Businesses are agile already - IT just doesn't look very hard to find it!
Nov. 3, 2009
Lying awake in bed last night I was thinking why IT organisations find it difficult to implement Agile techniques. My initial thoughts were that the business owners are always pushing back on it and not seeing the benefits. Why are IT organisations always trying to lead the business to implement good practices? The more I rationalised the more I started to think that I was actually wrong and that in many instances the business is in advance of IT with its approach. I thought back to projects I had worked on and business departments that I had managed.
Consider this for a moment. Would businesses implement a new business process using a big bang approach or would they do this in a more Agile manner? I have worked in an operational role in two companies; in both cases we moved existing business processes to an external party. This was when we wanted a cheaper option for processing. Rather than move the existing process in a wholesale fashion we reviewed the process to identify what would make sense to move in the first instance, to prove that the changes would work. We implemented the part of the process that we were sure about and then monitored it. After an agreed, timeboxed period of time (of a month), we reviewed what had worked, what needed to change and what we should do next. We then implemented our changes and additions to the process. We did not have a product backlog but we certainly knew where we wanted to get to and updated our approach as we went along. Also, we held meetings to review how the process was working and what was beneficial. We did not call these meetings ‘Retrospectives’ but we certainly used the meetings to revise the approach we were taking. We also learned from the amount of time that the first implementation had taken and revised our estimates for the next implementation. All of this was done in a very informal manner, without detailed documentation defined up-front. We were being Agile because that makes most sense, although we didn’t have a name for it.
There is another everyday occurrence of another technique that is associated with Agile. If you walk along any High Street in the morning take a look into the windows of the estate agents that you pass you will see scrums of estate agents discussing the progress they made yesterday and the plans for the day ahead. I am sure that similar activities take place in other sales teams, but this example is very visible to us all. They may not call these meetings scrums and they may not have a scrum master but the discussion shows the fundamental attributes of an Agile technique.
What can we learn from this? IT organisations are very good at formalising techniques and detailing how they should take place. We, as IT organisations, should recognise this. We should also recognise that the business works in a far more informal manner to us, however they do have a good understanding of how to make things work – and this is by using what we call Agile. Therefore IT organisations should change their approaches and rather than trying to sell Agile to the business as something new and different to how they currently operate, we should identify the areas that where they are already using something akin to Agile and bring it to their attention. They will then see the real benefits of adopting a similar approach to the development of their IT solutions.