Agile … it was the worst of times

Remember when I described agile as the best of times? Talking it up like it’s the best thing since sliced bread?

Perhaps I overhyped it a bit. Just a little. I’m still a huge fan of agile but like all good things it’s not without its challenges:

  • Scaling is hard: Testing and proving agile with a couple of small innovation projects is a good idea and pretty straight forward, but how do we follow these up successfully? How do we run big scale, multiple projects – like IT implementation, or even business change – using agile?
  • Changes to IT development and operations: It’s hard to imagine an IT development team that hasn’t heard of agile but there may be some who’ve yet to adopt it. However, how do we get some of the ‘old-school’ IT operations to jump on board when deployments come a lot quicker and with less documentation potentially?
  • Fake agile: I have seen many cases where companies have described a project as agile but in reality they’re using it as a buzz word because they’re really just doing the same thing. The worst extreme was a mixed waterfall / agile implementation at a professional services organisation – a team of highly intelligent consultants doing weekly status reports on top of agile ceremonies, sending out change requests for minor changes right after sprint planning… how do we stop people from doing that?
  • Different maturity levels across industries: Even the best methodologies may require some adaptation across different industries to reflect the different challenges presented:
    • Financial Services: Given the often fairly rigid IT setup in FS businesses, deploying agile effectively is a big challenge
    • Government / Health: The big push from government on digital standards helped to create several good examples of big agile projects, especially in central government; the key question now is how to apply that across local government and health
    • Retail / Consumer Goods: Opportunities exist for agile in product development and across some IT projects, but the scale challenge is relevant here
    • I could go on and on but you get the idea – each industry will have its unique set of problems as well as the common issues I’ve already addressed

And if all that doesn’t sound challenging enough, if you get it wrong, not only will you fail to realise the benefits of using agile – you could end up being worse off than if you did nothing because of the time, costs and resources utilised to make it work. Not to mention the tension you might have created among your teams along the way.

But don’t panic. This isn’t a reason to walk away from agile. It may well be a complex problem but it’s one that can be tackled from a number of angles:

  • People: What kind of skills and operating models are required to support agile? What kind of business engagement is required to get ‘buy-in’?
  • Process: How to introduce and adopt the different agile ceremonies? More specifically for IT, how to fit Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) and best practice IT operations (e.g. ITIL – Information Technology Infrastructure Library) under the agile umbrella?
  • Technology / Tools: What are the considerations for technical architecture, open standards and agile toolsets? • Scale: How to adopt programme management with agile?
  • Governance / Procurement: How to provide governance with agile? How to construct a contract with an agile provider?

Answer these questions and you’re well on the way to agile success.

Agile has always been a well-established methodology with a lot of materials available – so you may be able to find the answers from the books. However, to put it into practice and make it real, you’ll be more successful if you get some expert advice. An expert opinion will bring several things that you can’t pick up from a book. He/she will:

  • Know the methodology inside out
  • Have experience of implementing, leading and scaling agile
  • Have done it across industries resulting in a unique understanding of their individual challenges
  • Have the ability to come in and tell you ‘how my agile is going’ straight away and more importantly tell you how to fix it

Of course it just so happens that I do know a few experts out there who can do these things; in fact I’m on track to become one myself. You can get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Agile. It may be the worst of times but we can help you to make it the best of times.