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The Pressure to Become Agile - Getting Started the Right Way for Your Organization
James Ifill Principal Agile Consultant | November 13, 2019
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Companies are under pressure. They must be fast, future-oriented, and efficient.

The solution – business agility.

But what's the right starting point for your situation?

Large organizations are often considered sluggish. They usually have numerous workarounds and solutions for a single problem. In addition, there can be little or no cooperation between various departments, creating inefficiencies, and leading to knowledge loss. In turn, that leads to incorrect priorities, misaligned goals, and delayed projects.

The problem is further exacerbated by intense competition, demanding customers (and employees), and increasingly complex projects.

What should they do?

Invariably, the most popular answer is to transform to an agile business. Business agility promises higher flexibility, more dynamism, and faster response times to changes in the market or regulatory requirements.

But where do you start?

The Highest Dimension: Corporate Agility

Effective business transformation is challenging because a business must continue to perform while it is in the process of being reformed. For this reason, it might be prudent to introduce agility in phases.

Business transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Coaching, training, and educating about new agile approaches across large organizations cannot be underestimated. Begin your agile journey the right way.

However, change at the highest level is needed to meet the goals of business agility quickly. So, how can a structure be created within an organization wherein small agile teams can work while still meeting the requirements of the business?

To create a willingness to be agile, the entire way of working must change – from remuneration and promotion criteria to the formation of individual teams. What is needed is a climate of openness and a willingness to exchange ideas without boundaries and fear. This often cannot be achieved in a single step, across a large organization.

Teams are often used to working in closed units and keeping track of their own smaller goals. Implementing ideals such as measuring effort in achievement rather than time can help – especially since this system needs to be extended uniformly across the entire organization in an understandable and transparent manner.

This won’t happen overnight. Coaching, training, and educating employees about new agile approaches across large organizations cannot be underestimated. Ultimately, businesses need to mesh new-world ideas into an old-world thought process.

The Technology Behind Achieving Business Agility

Along with organizational and cultural hurdles, technological challenges are also present along the agile journey. If teams do not use the same technology for work planning and ensuring transparency, uniform project management can become problematic. This implementation is always an iterative process in which all feedback should be incorporated.

All tools must interact with each other, accessing the same data pool, because there must be only one truth as a basis for planning, implementation, testing, release management, reporting, and organizational understanding.

Across companies, the work is often based on the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). It combines approaches from the agile methods Scrum, Kanban, and Extreme Programming, with lean thinking and lean product development. With the help of the Scaled Agile Framework and agile, a cluster of many smaller systems can be made agile.

For example, one of our largest customers use Rally Software, backed by SAFe practices, as a hub for all these tasks. The planning tool, that provides comprehensive support for the Scaled Agile Framework, was configured specifically for the group’s requirements and enabled continuous integration and delivery (DevOps).

Midsize Beginning – Big Ambitions

One of our first transformation pilot projects was initially limited to one department – as a proof of concept. We encountered quite a few challenges while integrating and transforming the structures into an agile based delivery unit.

From the outset, the decisive factor was the attention given to the project at corporate management level and the active support of the branch management. It turned out to be particularly effective to make key members of the organization individual champions and ambassadors for agile approaches. They would ensure that rules are followed and messages remain consistent. The whole team was responsible for the milestones, supported by coaches and tool specialists in an open forum.

In the context of agile planning, there were boot camps and training. Additional “agile points” with screens in frequented areas showed the status and shaped the understanding of the specific language of the project.

Special attention was given to compliance during implementation. New developments were intensively checked for their compliance with rules and release management was strict. There were reporting structures for management across all planning cycles that provided insight into which applications were being processed, which processes were affected, and what exactly had been implemented in a release.

All experiences and best practices were fully documented to facilitate expansion across other offices, the goal being to create a blueprint that can be implemented anywhere with slight local variations. Teams from other countries traveled to the site to learn about agile practices and their successful implementation.

This best practice example shows that while extensive and comprehensive planning ensures quick adjustments, complete support from management is essential during an agile transformation.

So take a look at your organization and identify the areas that may be ready for an initial transformation. Then, engage with external collaborators and follow best practices for a successful first step on your agile journey.

Look at your organization and identify the areas that may be ready for an agile transformation. Then, engage with external collaborators and follow best practices for a successful first step on your agile journey.

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.