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Organizational agility, clarity and delivery

September 21, 2020

At IncrementOne, we have extensive product delivery experience in both traditional and agile organizations. Over the years, we have noticed that while agile adoption has accelerated, the promised results of agile adoption have fallen behind. Many agile teams and programs could do better by broadening the organizational understanding beyond the delivery teams. The goal is not to be agile, but instead to include agile delivery as an ingredient to a better performing, more versatile enterprise. Understanding delivery performance in the context of business performance and complexity is the essence of organizational agility, regardless of methodology.

Unfortunately, we find challenges in organizational agility, product clarity and rapid delivery capabilities that prevent enterprises from reaping the rewards of their transformation investments.

Organizational Agility

Processes can enable versatile organizations or stifle good ideas. Too often we see conflict between traditional governance structures and processes and more nimble emergent ones. Traditional structures and processes are designed to prevent too much commitment or activity on an idea before the whole thing has been considered, discussed and planned. They are designed to slow down decision making until there is enough information to make the right decision. It works well for a certain class of problem, and these processes will remain with us for many years to come. But there is an emerging class of problems that cannot be solved in this way. In fact, in some arenas these are the dominant class of problems. They need rapid action, emergent ideas that can be modified as more information is uncovered. Organizational agility depends on getting the right balance of governance structures and processes in place for your situation.

Build a great organization around great people

The right structure is context-specific, dependent on the mix of problems your organization is solving. Rapid innovators require a different focus and organizational structure to fast followers. Repeated, business-as-usual work is different to rebuilding legacy systems in-flight. Each context requires a specific combination of governance structures and processes. Too often, the delivery approach is seen as a panacea, a one-size-fits-all approach to a rapidly changing market. The right governance structures, supported by the right funding models and decision-making mechanisms, allow your organization to flourish. The wrong one's stifle performance.

Product Clarity

In our rush to build a strong delivery capability, clarity around product management has been lost. Too often we see absent product management, with a lack of understanding of the purpose of a project, product or value stream. This lack of clarity leads to a lack of conviction about which features to build. Product management struggles to provide a clear roadmap of what will be delivered when or lacks the courage to deviate from a roadmap as new evidence emerges that changes are required. Product clarity requires a strong product management function with a deep understanding of the customer.

Build a great product around deep customer understanding

Product delivery ultimately depends on the maxim “garbage in garbage out”. If the product team (what we refer to as the Product Office) isn’t aligned and attuned to rapid delivery and emergent design, then iterative and incremental development teams deliver little value. To excel, the Product Office must understand the customer and change direction in response to customer behaviours. This requires sensing customer needs and responses to changes in the product. Validating customer satisfaction with changes, rather than releasing bulk changes into a void.  

We address this by building products with customers. Customer understanding comes first from having empathy for customers, their experiences and their needs. From this comes true product innovation. Part thinking outside the box, part leveraging the unique skills you and your team or organization bring to the table. Then comes the hard work of understanding the key elements in your solution and validating through testing and iteration. Each step alone is insufficient, and each step feeds into and is informed by the others.  

Rapid Delivery

A lot of attention has been paid to development and operations in recent years. Unfortunately investing in release pipelines and moving to dedicated cross-functional teams does not immediately lead to better business results. Instead of incremental delivery on a regular basis, we often find long release cycles delivered in short iterations. Testing might be completed a sprint after development. Or the final few sprints in a two- or three-month release cycle are spent integrating and chasing down defects. Rapid delivery requires a focus on short cycle times between starting a new feature and shipping a new feature. It means small changes frequently, not lots of small changes grouped together into a large release.

Build a great delivery pipeline around technical excellence

Each of the previous capabilities ultimately relies on the ability for your organization to be able to get new ideas into the market quickly and safely. The ability to frequently put working products and services in front of your customers is paramount. A perfect but long development cycle runs the risk of releasing products into a market that no longer needs or expects what they see. The pace of change in our world today, coupled with an increasingly selective customer base, makes speedy product delivery the one constant in top-rated technology firms today.  

With speed comes the need for technical excellence. In the past, the nature of product delivery, with its focus on fixed scope and fixed timelines, naturally led to falling technical quality in an environment prone to fast change. The need for strong technical decision making, distributed solutioning and universal code ownership challenges the ways development teams produce code. The delivery pipeline that is foundational to organizational agility, and business success, therefore depends on both excellent development practices and strategically implemented tooling and infrastructures.  

Need Help Getting Started?

We support our clients in achieving these capabilities in three distinct ways.  

First, we have executive-level consultants who can step into interim roles within your organization to fulfill specific responsibilities. We offer a range of different products and services specifically designed to help identify areas for improvement and ultimately kickstart them into action.

Finally, we help educate and guide you and your teams through a comprehensive learning catalogue of certified and non-certified trainings and workshops.

Interested in becoming a catalyst for positive change in your organization?