Australia Post, National Australia Bank, and insurer Allianz have all gone through successful implementations within their software development teams, and the techniques associated with Agile development are increasingly gaining the attention of other departments.
Agile increases output
In 2007, the Suncorp bank’s IT department adopted an Agile approach, under the leadership of then CIO Jeff Smith. In Australia, this approach had already produced some high-profile successes, such as the innovative software development team at Wotif.com. However, it had yet to be proven within larger enterprises with established tech teams. The result was a dramatic improvement in the IT team’s output, a 30 per cent increase in projects delivered and reduced costs. Smith went from CIO to CEO of business services, and is now adapting the Agile approach to other areas of the business.
How to make it work outside of IT
According to Evan Leybourn, Agile trainer and president of The Agile Director, the Agile approach is proving highly adaptable to business units outside of IT. Areas like finance, human resources and marketing have been able to increase their output without increasing costs. More importantly, in a rapidly and constantly evolving business environment, the approach has enabled business units to become more flexible and responsive to change. “Agile lets business focus on what needs to be done, which is why it gets results,” says Leybourn. “It’s also increasingly interesting to senior management, as we see very large companies fail fast because they are not able to adapt to change. Agile is an approach which helps businesses embrace and respond to change, which is why it’s gaining popularity.”
The four pillars of Agile success:
1) Agile leaders
According to Leybourn, Agile implementation needs to start from the top, with leaders who are willing to embrace failure to find success. The ability to fail fast and adjust processes accordingly is one of the key tenants of the Agile approach to business, and Leybourn says it’s a powerful tool for those who master it.
“Agile leaders need to give teams access to collaboration technologies and let them self organise,” says Leybourn. “ They need the projects to have a strong focus on features or outcomes.”
2) Customer integration
Unlike traditional development methods where the customer is involved in the beginning and end of the project, Leybourn says an Agile approach requires constant communication with internal and external customers. “Agile managers need to find ways to integrate customers into the production process,” Leybourn says.
3) Agile mindset
While the outcomes are often excellent, many organisations find adopting an agile approach quite challenging because it requires a strong cultural shift away from rigid project management and organisational hierarchies. After more than seven years working to implement Agile techniques in large banking and financial institutions, Agile coach Craig Smith says it’s important for Agile teams to focus on the mindset rather than the methodology.
4) Agile practice
Agile teams are focussed on features, and iterative delivery, they often operate in pairs, which allows for an element of peer review to be built into the overall process. “There’s not a big book with all the Agile processes and procedures, it’s more of an umbrella term or an ethos, which then gives rise to a number of different techniques,” Smith says.
“The main tenets are that you’re constantly delivering results and responding to customers, but once you start building things in an iterative fashion you begin to find and fix problems before they become an issue.”
Smith says the “fail fast” mindset associated with Agile software development is making its way into other departments because IT is now so deeply embedded in all aspects of business, and because of the rapidly changing business environment. “We’re moving away from the rigid idea that there is only one way to get things done, and into an era where it’s okay to question processes and change things,” Smith says. “It’s not just about Agile IT, it’s about Agile marketing, lean manufacturing, and a level of responsiveness which is just not possible using traditional management techniques.”
- Agile’s success in IT departments is leading to its adoption in other areas of business.
- Agile is an approach, rather than a list of rules and procedures.
- Agile focuses on individuals and interactions, rather than processes and tools.
- Agile teams focus on producing tangible outcomes over documentation.
- Agile requires close collaboration with customers, whether internal or external.
- Agile teams respond to change rather than following a preset plan.
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