How to get out of the starting gate on agile

Most executives say they’re getting stuck in the early stages of the transition to become agile organizations.

“Agile is simple, but difficult to do,” Mahendra Durai, senior vice president of IT strategy & technology at CA Technologies, said at a recent ITWC webinar. “It’s extremely difficult to do because it’s about people and process transformation. It’s a culture change.”

At the same time, Durai said that it’s increasingly urgent to become an agile organization in today’s digital economy. “Agile is the key to make digital transformation outcomes real,” he said. “To grow, you need to be able to pivot and understand changing demands. If you’re not doing agile, then what are you doing?”

Avoid the agile fall

Many companies have a deeply embedded, top-down command and control organization. They’ve adopted agile for software development, but overall, they’re still using the waterfall or phased approach, said Durai. “That’s not going to work,” he said. “It’s called the agile fall.”

Although agile started as a way to improve software development, it’s evolved into much more than that. The entire organization has to be on board, said Durai. To realize the return on investment, everyone has to be interacting on common ground. It involves working together with business leaders so that all employees are “talking the same language, with the same goals,” he added.

Within a year and one-half of starting its agile journey, CA Technologies is starting to reap the dividends, said Durai. The company has experienced an eight per cent increase in productivity, a 14 per cent increase in quality and an 18 per cent increase in predictability.

Moving from methodology to mindset

How do you change the mindset of everyone in an organization? The first step is to develop a road map, said John Depasquale, senior director IT at CA Technologies. Organizations should plan to evolve through four stages, starting on an ad hoc basis with some teams adopting an agile approach. This should build to a level where the majority of teams are practicing agile and using standardized tools. At the next level, organizations should strive to have multiple teams practicing agile together in pursuit of a common business objective. Finally, “scaled agile” will be achieved when agile is practiced consistently throughout the organization.

Secondly, it’s critical to have tools for transparency said Depasquale. “You must get standardized tools in place or it becomes the wild, wild west,” he said. A dashboard tool is essential to track projects and to quickly address any challenges. It’s also important to invest in collaboration tools and technology to make it easier for people to work together.

From a personnel perspective, agile roles and job descriptions should be defined, said Durai. As well, the same training should be provided for everyone across the organization. Coaches should be in place to support teams as long as the coaches have experience in implementing agile on a full scale, said Durai.
Finally, an executive champion is key to the success of an agile journey.

“The biggest lesson we learned is that agile transformation is both top down and bottom up,” said Durai. “The cultural transformation starts with leadership looking in a mirror.”

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Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker has over 20 years of experience in IT-related fields in the public and private sectors, as a lawyer and strategic advisor. She is a former broadcast journalist, currently working as a consultant, freelance writer and editor.

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