A few weekends ago, I was sucked into a momentary time warp. As I was clearing out some space in my garage, I came across a roadmap. An actual, physical, carefully folded map of the United States. I probably last laid eyes on it around the time I was searching for an old Van Halen cassette tape in the glove compartment of a car that had the requisite technology to play it. Given that I had spent most of my adult life using a folding map as my primary means of navigation on road trips, it was actually a bit jarring to realize how quickly this method had become obsolete. Even more jarring was that I hadn’t even noticed it happened. About a decade ago, my car GPS just took over as my primary navigation tool. Then that, too, became obsolete when better tools became available on my phone.
The navigation tools I use to get to a new place have radically changed in a very short amount of time. Modern tools and applications provide me with more information on roadblocks ahead of me, and adjust in near real-time to help me chart the most efficient course to my destination. In many ways, this is a perfect analogy for digital transformation. Organizations are looking to get to a new place – applying digital technology to redefine their business models – yet many are still stuck using methodologies that date back to folding paper maps and car stereos with tape decks.
Agile isn’t just for developers, it’s also about business agility
After GPS and cell phones were introduced for a very specific use case (i.e. the military), they became ubiquitous. I believe the same thing is happening with agile methodologies. While it started as a set of practices for developers, it’s poised to become a mainstream set of principles throughout organizations among any team that is tasked with delivering the best-possible outcomes given their limited time and resources.
The marketing department for a pharmaceutical company, for example, may be responsible for transforming their messaging platform from being healthcare provider-centric to a more patient-centric approach. How do they best prioritize the physical and digital assets to reach their intended audience before their competitors do? The executives in charge of operations and planning for a major utilities company may be tasked with improving operational efficiency and modernizing their systems to continue to deliver safe and reliable energy while embracing new business models and innovation. In both of these cases, the same principles that are used by developers to speed applications to market can be adopted by other parts of the organization to achieve greater business agility.
Scaled agile framework: a better way to get there
At its core, scaled agile is a set of practices and principles that allows organizations to reduce cycle times, increase organizational alignment, and provide tangible value more quickly and efficiently than traditional project management approaches. Functional teams (often cutting across organizational silos) plan and execute in 10-week program increments broken down into 2-week sprints, and value is measured on what features are completed in that time box. This rapid pace forces organizations to adopt new strategies and frameworks for success. Complex and cumbersome Gantt charts are replaced by Kanban boards and backlogs. Lengthy project requirements documents are replaced with EPICS, Features and Stories prioritized using WSJF (weighted shortest job first) and ARTs (agile release trains) that help to execute increments that deliver the most valuable features for the least amount of effort, yet insure a steady stream of delivery.
The multiplier effect: Lean x Agile x DevOps (LADx)
On its own, agile at scale is a powerful tool for transformation. At CGI, our experience has shown that when integrated into a broader view of modern methodologies—including lean, agile at scale and DevOps (LADx)—the effect is not just additive, but multiplicative. Among other things, this approach:
- Eliminates waste – Nothing gets created (or budgeted) until value is defined. This eliminates waste, and allows organizations to pivot relentlessly towards value creation. The overall strategic destination may not change, but teams are constantly course-correcting along the way to derive the greatest value from available resources.
- Emphasizes alignment – LADx facilitates better organizational alignment. IT is thinking about delivering on a set of requirements, management is thinking long term about output, and those two roads often diverge. An agile approach—because development is happening quickly, and because metrics are built in—necessitates that these groups work together on defining and delivering outcomes with tangible value.
Stuck in the middle: the biggest roadblock for agile transformation
While my experience tells me that scaled agile can work for everybody, it also tells me it’s not for everybody. The biggest roadblock I see when working with clients is pushback is from mid-level management. I get it. On the one hand, middle managers are far enough along in their career to have developed effective processes (frameworks, guides and reports) for doing something, often to minimize risk of failure.
They’re also far enough along that there is real organizational impact if failure does occur. On the other hand, they’re not so far along that their attention has shifted from processes and frameworks to strategy and results. But, if you’re in senior management, you should champion the change agents. If you’re not, you should become one. Or, you may just find yourself on the side of the road with a well-worn old map in your hands trying to thumb a ride. True, it may be scary, but there are ways to embrace organizational change management to help you on that journey. And, you’ve got partners like CGI ready to ride shotgun to navigate the road in front of you.
Learn more about the role that agile and similar methodologies play in the transformation journey in our new viewpoint Getting Unstuck.
About this author
Vice President, Consulting Services, U.S. Operations
As an IT professional with more than 20 years of experience in leading and managing all aspects, groups and silos in the software delivery life cycle, Steve has seen the impact of digital transformation up close where success factors have less to do with technologies ...