In 2010, CIO Magazine first identified agile as one of three themes that would shape organizations in the coming decade. Today, Agile is the dominant software delivery methodology, and has morphed outside technology to seed a possible revolution in how any knowledge work might get done - whether it’s a team running a university, submitting a corporate tax filing or building the latest app.
As our understanding of agile delivery has grown, agile practices and mindset are more widely understood and the journey easier to follow. As most organizations tackle, learn and adopt agile practices, what now differentiates the high performers from the rest of the field? With ubiquity comes a bland appreciation of what it means to be agile. In some cases, cosmetic changes to existing delivery practices have resulted in agile-in-name-only delivery organizations. Sadly, Stand-ups and Scrum Masters do not create an agile delivery capability.
And the unfortunate thing is, that perhaps, this is ok. It’s accepted because the real purpose behind the agile change has been lost. It’s a rest stop during a longer journey. In essence, the driver for agile delivery has passed and we need to refocus on the original intent of agile change in the first place.
Imagine the following conversation sometime in the noughties.
Business VP: “We have some pretty aggressive business goals in a tight market - we can absolutely succeed if we can get our product to do XYZ”
Engineering VP: “Great idea, and one we are seeing good results from. But we can’t make this happen. We’ve asked product delivery for estimates, and they say it will take 2-3 years. That’s an investment we can’t justify, and a time frame we just can’t support”
Business VP: “How can this be? When we started moving our product portfolio online, we could get changes out quickly. How is it that today, changes are so slow and expensive?”
Engineering VP: “You have to understand that changes to our systems need to be planned. There is a well-established process that needs to be followed.”
CIO: ”I’ve heard that Agile/Scrum might be able to help”…
The need to reimagine product delivery to be nimble, more emergent and less monolithic is, in many cases, already under way. However, product delivery often continues to be seen as the problem. Rather, it is a distraction from the real driver for change. If we understand this, we can again turn our attention towards building a more resilient organization, fine-tuned to working in a rapidly changing, hyper-competitive environment.
As we reach a point where the need for agile delivery is clear, even if the implementation remains weak in some situations, we can move our attention to the real drivers for change: better alignment between your product and your customers; meeting your customers’ needs quickly and professionally; and delivering high quality, relevant products that continually exceed our expectations.
This requires, of course, a competent agile delivery capability. What is competent agile delivery capability?
- Strong leadership providing direction and a safe environment to learn and incrementally take steps towards achieving those objectives.
- Clarity about what needs to be done when, and a firm yet transparent process for making decisions based on organizational priorities.
- The ability to turn ideas into working products smoothly and without delay.
- A wide and impactful feedback network, generating insights into what is working and what is not early and often.
More broadly, these are the necessary skills to work and thrive in a complex, dynamic and unpredictable environment.
This year has been a year like no other. The importance of addressing problems as complex and interconnected at the outset is made clear with each passing day. Reconciling overdue social discourse within a global pandemic and unforeseen economic turmoil, organizations are challenged by how to respond nimbly, handle complexity and learn what works and what needs work. Complexity does not have to be a hands-off-the-wheel, ride-it-out way of working. There are proven principles and tools that allow us to navigate uncertainty with some degree of confidence.
Now is the time to reimagine your organization.
The delivery teams, the quality of the backlog or the stability of your product will adjust within the broader context of aligned priorities and purpose. Don’t focus on the tactical. Build deeper customer connections, focus on learning to evolve your products, make priorities visible and achievable. Less Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) and more Small Incremental Goals (SIGs) on the way to your BHAG.