Define Your Agile Transformation
At last year’s Technology & Innovation -- the Future of Banking & Financial Services conference in Sydney, Australia, senior executives repeatedly used the following keywords (even, at times, trying to outdo each other with them):
The first keyword is easy to understand and confirms something we know, but often overlook: we need to be more “customer-aware” and listen to customers’ needs and wants, rather than assuming that we already know what these are.
Here's a good example of what it means to be customer-first: at the TUANZ (telecommunications forum) conference in New Zealand several years ago, three telcos made presentations. The first two went up to the podium and showcased their new glitzy, glamorous products, only to face a barrage of questions from the audience about their seemingly less important products and features. The third presenter took the stage with a simple message: “This is what you’ve been asking us for -- and this is how we’ve delivered it.”
You can guess which company received the most applause and enjoyed greater business opportunities. This simple message really resonated with me and has defined my approach to business ever since.
The second keyword, “agility,” is more ambiguous. What do senior decision-makers really mean by agility?
It doesn’t require poetic licence to interpret agility as adopting Agile concepts -- such as the ability to work efficiently with minimal waste; delivering in shorter, faster cycles; divesting the big, overarching programs to smaller, value-focused initiatives; focusing on a collaborative, transparent culture; and being able to change and adapt swiftly to meet changing market conditions or a customer needs.
(I hope I'm right in interpreting the executives' message.)
But what about the third keyword: “transformation”? At the Technology & Innovation conference, it was disappointing that no-one questioned what this term actually means. In my experience and from discussions with customers, there are two very different interpretations for the word transformation, used in this context:
- Optimising the IT department to deliver maximum value whilst focusing on quality and throughput (the major “continuous delivery” initiative recently announced by Australian telecommunications provider, Telstra, is a good example of this)
- “Organisational transformation,” where organisations look beyond IT to fundamentally changing the very way they’re structured
As an Agile practitioner and coach, I see Agile as a set of tools and concepts we can use to deliver fantastic solutions and enhance our customers’ experience. This does not mean Agile is solely focused on the IT or engineering department: in fact, I would love to see the words “IT department” pushed to file 13 and hear more talk about the business delivery teams. After all, isn’t that why we’re here?
In most cases, when an executive is talking about transformation he or she actually means they want to optimise the manner in which IT work is flowed through their delivery systems. Hence the focus on scaling Agile, continuous delivery, and creating “Scrum teams.” There’s nothing wrong with this approach and indeed it is a necessary step along the path.
The bigger definition of transformation, however, delivers significantly greater value and has a far more wide-reaching scope. It includes bringing agility to areas such as legal, finance, HR, operations, real estate, and the executive suite.
Where Are You?
To deliver the greatest value from our delivery systems we need to look at all the pieces of the puzzle. Here are some questions to ask yourself in figuring out where you fall on the transformation path:
- Do your funding regulations and approaches align with an Agile way of working?
- Do you hire managers, leaders, developers and other personnel with the personality traits to support an Agile delivery approach?
- Are your operations teams involved up-front and continuously throughout the delivery cycle, or are they the forgotten teams at the bottom of the cliff, where you push off a solution to the public and expect them to support it?
- When it comes to real estate, are your office spaces fitted out to support a transparent and collaborative culture?
- Are your executives trained to personally champion and lead an Agile approach?
- Do the people who interact with your organisation’s customers understand the streamlined delivery approach of Agile, and align their work requests, funding, support, and communications strategies with this approach? In other words, are they part of your delivery team?
Now that you've thought about these questions, where do you come out on the transformation continuum? I would hazard a guess that some of these questions were hard for you to answer: you wanted to say “Yes” but if you were totally honest, your answer would probably be a “No.” If that’s true for you, then consider this an opportunity to start a discussion around how to really transform your business and delivery activities with a well-structured and disciplined delivery approach.
We do so many things right; yet the drag of the past, fear of risk, and loss of control is a millstone around the neck of progress. You can transform into an organisation that delivers customer-first products and services, to great applause and business success; and the path to your transformation begins with agility.