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Straight Talk Technology

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Recent Ovum research confirmed that 60% of enterprises that deliver agile projects find that they are better than those they deliver traditionally, and two-thirds of this group say they are significantly better. Despite the clear benefits of agile, only 20–30% of projects are delivered that way. This begs the question, “why?”

A discussion last week with one of the leaders in agile development of digital government services in Australia crystallized some of the reasons why progress toward fully agile delivery can be slow. For success they have found that the stars need to be aligned across three broad sets of enablers:

  • Enterprise. The planning, financing, procurement, and governance machinery of the organization need to be agile friendly. If there's up to a year's delay between defining a need and being able to start on its realization, then key benefits of agile are eroded before the project even starts. Similarly, an organization requiring an idea to be fully scoped, planned, and costed before it can receive funding, undermines a key benefit of agile: discovering the optimum outcome and path to it by judicious business and technology experimentation.

  • IT and supply chain. Functional areas within IT and their processes need to be agile capable, as do suppliers. The high cost and complexity of maintaining two methodologies (agile/DevOps and waterfall/traditional ITIL) suggests that it can be easier to ring-fence agile, particularly in the early days. Because agile is a mindset as much as a methodology, apprenticeship is a better implementation model than "train and try." Supplementing internal capacity with expert agile leaders/coaches has proven successful, particularly in the early stages of change.

  • Business. For success, agile projects require a business function (and particularly a business sponsor) that is prepared to invest in stepwise business transformation, as well as deeper and more consistent engagement with the project.

Four years on, our successfully agile government agency is still in the process of evolving its agile capability. It has some systems that are still being developed and maintained using traditional waterfall methodologies. There are some areas within IT that are still more productive using traditional IT service management. There are business areas that haven't, as yet, come on board with agile business transformation. The agency's CIO isn't disheartened by this; he's more focused on building on the successes of the "coalitions of the willing" that have embraced the change. Rightly so, it seems, as the amount of funding entrusted to his team to support business change has increased by a factor of five in just four years.

For those organizations that are already delivering 20–30% of their projects as agile initiatives, the message is encouraging: the effort in making the change is worth it, and significantly so. For those who are on the brink of agile, the message is also clear: be prepared for limited initial acceptance of agile within the business and IT, and be prepared to live with a hybrid, "two teams – two streams" approach for some time. Wherever you are on the agile journey, the good news is that even a small stream of well-delivered agile initiatives tends to rapidly build business confidence in IT as a partner to deliver new business value and bring more opportunities (and resources) to your door.

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