Agile is Here to Stay... Now What?

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Summary:
Over the course of the past decade, Agile software development has progressed from a grassroots, almost underground movement, to the mainstream. Early successes have paved the way for broader acceptance of Agile principles and practices, facilitating dialogue not only in IT back offices, but corporate boardrooms as well. With an ever-increasing focus on profitability, time-to-market, and customer satisfaction, the vigorous debate over Agile adoption appears to be shifting from a question of "why?" to one of "how?"

Over the course of the past decade, Agile software development has progressed from a grassroots, almost underground movement, to the mainstream. Early successes have paved the way for broader acceptance of Agile principles and practices, facilitating dialogue not only in IT back offices, but corporate boardrooms as well. With an ever-increasing focus on profitability, time-to-market, and customer satisfaction, the vigorous debate over Agile adoption appears to be shifting from a question of "why?" to one of "how?"

To maintain momentum, the Agile community must shift its focus from "spreading the gospel" to architecting effective real-world adoption strategies. Addressing institutional adoption issues requires a less rhetorical approach which recognizes that Agile methods and Agile leaders must themselves embrace change and seek compatibility if Agile methods are to find a persistent role in modern business vernacular, whether specifically in the context of enterprise software development or in settings further afield.

Many complexities continue to challenge Agile's ability to penetrate new situations and demonstrate successes. At Sapient, we see the same issues slowing Agile adoption repeatedly. These barriers are predominantly organizational, and in many cases, self-inflicted wounds resulting from common Agile misperceptions such as:

  • Lack of executive support
  • Company culture and geographic influences
  • Inadequate tools and infrastructure
  • Skill gaps
  • Dependencies on third parties that do not do Agile
  • Co-existence with governance programs and regulatory constraints

At Sapient, we have found that successfully deploying Agile throughout the enterprise is 80% organizational change management and 20% about selecting the right Agile processes and tools. This 80% of an organization's emphasis - the hidden part of the iceberg - deserves as much, if not more, attention.

Organizational Change Collapses in the Absence of Executive Support

When considering enterprise-wide Agile adoption, executive support is essential as so much of the change induced is organizational. Reporting relationships, points of accountability, and interaction patterns with the business must evolve to support Agile. However, such fundamental changes can unearth organizational politics and unpleasant turf battles, such as when a quality assurance department disbands as a means of breaking down silos within the IT organization to build cross-functional teams. Further, making the right decisions for the business requires contemplating factors beyond Agile processes and tools. Financial and people management issues, for example, may drive the partial or non adoption of certain Agile practices.

{sidebar id=1}In one instance, Sapient was tasked with developing the core business analytics and risk management platform for a leading North American power and gas distribution company. Client executives recognized early that the nature of what was being developed demanded an Agile approach, and that the program's success would establish a new delivery standard for their IT organization. However, key business stakeholders for this project were energy traders, which meant that any time they spent collaborating with the development team was time away from the trading floor - the heart of the client's business. Ultimately, assessing the opportunity cost associated with pulling subject-matter expertise from the trading floor, as well as deciding who would spend how much of their time with the development team, required executive direction.

The Cost of Emotional Immaturity

Agile methods, such as continuous integration, encourage early risk identification and mitigation. When combined with more transparent and incremental progress reporting, customers are often exposed to an unvarnished view of reality - good or bad - much earlier than when using a waterfall approach. As such, we refer to Agile methods as "fail fast" in that if a project is so fundamentally flawed that it will fail for any reason, its flaws are more likely to surface sooner when an Agile process is employed. However, it

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