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The Future of Agile Beyond IT: Predictions and Prognostications from Enterprise Studio Experts (Part I)
Tony Akins Senior Principal Agile Consultant | February 20, 2020
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Co-Author: Sue Laurent

Business agility in IT has been around since the Agile Manifesto was signed in 2001. The signers, from disciplines including extreme programming, scrum, DSDM, adaptive software development, crystal, feature-driven development, pragmatic programming, and others, created a rallying point that would symbolize and energize their move away from the waterfall development methodology.

Now that agile is approaching its 20th birthday, it’s natural to ponder how agile can extend beyond IT. Agile’s core principles of customer first, collaboration, transparency, simplicity, excellence, and communication can easily work for other organizational functions. The question is, which functional areas are ripe for transformation?

Tony Akins – Senior Principal Agile Consultant at Enterprise Studio

What do you see as the next opportunity for agile to go beyond IT?

I’m often asked, “When does waterfall development make sense?”

My answer is always something like, “Waterfall makes sense when we’re porting a solution from one platform to another with no changes in functionality or when we’re copying another system’s functionality.”

But honestly, why waste time and effort on a pure port or copying another system when we could create something new that works even better?

So, my real answer to the question is, “Everywhere.”

Whenever doubts crop up about what a team needs or wants to do, an agile approach is warranted. For that matter, it’s when we’re certain we know everything about the domain, problem, or opportunity that things can get real scary—agile principles can play an even more crucial role.

I’m with Scotty Bowman, one of the greatest coaches in NHL history, who said, “There is nothing so uncertain as a sure thing.”

Here’s a personal, real-life example of Agile beyond IT that shows you don’t need to be a Fortune 500 company to use agile principles effectively.

In 2000 my family built a new house. The foundation had been poured and the framing was up. The builder and I, inspecting the progress, walked upstairs, and the builder showed me where the air conditioning system would be and where the air ducts would run.

At that moment, we both fell silent and looked at the house plan (which my wife and I had bought and provided to the builder). Simultaneously, we realized that the plan did not include central air.

Not a good situation when you live on the Texas Gulf Coast, as we do.

We didn’t panic. (Well, I might have cursed, but other than that, I kept my cool.) Instead, we made decisions on the fly as to where air ducts should run and how to make room for them. I lost part of a second-floor closet, but we extended a closet downstairs to make up for it.

In other words, we were agile. We assessed the situation, adapted to it, and improvised a solution that satisfied our needs.

If we can assess, adapt and improvise when building a house, just imagine how agile concepts can help us get out from under practically any negative circumstance.

Remember, all work is incremental, although our natural inclination seems to be for long increments and limited feedback.

To work in an agile way, we need to find ways to work in smaller increments, generate constant feedback and use that feedback to steer us toward optimal solutions. After all, we would have had a much larger problem on our hands if the house had been built to plan in its entirety before we discovered the missing air conditioning link.

It was only because we worked in short increments followed by inspection and feedback that we caught the problem early and came up with a workable solution.

Agile lesson learned.

What’s the primary roadblock to beginning an agile transformation?

An agile transformation has the potential to change everything and everyone, so our natural resistance to change can be the biggest roadblock of all.

An agile transformation has the potential to change everything and everyone, so our natural resistance to change can be the biggest roadblock of all.

In my experience, organizations with rich, strong cultures often find transformation more challenging and painful than those without a solid cultural foundation. Employees across the spectrum, from leaders to managers and the rank and file, often resist changes that fly in the face of methods they used to get where they are.

Faced with this situation, my strategy as an agile consultant is to help my clients focus on their organization’s values, principles and practices. Starting there often breaks the deadlock.

Sue Laurent – Certified Agile Marketing Professional and Senior Principal Product Marketing Manager, Enterprise Studio

Where did you first encounter agile outside of IT?

I’ve been in marketing my whole career, and I can honestly say that my first Big Room Planning (BRP) session, when I was with CA Technologies (now Broadcom), was a life-changing experience. BRP is a key agile ceremony for planning your work for your next three-month iteration.

At CA our product marketing team for Rally Software (formerly CA Agile Central) used agile principles to organize and manage our work. My first BRP was life-changing because for the first time in my career, sales and marketing were in the same room, collaborating on priorities, developing incentives, and agreeing upon metrics for measuring success. Everyone in the room had a reason to be there, and we accomplished real work.

The key to the success of BRP is having all stakeholders in the room. Agile teams never work in a vacuum. Ceremonies associated with the practice ensured that multiple teams and stakeholders work together in a framework conducive to creating an agreed-upon, actionable plan that propels everyone through the quarter.

What do you see as the next opportunity for agile to go beyond IT?

Thanks to my first-hand experience with an agile marketing team, I’m convinced that all marketing teams would benefit greatly from the agile approach. Breaking down silos and increasing collaboration across the marketing department and all other dependencies would serve the entire enterprise in keeping the customer front and center.

Marketing departments that embrace agile will be able to organize their work to align it with internal and external customers; they’ll also keep themselves on track, thus avoiding the shiny-object syndrome that so often plagues marketing.

Marketing departments that embrace agile will organize their work to align it with internal and external customers; they’ll also keep themselves on track, avoiding the shiny-object syndrome that often plagues marketing.

If your marketing department decides to experiment with agile principles, I’d love to hear from you—both the positive results and the challenges.

What’s the primary roadblock to beginning an agile transformation?

For marketing, the primary roadblock is education. Transforming marketing departments is still a new practice, and just like agile in IT, it requires buy-in from leadership and an internal change champion. The champion needs an arsenal of data points and expected outcomes to get leaders to board the ship. Having a coach is a huge help, but you should also educate yourself through research and attending online and in-person workshops and certification classes. Good luck!

Additional Contributors

Tony Akins, SPC

Early in his career, Tony got to know what winning feels like. He was working on a great IBM® project with weekly iterations and demos, and the team finished a nine-month mainframe project in seven months. Tony has always acted as a coach—sometimes for the company where he worked and sometimes for clients. He knows that when you make small commitments, live with them and create trust, then you’re free to do a lot of things well. A career highlight for Tony was helping a team put the fundamentals in place, (after a terrible demo with an unhappy customer) and stunning the customer with quality work and a quick turnaround.

Sue Laurent, A-CSM, ICP-MKG

Sue Laurent is a Certified Agile Marketer, supporting the agile services team at Enterprise Studio. She’s passionate about bringing agile principles into the marketing arena as well as supporting the world-renowned team of agile thought leaders, coaches and consultants on her team.

The Digital Advisory and Consulting Services (DACS) team at Enterprise Studio by HCL Technologies is the global leader in collaborating, consulting and coaching with enterprise-level companies to connect them to the promise of business agility—the ability to sense and respond to opportunities and challenges and protect themselves from the volatility of doing business in the digital economy.