How Agile can be implemented effectively across the organization
It’s crucial to facilitate a data-driven culture across the organization to empower your agile transformation initiatives.
Just a few decades ago, a “disruption” was seen as an undesirable thing. But now, business leaders have come to embrace the opportunities that disruptive technologies and innovations offer.
The agile software development methodology has the potential to disrupt everyday operations for the better, improving processes outside of IT. Agile transformation must start from the top, with a unified leadership team.
Regardless of the scope of successful agile pilots, installing an agile team at the organization’s top-level is a must. When the agile mindset is established at the senior leadership level, it sets the tone for the entire organization to transition.
With this approach, an agile leadership team can educate and encourage other departmental leaders and also help to shape the agile environment. While management sets the goal metrics and the “North Star” agile vision, it’s up to teams to set the tempo and determine the means to reach those goals. Agile team management is also team enablement in that it allows teams to retain their focus and unification. Agile leadership can also maintain the visibility of key metrics to track progress and provide feedback for later improvements.
Once leadership has established parameters and the buy-in for agile methodology, the next steps to follow include:
- Committing to using multidisciplinary agile teams
- Embracing iterative work
- Removing excess bottlenecks to change
- Reviewing and improving after each sprint and each project
It’s crucial to facilitate a data-driven culture across the organization to empower your agile transformation initiatives and give teams the feedback they need to find incrementally higher success with each sprint.
Achieve management buy-in at the start with unified agile leadership
When an organization achieves management’s buy-in of agile, it propels transformation efforts downwards. Buy-in is crucial to the transition because it aligns all teams behind a unified goal and a set of methods to achieve that goal.
Regular check-ins with top-level stakeholders can fulfill a few objectives. First, regular communications with stakeholders can help ensure that they’re embodying agile methodologies. Frequent check-ins can also take the temperature of any concerns within the organization.
"Buy-in from all stakeholders is vitally important to the health of a project,” an article on project success from Temple University’s Fox Business School notes. “Without proper stakeholder buy-in, projects can be stalled, challenged, or ultimately fail. The project manager must sit down with stakeholders that will be the most impacted by the project and thoroughly listen to each of their concerns.”
Although agile transformation is an ongoing initiative rather than a project, this recommendation to gain buy-in still holds, particularly when the adoption of agile methodology is new to an organization.
Once these initial objectives are set, organizations can begin the following steps to implement agile throughout their teams.
Step 1: Commit to using agile, multi-discipline teams
Nimble teams are the core of agile work. Agile teams, ideally, receive little supervision or direct management as they commit their talent, energy, and ideas towards a specific, data-driven goal.
A true cross-functional agile team includes developers, testers, business analysts, architects, and UI/UX. But some team members could be connected to more than one team. Depending on the project, additional resources outside of IT may be added.
The agile methodology gives teams the autonomy to work without any cumbersome processes. Agile teams are self-directed and make their own decisions. Week-to-week reporting is handled by the scrum master, whose role is to work with the agile team. The scrum master is there to support the team through the daily stand-up meeting. The scrum masters can help the team to resolve issues but they don’t make decisions. Reviews and reporting are saved for specific milestones.
Step 2: Embrace iterative work
Transitioning from the waterfall planning approach to agile’s iterative team approach on an organizational level can be challenging to navigate. Moving from traditional waterfall planning, with detailed and rigid plans, to the agile methodologies where work is completed in sprints can be a lengthy process. There are some ways to ease into the process of embracing iterative work by making small changes.
For example, teams can make some incremental changes in planning processes. Instead of pre-loading all project requirements in advance, produce a working prototype version of whatever it is that you intend to bring to reality. For example, start with a one-page plan for a new digitally-delivered service that states overarching goals and driving values. This single page can later be expanded to graphical mark-ups and other concept-type work, while including feedback from customers and peripheral teams along the way.
3: Remove excessive bottlenecks to change
Change approvals can have an extreme effect on the pace of organizational work and the ability of agile teams to turn their intentions into reality.
When even small changes require approval, a queue can form, leading to frustrating months-long delays in work progress. Many rigid approval processes are based on a need to sate fear of risk but presenting data can successfully alleviate some of these fears. For example, stakeholders can agree on priority metrics, and then agile planning teams can demonstrate how metric targets are met or projected to be met. When metrics can be used to justify the change process, approvals may be streamlined.
There are other ways to improve the change approval process. Making some change approvals automatic can reduce some delays. For smaller changes, approvals can be automatic. But for larger, extreme changes when manual change approvals are necessary, any reduction in the number of manual approvals can have a positive effect. Also, agile development’s iterative nature can mean that a single approval isn’t committing too far in one direction.
Step 4: Review and improve after each sprint and each project
With traditional approaches to project planning, many business projects only casually allude to past performance during the planning and approval stages.
With agile planning, each iteration can reflect upon its progress – what worked, what didn’t, and what new goals or ideas can be incorporated in the next sprint.
Even if you don’t commit to iterations or sprints past the planning stage, it’s still a solid practice to embed automatic low-stakes reviews as the last stage of work for every process.
Data and value stream mapping can allow for control and confidence
Data and metrics play a key role in agile planning and how past performance affects current daily work. If organizations have transparency and high visibility for key performance indicators (KPIs), there is less of a need to implement strict controls, such as an extended review process.
Instead of micromanaging the act of work or planning itself, business leaders can guide teams toward optimal metric performance. Then, leaders can take on the role of a supporter, mentor, or advisor to aid teams in keeping KPIs trending positively.
Understanding value streams is key to leveraging data and metrics for even greater outcomes. First, organizations must define their value streams, which can be based on products, or services, or tied to customer or business objectives. As we recently noted in a post about value stream mapping, “with a clear understanding of value, you can build teams around that are aligned to specific customer and business value needs.”
Once value streams are identified, teams can begin the process of value stream mapping to track metrics such as flow, cycle time, and other delivery metrics that will provide valuable insights. Value stream mapping processes can include several steps such as:
- Mapping workflows for key processes and key departmental work.
- Agile teams can map micro-processes for internal responsibilities.
- Data can then be gathered and contextualized according to this map; this allows teams to understand which work stages produce the most work value and which can be improved.
Data that is contextualized to value streams provides the ultimate level of feedback. With this approach, organizations can gain visibility into all processes to chase greater returns over time. Finally, AI/ML business intelligence can be used to automate performance reviews, facilitate decision-making, and rapidly identify both threats and opportunities.
Bring agile advantages beyond DevOps
Agile methodologies have a way of enabling teams to work with more autonomy, efficiency, and speed. Traditional work processes and management techniques must be adapted to facilitate these goals.
The progress agile has achieved in accelerating software delivery and innovation is undeniable. By adopting components of the agile model to other areas of work, the entire organization can start to appreciate the transformative benefits agile can offer.
See how these efforts bring value to your organization with this case study about how Schneider delivers better value to the business with Digital.ai.