Why Should Your Business Care About Agile?

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I’m now in a session called “Agile: Why Should Your Business Care?”. We all talk about agile, but what does that really mean for your business, and what does your business want from IT/IS?

Interesting opening video, about how Standard Life has co-located IS and business people, creating strong multi-disciplined teams. The results? Very happy stakeholders, and industry awards for their innovative technology products.

Standard Life has about 500 application development people. Standard Life are also a key exponent of SOA, and a reference customer for IBM and other companies for their implementation of SOA. They say SOA and Agile are really complementary.

So what does Standard Life business want from IT?

1. Value for Money – avoiding waste and delivering just what is needed.
2. Productivity – have to be able to demonstrate efficiency in development.
3. Predictability – the business needs to know when they will get the software, and what it will cost.
4. Quality – of course, quality matters.

But what they don’t want, is lots of talk about agile or software development methodologies!

Instead, talk about value for money, productivity, predictability, and quality – and they start to get the message.

So what did Standard Life do to change?

Standard Life like the concept of Lean, as per the Toyota manufacturing concept. They found a book that really helped: Lean Software Development by Mary and Tom Poppendieck. This book really takes the Toyota concept, translates it, and adapts it to software development.

Standard Life also ran experimental projects. Short projects of about 3 months, where they really put agile principles into practice for the first time. It was a great learning experience, and imperative before trying to scale agile up.

Effectively they implemented agile one small step at a time, allowing their agile adoption to gradually snowball, as they learnt more about the practices.

But it took courage. Experimenting on projects takes courage. Breaking away from approaches that have been used for many years, takes courage.

Standard Life also did formal training, with industry-leading people like Mary and Tom Poppendieck, in order to build on their knowledge. They remember asking Mary how they should scale agile up to run big projects? Mary’s answer: “Don’t. You shouldn’t run big projects”.

Of course, what she meant was to break big projects down, and run them as several smaller projects. The bigger a project is, the more likely it is to fail. Maybe that’s common sense, but it’s not necessarily common practice.

Gartner did a benchmark study and found Standard Life to be in the top quartile in terms of their application development performance. And they credited this to their advanced use of SOA and agile development.

They are implementing agile team by team, building on this success.