‘8 Crucial Questions For Enterprise Scale Agility’

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Over the last decade, we have seen the effects of digital disruption diminishing the competitive edge of Fortune 1000 companies. To stay afloat amidst drastic market changes, companies must adapt quickly. Software development teams have used Agile to deliver software that customers want, quickly and efficiently, for years. Can companies apply Agile company-wide to gain the same benefits? What can companies learn from development teams?

1) Why is scaling agile to the enterprise and beyond software development so desirable?

* Enterprise scale agile is about harnessing speed and value for competitive advantage. Everyone wants to get to market faster and deliver the high-quality products that customers really want. With enterprise scale agile, you’re taking agile beyond IT and development teams to optimize the entire “concept-to-cash” process within your company — from identifying opportunities and allocating portfolio resources to shipping regularly and iterating quickly on customer feedback. And optimizing for speed and value helps you respond better to market shifts or strategic changes. The numbers speak for themselves: High-performing agile organizations cut time-to-market in half — with better quality and 30-50% reduction in costs — and can grow revenue 37% faster and generate 30% higher profits.

* Enterprise scale agile is also where you see the real ROI of agility. Agile development has been around long enough now that most large companies have experimented with it. But piloting a few Scrum teams doesn’t make a company agile, and scaling agile across teams of teams is where many companies fall down: they discover they lack the know-how, executive buy-in, or cultural support to make agile work at the enterprise level. Getting dozens or even hundreds of teams working together requires disciplined coordination and cadence, but it also means connecting those development teams’ work with the company’s highest priorities. Breaking down the silos between IT and “the business” is key to enterprise scale agile, and doing it successfully pays dividends.

2) What are some of the key differences between teams doing agile and enterprise scale agile?

* Unlike agile at the team level, enterprise scale agile requires the participation of everyone involved in allocating, planning, building, and delivering value on a particular project (commonly called the “delivery group.”) That means everyone from developers, product owners and Scrum Masters to portfolio managers, marketers, UX, testers, operations folks, enterprise architects, and engineering directors. Large companies often have pockets of agile teams, but can’t realize the benefits of enterprise scale agile until these teams are coordinated with each other and working on the business’ highest strategic priorities.

* Enterprise scale agile teams work on an aligned cadence: that is, all teams start and end their sprints at the same time, which allows them to plan, adapt and deliver together. This is critically important for several reasons: stable teams (those that stay consistent throughout sprints and releases) are more productive; a synchronized cadence establishes set routines, so that teams can better adjust to any unplanned changes; and planned timeboxes help batch and limit the work in progress, making teams more predictable.

* Release planning, or “Big Room Planning”, is the key ceremony of enterprise scale agile. It brings the company vision and product roadmap into the same room with the people who will be executing on it — which, at large companies, can be hundreds of people — to plan the work for the coming time increment (typically a quarter, or 10-12 weeks.) During big room planning, an executive sets the vision and context for the work to be done; delivery teams plan and prioritize their feature backlogs and slot stories into sprints; team leaders help surface and resolve any needed adjustments, risks and dependencies; and then everyone involved votes on their commitment to the plan. Companies that do big room planning this way deliver the right products to market more predictably, and with fewer risks.

3) How do you know if you are ready for enterprise agile?

* You can start with enterprise scale agile from wherever you are now. Some organizations start by piloting an agile team or two and move to enterprise scale agile after they’ve mastered the fundamentals; however, what we’re seeing more and more is companies using a “big bang” approach and implementing agile practices across an entire program or department. With either method, you’ll begin seeing enormous benefits with the very first big room planning session.

* Scaling agile, especially in large enterprise companies, isn’t just about adding more agile teams. Agile at scale requires integrating agile principles into your organizational structure, company culture, process, operations and strategic thinking. For the best results, you’ll scale horizontally (coordinating and aligning teams of teams) and vertically (connecting development work to company strategy and portfolio initiatives.) That sounds big, but you can start small! By taking an agile approach to your agile adoption, you break things into smaller chunks, iterate and try things out, retrospect on how you did, and then use that feedback to improve.

* If you’re considering agile at scale, then it can be helpful to consider how you’d answer these questions: How does work flow to your teams? How far into the future do you plan? Do you include people from outside IT or engineering in your planning? What happens if the world changes after you plan? Your answers can help you gauge how well you’re currently delivering on your company’s strategy. And finally, you should ask yourself if you can afford *not* to adopt agile practices across your organization. Are your current methods for working keeping up with the rate of change and disruption influencing you? Do you want to keep your business alive in the 21st century? If so, then you’re ready for agile.

4) What are some basic agile principles that need to be in place before transitioning?

* People commonly misperceive agile principles as practices, when in fact they constitute a mindset. This means you don’t need to have mastered Scrum and Kanban to start a transition to agile (you’ll practice as you go), but you *do* need to be open to an agile mindset. You need to be prepared to question the efficacy of your standard operating procedures. You need a clear, urgent vision and a customer-centric focus. You need infrastructure that supports high degrees of communication and visibility across the company. You need to empower your people with trust and training, so they can collaborate and make good decisions close to the work. And you need a willingness to inspect, adapt, and improve as you go.

* We typically suggest that you train leadership on enterprise scale agile organizational structure and processes, along with the ten core lean thinking principles (find those in our CIO Guide: 5 Steps to Business Agility).

5) Is the transformation ever finished?

* A transformation is never finished in the sense that there’s always room to improve and be better: the minute you’re complacent is the minute your competitors begin to close the gap. That said, each iteration of the transformation is finished. You bite off small chunks, implement a step towards the desired change, finish, and evaluate it — then look at the results so you can determine the next right step to implement. The goals of enterprise scale agile aren’t just predictability, performance improvements, quality improvements, and increasing customer happiness — you also need to strive to continuously improve.

6) What the the major roadblocks in the way of scaling agile to the enterprise?

* If you’re leading the organization, then unfortunately the roadblock typically is you. Agility requires a willingness to adapt at enterprise scale, and it takes courage to re-architect a whole business system for speed, steering, and opportunity capture. Most top-down, waterfall-planning-centric organizations were not designed for this.

7) Why does agile fail in large enterprises, and what can be done about it?

* Organizational change initiatives often fail because they lack visibility, disciplined actions, empowered employees, and a culture of continuous improvement. And anything done at scale is more challenging. Our customers have often told us that the cultural changes are the hardest. Treating your agile transformation itself as an agile project can solve for these problems and help pave a road to success.

* You can ensure better odds of success for your agile adoption by committing to a few key actions: setting a clear, inspirational,customer-driven vision for change; creating a transformation team to provide leadership and accountability; communicating frequent and consistent leadership support; take small steps, and expect to learn as
you go; and inspect and adapt after each step, adjusting the plan to make sure you’re steering towards the long-term vision that was set.

8) What do you think companies should know when it comes to scaling agile? There are a couple of key takeaways:

* The benefits of agile at scale are beyond exceptional, and the costs of standing still greatly outweigh the costs of adoption.

* Your odds of successfully seeing these benefits go up when you have the investment and participation of your leadership.

* If you think Marc Andreessen’s words about software eating the world only applies to Silicon Valley, you’re in trouble. Analyst reports predict that the majority of development projects will be agile within the next five years, and with more companies (and the industries in which they operate) becoming driven by software, agile is taking off in healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, government, energy, hospitality, media … you name it. In fact, your competitors probably are already doing it. It’s time to get on the bandwagon. (Choong Sin Fatt, Senior Solution Architect, CA Technologies)

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