Scaling Business Agility: Three Essential Pillars for Being vs Doing Agile
The difference between being a large Agile organization and simply calling yourself one is by correctly scaling Agile with these three tenets.
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The concepts of Agile, Scaling Agile, and Business Agility have become buzzwords. The crux of being Agile for the customer and people who are building products and services is buried under a focus on conducting ceremonies.
Prior to scaling Agile, let us not forget the manifesto for Agile software development. It’s all about uncovering better ways of developing software that provides value both to the customer and for people who are part of the delivery stream.
Business agility can be associated with the value ecosystem as below:
Scaling adds complexity to the whole value delivery cycle. It’s a myth that only when we have larger teams involved do we need to scale up. Listed below are a few parameters that add challenges and require scalability at individual and system level:
- Communication and collaboration across distributed teams
- Architecture balance between legacy and modernization
- Continuous integration and continuous deployment across multiple business units
- Roles and responsibilities within and across teams
- And many more…
An Agile mindset doesn’t happen overnight; let’s explore the pillars for being Agile as we scale.
If each business unit within an organization operates as a separate function, this has to be the first candidate for transformation. Even before we align the cadence and processes, it’s important to ensure everyone understands the purpose of working together. System thinking evolves as we help the team understand the vision and purpose. Top management must be aligned before a team gets involved. Transparency and working agreements within and across teams are vital in building a healthy culture.
It’s at all levels, not just top or middle management. This is about enabling and adding value at every level in the ecosystem. It starts with product management who plays a crucial role in identifying and communicating value to the entire stream. From Engineering and Support to Program Management and Sales, everyone has a role to play in the value ecosystem. Those leaders must be identified and nurtured by management and the leaders need to hone their skills, not just to show or lead, but to be part of the journey.
Balance Between Customer and People
While we focus a lot on the customer and delivering the value for them, let us not forget the folks who are bringing those value. The Agile Manifesto talks about working software, while at the same time developing it at a sustainable pace by motivated individuals. The motivation becomes quite a challenge especially when the people are part of different value systems and are coming together for a common purpose. For knowledge workers, the work itself is the key motivation. Hence providing a clear vision on business, product and architecture along with the role they play are essential. HWell, happy employees try to make customers happy.
Who says Agile is all about just processes and practices? As we focus on delivering value in minimal predictable cycle time, it’s important to make our continuous delivery, continuous integration, and continuous deployment pipeline stronger. The toolchain for coding, building, testing, packaging, configuring, releasing, and monitoring must be carefully aligned with the organization culture as well as the value ecosystem. The DevOps team should be an integral part of the development team instead of behaving like governing function. As we scale up, it is essential to incorporate security in the whole value stream. Hence DevOps needs to scale up to DevSecOps. Every individual irrespective of their role must understand the critical role DevSecOps play and should upgrade themselves to be comfortable with the toolchain and value it brings in.
There are several frameworks available such as SAFe and LeSS to help the enterprises scaling up Agile. The framework should fit our purpose, not the other way around. It’s important to evaluate the framework for a fit in our organizational culture, technology, and adaptability to customization. Frameworks are intended to be used as-is, but we need to see if they are adding value or hindrance. Let us not forget our foundation of the Agile Manifesto and value ecosystem while we adopt and transform for the framework. After choosing the framework, for underlying Agile methodologies, we can leverage the knowledge matrix explained in the article "XP: An Obsession for Simplicity and Productivity with Focus on Humanity" as one size doesn't fit everyone.
Lean Flow Focus
As we scale up, we might be introducing new processes and practices. At each step, we need to question ourselves on how this is adding value overall. We need to increase value-add, minimize the value enablers and eliminate the non-value add. For further reading on how we can optimize the value flow, please check out the article on "Let’s Lean on Lean."
In summary, we can scale up business agility focusing on business outcomes by motivated individuals through leadership. At each level in the value stream, everyone has a key role to play:
Product Management: Vision, roadmap and defining the value
Architect: Laying the path ahead
Program Manager/Scrum Master: Alignment & removing the roadblocks
Team Member: Delivering the value
Leadership: Leaning the non-value elements
Cross functional teams (Support, Sales, Marketing, etc.,): Value enablement
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