Agile as a Business Transformation Practice
One of the deeply fundamental problems with how people wrestle with the adoption of Agile practices is that the “point” of using Agile is often lost on most of the participants. They often hear Agile and think
- New meetings
- Continuous Deployment
- No changes during sprints
- Visual Task Boards
While some of these are true, they’re not “the point.” WHY does thinking and acting in an Agile way help us?
Agile helps us focus on business value
In any endeavor, the temptation is to focus on the “to-do list.” What do I have to build/buy? What do we have to operate? But the bigger question is always “so what?” How does this help customers get the results they need? Who exactly uses this and when/where/why? The big idea in Agile is moving our teams from thinking about tool features (what it can do) to customer benefits (what I can do). Using User Stories as a fundamental organizing principle of our Product Backlog reminds us to focus on use and value, not on the system itself. Using a prioritized backlog ensures we are doing the most important things first, all the time.
We don’t know what we don’t know
Agile also acknowledges some fundamental challenges in how we work. Most methodologies acknowledge that work should begin with the customer’s requirements, but the real challenge here is that the customer’s understanding of their own requirements is often very fuzzy. Not that people aren’t trying to give IT good information, but everyone learns through the process, and then the customer will likely change their minds about certain things, adding certain pieces, changing others, and removing ones that turned out to be bad ideas. THIS IS GOOD! Agile practices simply acknowledge the truth of continuous learning and improvement, and make it possible to be need and priority driven instead of plan driven.
Risk Mitigation begins with early delivery of the highest value pieces
All services, whether formalized into projects or not, are valuable because they support outcomes for customers (enable them to get things they want) while managing costs and risks. Risk mitigation is never the most fun part of a service, but it is deeply fundamental to the value proposition. Agile practices support risk mitigation in many ways, but the greatest risk in my judgement is not getting enough engagement, input, and “fingerprints” from the customer in how we create solutions. By supporting team models that actively engage the customer throughout the process of developing solutions, Agile practices can course correct earlier, save rework, deliver solutions earlier, and improve solution stability.
Digital Transformation means thinking less about departments and divisions (IT vs business) and much more about teaming; how different business capabilities collaborate to automate and improve business processes and workflows. In upcoming blogs we will investigate how some of our customers are using Agile practices to transform how their organizations are creating new value and new business opportunities for their stakeholders.