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By Chris Webb, Director PwC Agile Advisory
Agile is now an expectation in IT, not a differentiator.
We are well into the fourth evolution of agile, Business Agility, where the entire business aims to be able to sense and adapt to more complex, disruptive, VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) times.
The evolution of agile in Australia is best correlated to the themes and topics presented at the Agile Australia Conference. In its 11 years we have seen agile evolve from Agile in IT teams, where technical excellence and bringing the business closer to technology were aspirations; to scaling agile projects and portfolios; to business functions experimenting with agile and innovation; and now to agility across the whole organisation. Personally, I’ve noticed the audience shift from technologists to business in the last four years, validated by a majority business show of hands in Martin Fowler’s 2018 AgileAus speech (~2k people) where he commented “Smattering [of IT]. The same problem was true at the Agile Alliance's main conference for quite a while, but they realised that they were getting a lot of people who were involved in the project management side and things of that kind, but not very many people who are the technical people who actually did the work. And that's actually quite tragic.”. I’d like to think that agile is now native muscle memory in IT, but wonder where the technical agilists go as a community to share and learn?
Agile is in fashion, but the term has fallen out of favour.
Many organisations want agile but have experienced a spectrum of results and sentiment, both good and bad. This has resulted in rebadging agile to things like ‘pace’, ‘ways of working’, ‘adaptive orgs’ and ‘better faster’ to name a few.
The following factors are impacting the effectiveness of agile adoption at all levels (team through to organisation):
● Agile frameworks are easy to learn, but are rarely successful when implemented as a paint by numbers methodology or copied from other organisations
● People forget the manifesto - the values and principles of agile. It needs to be contextually applied to be successful
● Highly experienced traditional roles (BA’s, PM’s) are rebranding into agile roles (product owners, scrum masters and coaches) but maintaining traditional values, mindsets and practices
● Language and terminology misinterpretation leads to adoption barriers or language being mis-used as a political tool to further one's agenda
● The degradation of technical excellence in IT - agilists with little to no technology capability focusing more on agile practices rather than quality outcomes
● Adoption of agile is constrained by the current organisational structure, funding model and other systemic impediments
● Agile is rolled out once without building in feedback loops, learning and constant iteration
● Enabling functions (e.g. HR, Legal, Risk, Audit) adopting agile delivery practices that largely look inwards and at a team level, instead of how they enable a broader organisational outcome
● Portfolios still collate and collect business cases that execute as a sequential pipeline, instead of looking across the demand and determining what are the highest value initiatives for the organisation to pursue as a whole
Agile is incredibly successful when applied contextually to achieve outcomes, and painfully useless when copied or used as a monetised paint by numbers methodology. Agile principles and values need to be interpreted for your environment to determine the optimal practices and ways of working required to achieve outcomes. This may look different across your organisation as the context and outcomes vary; it’s not a one size fits all.
You can’t lead from the side lines, CIO’s must Be by Doing.
Technology has been at the forefront of agile adoption at a team and project level. If you look at any organisation's agile adoption journey so far, in most cases, the journey started within the technology organisation.
CIOs and their teams have the license and the opportunity to be at the forefront of the next evolution of agility and lead by example. Ideally, technology leaders and teams need to shift the focus from tech platforms/capabilities to technology-enabled products and services. These should be almost mini-enterprises in and of themselves – with their own funding, metrics and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) – that continuously evolve to respond to changes in the market and the landscape.
So what can you do to lead by example?
○ Quick win: Share learnings from adopting agility within IT with your business peers, and help break down the buzzwords into something that’s meaningful for your organisation
○ Target: Drive clarity around organisational outcomes during planning conversations and apply agility contextually towards those outcomes
○ Stretch target: Explore ‘BizDevOps’ cross-functional team structures for your priority programs or innovative products/services that bridge the divide between business, IT and operations. (See also our BizDevOps bitesize series: https://lnkd.in/gyCW_NC )
○ Aspiration: Work with the business to define what end-to-end, tech-enabled products and services really mean for your organisation.