By Sandeep Shouche
Most executives will hear the Agile buzzword and ask their teams to “do this agile thing.” For many executives, Agile only means: Do it even faster than before. Deliver whenever I want it. Don’t question when I want to change it.
True “Agility” is a much deeper change and most enterprises will underestimate the amount of change they will experience when they adopt Agile. There are several deep-rooted habits that have to be kicked and some new ones have to be embraced.
While there are many organizations that claim to be an Agile enterprise, very few actually behave like one. But what exactly goes into making an Agile enterprise? An Internet search reveals a lot of marketing pitches, but not a lot of guidance about how to become one.
In our observation, there are a number of characteristics that go into the successful making of an Agile enterprise. So here are some views about what an Agile enterprise looks like.
It all starts at the top. The senior executives understand what Agility means and lead by example.
Some of the ways in which this manifests itself are:
|The portfolio of the organization is dynamic. They recognize that change is the only constant and there is no such thing as “certainty.”|
|They will not hesitate to make strategic decisions whenever the time is right and not just in “strategy summits” where a chosen few executives make plans for the rest of the organization for a year or more.|
|They make clear priority calls whenever required. They do not start several initiatives all at once, keeping the amount of work in the system at a reasonable level.|
|Prioritization is always based on potential to create customer value. Other considerations (like preferences of the team, opinions and political pulls) play second fiddle.|
|They understand that nothing is delivered perfectly the first time. They encourage teams to experiment. Rather than bully teams into building the perfect product with ridiculous deadlines, they encourage them to unlock value quickly by delivering incrementally.|
|They realize the final solution and product can only be arrived at through a process of experimentation and use of iterative methods. They encourage their teams to take risks and make it safe to fail sometimes.|
The organization focuses on products rather than projects.
|Instead of focusing on project-centric measures like schedule variance and cost variance, they focus on product-centric measures like “value delivered.”|
|They don’t try to optimize for project delivery. Instead, they focus on the product-related business case (because products will last several years, whereas projects are ephemeral).|
|They frequently question the business case of the product even during the projects that occur during its life-cycle. They will gracefully exit products which no longer make business sense.|
The organization embraces a Lean culture. They apply Lean principles and embody the philosophy of continuous improvement.
|They frequently stop to fix problems, rather than quickly apply band-aid fixes.|
|They encourage the teams to look for improvement opportunities to reduce “waste”. Most of the incremental improvements come from the team, rather than top-down.|
|They work on a few things at a time and complete them, rather than leave too much work on the table.|
Their teams are cross-functional, able to cut across silos and truly collaborate to unlock value for their customers through high quality products and services.
|Disagreements and conflicts are always resolved by focusing on “how does this increase customer value?” rather than political positioning.|
|Before demanding something from other departments, each department first focuses inwards and comes up with constructive suggestions.|
|Everybody’s incentives are governed more by their contribution to overall customer value rather than their individual output.|
They are completely transparent with their stakeholders, especially their employees who feel empowered and valued.
|Across the organization, everybody is aware of what “customer value” really means and they strive to maximize it.|
|Their plans are realistic rather than aggressive. They know that keeping everybody busy is less important than ensuring that they all contribute to building value.|
|They do not lull the customer into false sense of security. They willingly share information about potential risk factors. They offer a high-level roadmap and a detailed, short-term plan to recognize the uncertain nature of the business.|
|They never hide bad news from their customers. They willingly admit mistakes or slippages and always offer a plan to make it better rather than blame others or the environment.|
Many of the above might seem to be platitudes – “motherhood and apple pie” statements. To ensure that they do not just remain in policy documents or on the walls, it is important to develop indicators and measures for each statement that will prove that either you are meeting the requirements or that you are not.
What we are talking about is a “balanced scorecard” for an Agile enterprise. Of course, each organization is unique and the scorecards will be different for each organization.
For more information about how to build one for your organization, do get in touch with us.
About the Author
Sandeep Shouche (PMP, PgMP, PMI-ACP, CSM, CSP, [ASM.EN], ITIL Expert, PRINCE2) is an expert in the areas of project, program management, Agile methodologies and IT Service Management. He has over 24 years of project management experience in different industries and geographies. Sandeep has been on the Board of the Project Management Institute – Pune Chapter. He has authored and been featured in several articles and conferences related to project and program Management. Outside of work, Sandeep is deeply committed to voluntary work for social causes and has a profound love of the mountains.