Organizations become interested in Agility for a variety of reasons. Here are some examples of the statements commonly heard when companies start considering an Agile approach:
“Our software projects are always late, frequently canceled, and our business partners have lost faith in our ability to deliver. We need to improve.”
“Small competitors are able to offer products more rapidly than we can.”
“Our city is filled with exciting startups. It is hard for us to attract talent because our methods of working are out of date.”
“Our big revenue-producing products are aging, and if we are unable to bring new, higher-margin products into the marketplace, our gross margins will erode.”
Whatever the reason, it is important to have alignment across the organization about your goals and measurements of success right from the start. During an organizational change of this magnitude there will inevitably be rough patches. But if there is clear alignment with the business goals you’d like to achieve and the measures of success are determined up front, you will persevere even when progress becomes difficult. This alignment, ideally, is across your whole value chain, not just within IT.
Engage the Whole Organization, Not Just IT
Quite often, Agile adoption begins as an IT initiative. While IT may tell their product and marketing counterparts what they are doing, and even have them participate in training, it is clearly an IT initiative. This is limiting because it does not build alignment across the value chain. A business is a system for producing value and IT cannot independently deliver value; value is delivered when something is sold to a customer, or a customer request is serviced by software. While IT is a critical piece of the overall value delivery chain, they are only a part. When Agile is owned by IT, with IT-centric success measures, you often end up optimizing a part of the system, not the whole. And often IT finds it difficult to get the full participation of their counterparts in other parts of the organization.
So, what do you do to better align your organization around an Agile transformation?
Conduct a Facilitated Session to Get Aligned
First, conduct a facilitated session comprised of leaders across the company to develop a vision and a road-map for organizational Agility, not just Agile software development. Here are some questions to help seed the discussion.
- If we were a more Agile organization, what things would we see that we aren't seeing today?
- What organizations do we know of that seem Agile to us? Where do we see our performance gaps?
- What are the market conditions, changes in business models, changes in technology or regulations that demand us to be a more Agile organization?
During this session talk about your goals and priorities. Is it equally important for all parts of the organization to be Agile or are there specific product areas where Agility will be more likely to make a greater contribution to your organizational goals? If yes, can you start there?
How important is Agility to your organization? If you consider that investing in Agility has both costs and benefits, how does it compare to other ways in which you might invest your resources?
And finally, talk about how you are going to measure success. In the long term, how will you know that your investment has made a difference? In the short term, what indicators can you look at to gauge progress? If bringing new innovative products to market is a goal, for example, how will you decide if you've gotten there?
These are not easy discussions. There is usually no simple way to quantify these benefits. But if you have no indicators, how will you know when to proceed as planned or change course? How will you determine if your investment continues to be worthwhile? In this session establish a measurement plan that you can review and evolve over time.
When you exit from the meeting, ideally you’ll have:
- A list of the business goals behind your move to become a more Agile organization
- A vision statement for how your organization will operate in the future
- Specific focus areas for your initial work and a high-level action plan
- An initial measurement plan
- Scheduled dates for follow-up
- A clear owner for moving things forward
While the senior team won’t likely be involved in the day-to-day actions involved in Agile transformation, it is important for them to meet regularly to talk about the progress that has been made. Use the measurements you have collected to support the discussion and be sure to get the team back together periodically, say yearly, to review the long-term vision and update it to reflect the current needs of your organization.
It is not easy for an organization to become more Agile. Having alignment across the organization, having goals and being able to measure success is powerful and critical to success.