Beyond Building Software: Agile as an Organization-Wide Initiative
Nearly 20 years ago, Agile software development started making waves in the technology world when the Agile Manifesto was published. Taking the place of inflexible and siloed waterfall software delivery, Agile was founded on the tenets of collaboration, fast feedback loops, short development cycles (sprints), and a focus on value-driven work. The ultimate goal with Agile is to deliver better software faster, improving customer experience and increasing employee engagement. One common way to achieve this is to build Scrum teams. A Scrum team includes all the necessary people to complete a project or deliverable. This typically means a product owner who understands the vision, business, and customer expectations, and representation from other teams like finance, legal or sales. In Scrum teams, more people are folded into the routines and ceremonies of Agile and see how it works as opposed to merely looking at it from the outside-in.
Since its inception, Agile has largely and successfully been employed by technical teams (take a look at the Campbell Agile story as one example), however, there is a growing need for Agile practices to move out of the technical silo and across the entire organization. Here’s why every team should be aligned on the Agile approach:
Agile Is a Catalyst for Cross-Team Reconciliation
Before Agile was widely adopted, technical teams (developers, operations, QA, etc.) often functioned in their own silos, rarely collaborating or working toward common goals. While Agile initiatives within tech teams are still coming to fruition and shifting with the tides of innovation, it is becoming necessary for the entire organization to get on board. Why? In many situations, when budgeting and planning are performed separately, a full understanding of Agile is required for it to be supported at all levels, and this may mean pushing out Agile planning processes to different places of the organization. If management, ownership, finance, or others still demand a fixed budget or fixed feature planning, this creates risk that wouldn’t exist if the teams are given more freedom to deliver. This requires an understanding of the controls that Agile provides so that those holding the purse strings do not see it as a process without accountability.
Additionally, as the pace of software delivery increases with Agile, business, legal, finance, and other non-technical teams cannot be left in the dust. While the business and C-level leadership might be impressed by the rate of releases coming from the technical side, what is being produced from these teams needs to align with business objectives, forecasts and long-term strategy. Equally, legal and finance must be assured that what is being delivered is being done so in a cost-efficient, compliant way. Software products and platforms that are misaligned with the company vision put a hole in the budget or spur legal issues can be detrimental and reverse the benefits of doing Agile in the first place.
Just as technical teams are coming together to work towards a common goal (better, faster software delivery), this Agile mindset must be spread across the organization, so the goals of every team are reconciled. When the entire organization moves at the speed of Agile, digital transformation has the potential to reach new levels of success.
Agile Addresses Company-Wide Cultural Issues
While Agile is foremost thought of as a technical process, it also cuts to the core of cultural issues and can be used as an agent for organizational change. Many organizations undergoing a digital transformation get caught up in product features, budgets, deadlines, etc. putting cultural issues to the wayside. However, culture should really be at the forefront of a digital transformation, and the tenets of Agile can facilitate a positive workplace. With its focus on collaboration, value-driven work, and short sprints, Agile processes can improve employee engagement and gives every individual on a team a sense of ownership in their work.
Retaining highly skilled, loyal and innovative employees is critical to keeping up with the pace of digital transformation. As it becomes harder for businesses to fill skilled roles, it is important to maintain a positive company culture to keep talented workers on the roster. Agile development is not just about better and faster, but happier as well. Again, the cultural aspects of Agile should be applied company-wide to ensure all teams are maintaining a high level of productivity and joy.
Agile has permeated throughout technical organizations around the world, however, as the proverb goes, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” If software delivery is moving at a rapid pace, but the rest of the business lags behind, digital transformation can face a costly stall. The tenets of Agile can and should be applied to any team within an organization to ensure everyone works toward the same vision, in unison. When organizational silos are busted, a culture of collaboration is created and work is visible and valuable, companies can build better products and platforms faster, better and happier.