- The real dilema of scaling AgileApril 3, 2019
- The real dilema of scaling Agile
It’s not easy today to create a modern, flexible model for IT operations. Most tech organizations still act more as ‘service providers’ to the business rather than as a full-on strategic partner with a seat at the table. This model will always run into problems the moment business starts to move quickly (ahead or in another direction) or veer off the plan. Most companies currently working on major digital transformation projects are experiencing this right now.
Traditional budget process still rules
Enterprise IT survives on the budget that they operate on almost one hundred percent as its base foundation. In the eyes of many organizations, technology teams are seen as a cost center only. They are not looked at as a contributing partner to the profit of the business. It gets even worse when the tech teams see themselves as having this mindset.
For these organizations, IT planning happens annually, with fixed budgets going to a variety of projects and maintenance operations. When planning, many iterations are worked on the way to agreeing on a solid baseline of work. Once completed, the planned work is resourced, and the projects begin. Most of these projects cover applications or systems, either needing an enhancement to an existing “something” or to the delivery of a new “something.”
So, one more thing to top it off. Many organizations still use traditional project management methodologies (think: waterfall) to deliver the planned work. Roles are fairly rigid, and ramp-up will take time. Normal requirement gathering is not fun, and then when requirements are established, the infrastructure needs to go up. It’s a lengthy process in large organizations, involving estimation, order forms, and at some point, finally, provisioning. In SaaS delivery, for example, encountering the often-time-consuming pain points of contract negotiations and vendor alignment ring true.
What to do when swift course change comes, or the business suddenly changes their mind?
As for leaders in the digital space, they already recognize that teach teams are more strategic as a business partner and can be a significant profit center delivering value for the business. IT for these companies make use of the success of specific startups and tech giants and begin replicating their methods at an enterprise-level scale.
In the digital era, most of these companies know that to be flexible and nimble first is critical to the successful delivery of any IT operating model transformation.
As for large companies, though, by virtue of their size, they will often have a mix of methodologies, primarily agile and digital maturity in their organizations. These would be ‘early adopters’ who’ve implemented modern models and structures during the organization’s transformation and then the laggards, those who fell behind and need to catch up. Many factors are at fault in this scenario, including the type of business they support, workforce demographics, their skillset, funding, and of course, the company’s culture.
In order for Agile to work at scale for these organizations, transforming across multiple dimensions is the priority.
IT and Business must maintain a healthy relationship.
Equally important is freeing up the business partners, allowing them to actively participate in the team. Working in closer collaboration is only one aspect; the goal is more-so operating like a unified team. That’s what it will take.
The culture of experimentation and collaboration today does not play well with the old days of gathering IT requirements and burrowing into a silo only to return months later to unveil the shiny new product.
Co-location works great as an enabler of teams operating as one. Through frequent daily stand-ups, demos, and retros, product teams form bonds. Of course, there will be times where Tuckman’s four stages of group development will seem stuck on storming, but the sooner both technology and the business understand the importance of cohesion, the quicker they will cycle through the phases.
This ‘one-team’ model works for leadership too. Most times, when business leaders really understand that technology can be a crucial driver on their way to achieving their goals, they will be significantly more inclined to work closer and create (both of them together) a new future vision.
The leadership role.
Most often, leaders are reluctant to enable agile-like practices simply because they feel they’re relinquishing a degree of power they feel they have over the line of business function or app or system, etc. If this runs deep in the organization’s politics, it is all the more reason that Agile is needed.
Leaders, of course, will now need to adopt a new mindset where it is ok to delegate authority in order for teams to be autonomous and to trust that the Product Owner will guide the project forward smoothly.
Don’t assume training the staff is all that’s needed. Keep in mind your team members and the environment both need to be congruent. You can’t just send them on a training course and not change the environment to welcome the new agile methodology. If you do, you will most likely have disengaged them more and make the journey more difficult.
In a measure of comfort to the existing leadership, they are not out of the picture at all. A major role of leadership in Agile operating model is as a mediator. Roadblocks can be expected along the way, and it is the leaders who will be needed to ensure the roads are cleared for the delivery teams.
Avoid making agile a strict compliance routine
Agile is as much a behavior as it is a methodology. Often times, leaders will create an environment where daily “agile” functions are checked-off – do a morning standup, implement sprints, find ways to create autonomy etc. The point is that while these exercises do appear as agile on the surface, performing them just to ensure you are doing something agile is incorrect. They mean nothing if you don’t have a better understanding of the agile spirit, its philosophy and its intention. Rituals alone will not give you an agile culture. In fact, the opposite is true, an agile culture will create agile rituals because you’ve understood their “intent”.
Agile as a behavioral solution needs a ‘systems thinking’ approach
Of the three bodies of knowledge that inform the scaling framework, systems thinking tells us to look at solution development from a holistic approach. This incorporates design, development, and systems maintenance. Understanding these concepts helps team and their leaders push through the complexities of solution development, the organization itself and the bigger picture of time-to-market targets.
Understanding systems behavior:
Working together and being open to the culture of Agile will bring the teams together on the right track. Tools will be used but only as a supplement to close gaps. This is the most significant difference between doing agile and being agile.