A few weekends ago, I was sucked into a time warp momentarily. 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. Now, I can’t recall when I precisely bought it (couldn’t have been that long ago, could it?). 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 actually had the requisite technology to play it. Given that I had spent most of my adult life using this as my primary means of navigation on long trips, it was actually a bit jarring to realize how quickly this technology had become obsolete. Even more jarring was the fact that I hadn’t even noticed that it had happened. About a decade ago, my car’s GPS took over as my primary navigation tool. And that, too, became obsolete when better tools became available on my phone.
Agile methodology: a better way to get there
The navigation tools I use to get to a new place has 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 at scale isn’t just for developers, it’s about business agility
After being introduced for a very specific use case (i.e. the military), GPS and cell phones have become ubiquitous technology over the past decade. I believe the same thing is happening with agile methodologies. While it started as a set of practices for developers, it’s quickly becoming 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 (blog link?). In both of these cases, the same principles that are used by developers to speed applications to market quickly can be adopted by other parts of the organization to achieve greater business agility.
What is agile at scale??
At its core, scaled agile is an umbrella 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, budget, execute and measure value in 10 week program increments broken down into two week sprints. This rapid pace forces organizations to adopt new strategies and frameworks for success. Complex and cumbersome Gantt charts are replaced by Kanban boards & backlogs. Lengthy project requirements documents are replaced with EPICS, Features & Stories prioritized using WSJF (weighted shortest job first) and ARTs (agile release trains) that help to execute increments that deliver the biggest bang for the buck, yet insure a steady stream of delivery.
The multiplier effect: Lean x Agile x Dev/Ops
On its own, agile at scale is a powerful tool for transformation. At CGI our experience has shown us that when integrated into a broader view of modern methodologies – including lean, agile at scale and DevOps (LADx) – the effect is not additive, but rather multiplicative. Among other things, this approach:
- Eliminates waste – In this approach nothing gets created (or budgeted) until value is defined. This eliminates waste, and allows organizations to relentlessly pivot towards value creation. The overall strategic destination may not change, but teams are constantly course-correcting the way to get there providing the greatest value from your available resources.
- Emphasizes thinking together – This approach also 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 along enough 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, champion the change agents. If you’re not – 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 helping organizations in their 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 ...