Chapter 1: Enterprise Agility – Agile 4 All

Some months ago, a teammate suggested that I should write something about agility outside traditional environments (software and IT organizations). And I thought: “It’s a great idea, it’ll take me just a couple of hours.” My motivation was high when I started writing, but with each line written, I realized it wasn’t going to be a short task. I therefore decided to break down this long text into a set of (more or less) short chapters that contain my point of view regarding agility outside digital environments. My aim is to help you answer the main questions people have about this issue.

Let me start with a personal thought. I am a bit tired of repeatedly hearing the typical “We are living times of quick and complex changes, Industry 4.0 is changing everything, bla bla bla…” as easy excuses to sell or launch an agile transformation plan. The fact that everything is changing very quickly is obvious. The context in which companies are competing today is quite different to that of some years ago, and in the years ahead it will change again. Digital and business transformation are changing our way of life, our way of working and our way of thinking. However, we need to control the panic.

Should we all go crazy and (try to) apply Agile like a magic potion that will transform our traditional business into a blue chip organization, like a toad becoming a handsome prince after being kissed by a princess? It´s well known that an agile mindset – and you can find several references about it – can be implemented in IT or digital development environments using different frameworks (like Scrum, Kanban, XP, etc.). However, what happens when the exotic idea of changing the entire business process is not specifically related to the development of digital solutions?

agility out of it 2

Let’s take a step-by-step approach to such cases, bearing in mind that all these thoughts can also be applied to an IT environment.

Do you really need to be agile?

No, this is not a trick question. We need to think about our needs. Being agile by applying a certain methodology or tools (e.g. Scrum Events) is easy, but to be truly agile takes a HUGE effort. Achieving genuine agility requires a big cultural change not just new roles, processes or a methodology. The transformation process may have a huge impact within a company. This must be carefully analyzed because it requires investment not only in terms of money, but also in terms of the personal effort required from employees and collaborators.

Agile emerged due to the need to maximize the value returned by teams in a changing context in which flexibility and speed are required to reduce time to market. In that context, Agile really makes a difference and returns additional value. You can redefine almost any process based on an agile approach, but the question you need to answer is:

What will be the real ROI of the move to Agile?

You can probably start (and finish) your agile transformation plan by answering this question using the following Agile principle:

“Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential”

Launching agile transformation initiatives requires the right balance between the cost of the transformation, the impact it can have, and the sustainability of the changes within the business affected by those changes (people, processes, organization).

There could be solutions other than applying an agile approach that bring you closer to the market and customers or eliminate economic restrictions. I am referring to Lean initiatives for example, which result in improved efficiency. Lean techniques help you to reduce the waste of processes so that you can achieve good results. Although Lean also has an impact on a company’s processes and culture, the changes may be a little less radical. We can’t forget that Agile is derived from Lean. In other cases, once you have analyzed your context and you still consider that optimizing is not enough to achieve the results you need, you can start thinking about Agile.

I need to be agile – how do I start?

Once you understand what investments are required to become agile, the expected benefits, and if it is worth it, it is time to analyze what exactly you need to do and how you can do it. You can then start the transformation.

I am trying to explain how to do this outside traditional IT processes. So, forget everything about IT, we will not be focusing on it – and there are thousands of articles addressing it on the internet. In my opinion, almost any business process that requires agility can be transformed. But to do it right you have to keep in mind the Agile Manifesto and Agile Principles. These values and principles involve several concepts, but in terms of agility outside IT I would like to focus on the following:

  • Prioritize work based on expected value delivery.
  • Plan and execute small chunks (think big, act small).
  • Deliver value with excellent quality in a short pace of time and ask for feedback.
  • All the people required to deliver value are part of the team: respect them!
  • Collaboration supports the full process.

If you want to become agile in your business, but don’t want to become another group of people doing things the wrong way and calling it Agile practices (sticky notes everywhere), you will have to keep the above concepts in mind.

Perhaps your business needs to be agile, but your organization requires deep changes in terms of cultural behavior, reorganization, etc. Maybe a business process needs to be agile, but the company or your department is not willing to provide the resources and context needed to achieve agility. In such cases, you can start looking for the right sponsor/s to empower the initiative. If you think that the department, functional area or company where you want to start the transformation is not ready, the best thing you can do is to work on building the required environment before continuing with the next step. Trying to develop an agile transformation plan without the right context is frustrating and self-defeating. Working on top-management awareness, looking for a strong leader to support the transformation, and acquiring the necessary resources are the best suggestions I have for you.

Great! I can be agile! So now what?

Well, here we are, exactly where things happen. You know that you need the transformation and, fortunately, you are empowered to realize the needed environment. Now what? Before starting to change anything, you need to identify some concepts within your business processes:

  • No value, no party: Agile practices focus on enhancing the value delivered. You therefore need to analyze your current processes in order to understand the existing tasks and activities, what the purpose of each one is and how efficient they all are.
  • Finding and managing business process boundaries: Sometimes there are limitations on your own processes, and you need to establish and control the boundaries of the agile implementation. Those boundaries should give you independence from external influencers and full autonomy without the product/service losing value.
  • Help me help you: Who is going to buy, pay or use the results of the process you want to improve? Who knows the real value of your team’s work?
  • Agile teams, those who make the things happen: Do we have in our team all the people needed to deliver (real) value to our client/user at the end of the process? How can we help to build a truly agile team?
  • Prioritization – taking an economic view: How are you going to return the investment to the company and maximize the benefits?
  • Collaboration as a key success factor: Any Agile/DevOps transformation requires a high level of collaboration between various individuals and teams. How to facilitate collaboration and make it grow is a good question you have to answer.
  • Product adaptation: An agile team should not be bigger than a pizza team (8-10). For that reason, you may have to consider your product and processes design. Products or services developed under the Agile philosophy involve loose coupling and high cohesion.
  • Performance: We are used to saying that if something cannot be measured, it cannot be improved. You therefore need to have metrics to identify improvements and the effectiveness of your teams – these metrics are to help them, not to control their work.
  • Continuous improvement: There is no agile or lean transformation without the aim to continuously enhance and improve our way of working; to provide better and faster value to our customers.
  • Agile leadership: Unleashing an agile mindset requires leadership from everyone within the company, regardless of their role. Agile leadership pays attention to the behavior of the current bosses and managers, as well as the behavior of everyone else, from team members to product roles and top management.

In the following weeks, I will share my thoughts about these topics, one by one.

Next chapter: Enterprise Agility – No value, no party

Chapter 3: Enterprise Agility – Finding and managing business process boundaries 
Chapter 4: Enterprise Agility – Help me help you!
Chapter 5: Enterprise Agility – Agile teams, those who make the things happen
Chapter 6: Enterprise Agility – Prioritization, taking an economic view
Chapter 7: Enterprise Agility – Collaboration as a key success factor