Why Agile in corporates doesn’t work, yet.
Consider the prevalence of technology in our lives and businesses today. Eventually, every business will be a technology business. The proliferation of technology has moved software out of being just a business support function, to one that can define a business’s capability. This makes high-quality software pivotal to a business’s success and means that every corporate in South Africa requires a significant software development workforce to remain relevant in today’s market.
Shift to Agile
All CIOs are aware that quality software requires an organisation to follow an Agile development methodology. As a result, all IT divisions in the progressive corporates are fully committed to adopting Agile and are at various levels on their journeys. However, the fundamental issue with implementing Agile in a corporate is the necessity for full buy-in from the entire organisation. It is an organisational shift.
Corporate strategy evangelists promote the concept of ‘alignment’: how well an organisation is coordinated to achieve its goals. A central feature of any business strategy is the ability to effectively execute the core of the business while being able to adapt to trends and changes in the market.
Fit for purpose
Organisational alignment pulls together business strategies, organisational capabilities, resources and management systems – all of which need to be arranged to support the enterprise’s purpose. It is not possible for the organisation to move quickly if it is not aligned and does not demonstrate ‘fitness’ - the capacity to change to fit new circumstances quickly, and thereby remain competitive.
Similarly, an Agile methodology advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, continuous improvement, and rapid and flexible response to change. This is achieved through a culture of intellectual curiosity, collaboration, effective communication and always being ready to challenge the status quo. Importantly, it allows and requires teams to break from old habits before they become counterproductive.
Agile not just about software
Most business units embrace the flexibility that an Agile approach allows. However, the typical approach is to expose systems teams to barrages of training sessions to upskill those who present an obvious or immediate need. But what is often overlooked is that Agile development requires a culture shift across the entire organisation and the skills need to be applied more broadly than just the central software team.
Unfortunately, the standard modus operandi across most corporates today is that a business unit innovates a product in isolation, making commitments about delivery timelines with minimal systems input and then finally pushing the team for an unrealistic deadline.
This scenario plays out to different extents in various organisations. However, the result often is that it sustains any business siloes that may exist, deadlines are missed, or there is a mass exodus of developers at the end of the project, leaving the sentiment that Agile is bad.
Buy-in is key to success
Admittedly, much progress has been achieved across various organisations but the key point is that both systems and business teams need to be realistic about how delivery is managed and come up with a process that works in a corporate. Only when everyone - from the individual who first comes up with a product idea to the systems team - buys into changing the way they approach software development, will an organisation benefit from Agile development.
Often, ‘pure’ Agile is not feasible in a corporate because expectations across senior management and exec level are always tied to budgets and defined deliverables, something that Agile struggles to represent. But communication - and the ability to communicate your project in a language that various business teams understand – is crucial to creating buy-in. Development managers typically have a spreadsheet that converts story points to hours so that they can report in a way the CFO appreciates, which helps.
Be agile about Agile
Therefore, Agile in various forms can work in a corporate, but one needs to be agile around implementing Agile. In the specific case of software’s Agile methodology, often it is the organisational capability and resource architecture and management systems that prevent the organisation from being able to fully adopt and gain the full benefit of an Agile approach to software development.
An organisation that can transform to a truly Agile culture will recognise it needs to be complemented by strong and sound operational processes throughout all functional areas of the business. CIOs need to understand the importance Agile has on the greater operations of their business and why it can be a game-changer if the organisation can get it right.
Consider your business tomorrow. What is your organisation’s capability; do you have the resources to adapt to a shift in direction, tomorrow? If not, then you probably don’t have a fully Agile culture.