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IT organizations that have successfully embraced Agile reap the benefits of transformation as its methodology and culture significantly impact the ability to release code faster.
For these progressive organizations, the Agile methodology has created a competitive advantage: higher performing teams and products, increased speed of time to market, higher customer satisfaction and enhanced experiences. Through Agile, teams can innovate faster, improving the company's position in the industry by capturing untapped market opportunities.
The benefits of adopting Agile today
Becoming Agile requires a shift in the structure and relationship between management and the team by driving decision-making to the lowest level. The bottom-up approach makes the IT organization more adept and responsive. Agile ultimately becomes the spark necessary for innovation, igniting team collaboration. Teams rely on Agile methodology and culture to develop into high-performing units that deliver value throughout the organization.
As Agile initiatives grow, IT can continue to increase enhancements and optimize release times. This translates into improved return on investment as code quickly moves to production, thereby lowering the cost of failure. Investment increases for those companies operating with lean-development teams. The optimized structure allows for fewer resources and developers.
A benefit of great importance today is Agile's ability to support distributed teams. Because team members use tools that support and track progress, they are able to rapidly increase their ability to work effectively from home. In today's environment, this can mean the difference between failure and success.
Why Agile fails
While many IT organizations have benefited from Agile, others have struggled. With all the hailed promises of Agile -- improved quality and customer satisfaction, decreased time-to-market, higher-performing teams, increased profitability, and accelerated innovation -- why haven't more IT departments realized its benefits?
Some view Agile as the ultimate remedy, the magic cure that will solve all their problems. They start down the path, but early into their journey run into obstacles that impede progress. They experience pain and internal strife that lead to disengagement and, ultimately, abandonment of the initiative. What causes this?
One of the reasons for Agile failure is the traditional top-down leadership style. Agile is designed to empower at the lowest level, enabling decision-making from the bottom-up. This is critical for speed and innovation. Another reason Agile can fail is a lack of defined user stories and clearly defined acceptance criteria for enhancements and optimizations.
Understanding why Agile initiatives are unable to move beyond these roadblocks requires a deep understanding of change, culture and collaboration:
- Change. For many organizations, Agile introduces a radically different approach to business and IT. This shift -- or change -- is hard and can be met with substantial resistance. Agile requires people to change their role in fundamental ways, and they may not like it. Change can render meaningless the value of someone's hard-won experience and know-how. It can be positive for some people, and negative for others. Moving to Agile can be painful and awkward, as old patterns are broken and new norms established. Many Agile initiatives fail because real change is hard to sustain.
- Culture. Agile is more than a methodology. It is a culture and mindset. As an IT transformation initiative, one of the most important aspects of Agile is its ability to shift deep-seated culture. However, if the internal culture is resistant to change, it can slow down the initiative, reduce efficiency and impede transformation. When launching an Agile initiative, IT organizations whose cultures are fundamentally at odds with the underlying Agile mindset are prone to fail. And therein lies the problem.
- Collaboration. Agile succeeds through teams; it is not a one-player sport. A lack of collaboration, proper training and management can impede success and introduce pain in the initiative. Additionally, competing methodologies and friction with the business can obstruct an organization's Agile journey. Without the necessary collaboration framework, ideas are confined, and a lack of trust develops within the team. This breakdown leads to feelings of isolation and low job satisfaction. Instead of sharing and working together as a team, project success rates plummet. The back-and-forth nature of collaboration is critical for innovation and continuous improvement.
Navigating the path to Agile
Agile transformation can be challenging to navigate. Real transformation requires a broader way of thinking and sweeping changes beyond delivery teams. Whether an organization is embarking on its journey or seeking to take Agile to the next level, it requires expertise and guidance.
Those starting face the challenge of the unknown, a lack of real-world application and the proper training. Those who have reached the initial peak of Agile and are looking to the next frontier face the challenge of pushing past the plateau of department-level success to deliver value at an enterprise scale. Moving to the next frontier of Agile requires an ecosystem of strategic agility to rapidly respond to changing circumstances.
Agile has the power to infuse value and ignite innovation throughout the organization. But it needs to be done the right way.
About the author
Frank Trainer is the vice president of process and delivery at Saggezza, which is a consulting company in information technology. For more information on adopting Agile, visit Saggezza.