It’s not just IT: The How, What and Why of Whole Enterprise Agility
Back in 2001 when the manifesto for software development was first launched, agile was perceived as ‘an IT thing’. 16 years on and agile is spreading to all parts of all kinds of organisations. We spoke to Andy Smith, Agile Transformation Coach at Audatex to get his take on this shift.
AF: Andy, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. To kick us off can you tell us a bit about your personal agile journey to date?
Andy: I have over 12 years’ experience as a coach and transformation consultant. But it all started when I was programme managing a CRM implementation for local government in 2002 and thought there had to be a better way of doing things. Through research and conversation, I found that there was indeed a much better way and that many of the things we had been doing naturalistically had been collated, added to, and even given a name: Agile.
Now I work with organisations of all sizes, helping them successfully adopt the agile mindset, vision and values to create high-value business and customer outcomes.
Ok great, sounds like we’re talking to the right guy! So, what is your definition of ‘Whole Enterprise Agility’?
Andy: Whole Enterprise Agility is the ability of an organisation to rapidly adapt, and react to an ever-changing market in which the biggest threats can come not from the competitors you know about but from those you’ve never heard of; the Unicorns who don’t have to worry about legacy or ‘rules’. The Agile Enterprise has the courage to disrupt itself, to fail fast, and the flexibility to succeed early. It thrives on change, getting stronger as a result and gaining a competitive advantage by being first to deliver the products and services customers love. Agile methods applied by IT software development teams are only part of the story; if the rest of the business doesn’t embrace agility success will be limited.
So if agile is not just about IT, which other areas of business could benefit from an agile approach?
Andy: In short, all of them. In 2016 Barclays Real Estate team won the best non-IT agile implementation category in the YOH! Agile awards. Control functions such as Legal, IT Operations, Compliance and Risk can all benefit from the visualisation of work and the flow management that comes from Kanban adoption. Support functions such as Sales, Marketing and HR benefit greatly from agile methods and I have personally witnessed CXO teams clustered around their Scrum board. Agile organisations recognise that the key to success is in taking a customer-centric, product view of their portfolio. When you do that it becomes very obvious, even in high-tech companies, that to get brilliant products to market quickly, you need early and regular engagement with all stakeholding groups. Not only is it easier to control, govern, market, sell and support a product that everyone has been engaged with throughout and from day one but also those groups can and do add insight, value and innovation as the product develops.
Adopting an agile approach can clearly be very beneficial to a lot of organisations. Which ONE benefit would you put on a poster advertising Whole Enterprise Agility?
Andy: Better products faster with more predictability and higher quality. Okay, that’s not ONE thing so my second attempt is: Agile Enterprises benefit from the ability to rapidly adapt and succeed in a fluid market.
And on the flip side, what are some of the biggest obstacles facing organisations?
Andy: Arguably the foremost is the assumption that it’s just an IT thing, and I may have already mentioned that it isn’t! Another is the failure to adopt the three-pronged approach to the transformation of middle out, top down and bottom up; typically the middle is hardest to engage and convince that this is a good change.
What’s the biggest agile ‘mess up’ you have personally come across, and how was it resolved?
Andy: The most common scenario I come across is when a client imposes agile working on a supplier with a traditional contract; fixing time, cost and scope with the attendant financial penalties will not enable the trusting, collaborative, working relationship that recognises and welcomes changing requirements. Suppliers cannot welcome change which will result in them having to extract more capacity from the team (evenings and weekends) or erode their margins by bringing in more bodies. The resolution for projects already in this position is to agree that scope is actually a variable since what is most important is delivering the highest value business outcomes based on emerging information. For projects that have not yet started life is easier since there are plenty of agile contract models out there that can be adapted to suit the circumstance, thereby avoiding the pain of the CR process and vitriolic blame games that so often dog traditional methods.
Andy, thanks again for taking the time to share a little of your experiences. We are looking forward to seeing you on 16th November!
Andy Smith will be speaking at our Leaders in Tech event in Reading on 16th November. We’ll look more closely at exactly what Whole Enterprise Agility is, why it delivers the business outcome of better products faster and how the agile approach can help the tech team break into the Boardroom and help deliver business-wide transformation.
If you’re a CTO, VP or manager and would like to join us for the Leaders in Tech event, you can register here: https://www.meetup.com/Leaders-in-Tech-Reading/
You can also connect with Andy and continue the conversation on all things agile via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andy-smith-776665/