feedback seriously. Business and IT owners should translate that feedback into the way they measure success of their agile delivery efforts.
Start Small and Then Expand
Use a “minimum viable product” (MVP) agile team model, including a detailed approach for governance (standards, oversight and best practices) and a performance framework that outlines how teams will be measured. Use this relatively “light,” MVP-level approach at initial implementation; the expectation is that teams uncover barriers and identify resolutions necessary for continuous improvement of the model over time as the they expand and mature.
Identify a small group of teams to begin and identify the team members based on the skill mix and objectives identified for that product or capability. After clear objectives are set and the business is engaged, focus on team makeup. The agile team should be a cross-functional group. The coming together of people from the business, technical, infrastructure and architecture units will drive unique perspectives.
Launch Team and Continually Improve
Engage the agile teams and be sure to communicate the current model and the product-specific objectives. Launch the processes required to deliver the work, outputs, and deliverables according to business priorities. Take the time needed so the team can first assess its condition: what is the skill level of the team and the team members? What are the performance objectives of the product? What is the current product performance? Is the team and its organizational culture conducive for team empowerment and collaboration? What education (and practice) is needed to establish agile capabilities? What level of agility is needed in the end state – based on the rate of change, the business consumer expectations, and/or competitive environment? What are the barriers to the required level of agility? Barriers can include lack of business support for the agile delivery model and lack of support for the new delivery approach.
If talk about change is perceived as lip service, the environment quickly devolves. Involve the business in identifying and removing barriers to the agile application delivery model. Give teams appropriate training to understand their roles and responsibilities, the product team model and agile practices. Items should be added to the team’s product backlog to address any and all activities to improve these areas and break down barriers.
Continually Improve Governance Model
Governance is established to address the level of standards and requirements across the environment. These guardrails are an important part of the team model and should be used to enable efficiencies across the environment. Drive continual improvement of the model with performance and adoption. Create a baseline of team performance using the three performance indicators of any technology product: business metrics, development metrics and operating metrics. Use these performance metrics so you can measure the adoption of the model, address areas of concern or acceleration, and recognize the benefits of agile delivery.
Continuous improvement of the model and capabilities requires ongoing effort. Communicate improvements and/or declines to the organization throughout the agile transformation and use the teams to address areas of concern. Ongoing improvement depends on receiving and processing feedback, so build responses into the agile delivery practices. Solicit feedback directly from the teams to improve the team model, review and incorporate new best practices and build practices that will provide better and more successful agile delivery based on that feedback. Engage and solicit feedback from IT and the business.
Some improvements may be directly tied to how well the business is engaged. For example, the quality of the business requirements fed into the agile delivery cycle can impact quality of the outcomes. If you are not seeing the efficiency gains you expect, don’t be afraid to look at the skills makeup and diverse qualities engaged in the team formation. Reassess skills and continue to grow cross-function capabilities.
Continuously improving the processes and the team skills is an absolute necessity. This is done team by team and across teams through communities of practice. Form communities to discuss, review and assess results both positive and negative. These communities can share best practices and understand where and how to improve quality delivery across the landscape. This also builds the processes to reach beyond the MVP-level in an iterative fashion of delivery.
Organizations require various levels of agility that align to their needs; not every business capability needs the highest rate of change or market response. The model design needs to fit the various speeds that are needed across the environment in question, with all factors considered, including organization maturity, architecture, business strategy, technology strategy, and infrastructure and application development environment. There are many ways to be agile. Enterprise agility requires applying agility at the right level in the right places at the right time based on business need.
When building agile teams, focus on business engagement. Spend more time early in the process working with business stakeholders. A high degree of business engagement increases the likelihood of success. ISG helps enterprise build agile teams and address the organizational change that goes along with it. Contact us to discuss how we can help you.
About the author
Bill brings years of experience from his diverse background in leadership positions, including 30+ years of operations management in both logistics and retail verticals.