The Pressure to Become Agile

Companies are under pressure: They have to be fast, future-oriented and efficient. The solution: Agility. But it's not as simple as it sounds.

Large organizations are often considered sluggish. They usually have numerous workarounds and individual solutions for a single problem. In addition, there can be little or no cooperation between various departments, creating inefficiencies and lost knowledge. In turn that leads to incorrect priorities, mis-aligned goals and delayed projects. The problem is further exacerbated by more intense competition, more demanding customers (and employees), more complex projects, and increasing needs for digitalization. But what should they do?

Invariably, the most popular answer is to become Agile. Business agility promises higher flexibility, more dynamism, fast response times – to customer wishes, changes in the market, or regulatory requirements. But is it the ideal solution for everyone?

The higher dimension: Corporate agility

Change is clearly an burden, because a business must continue to perform while it is in the process of being reformed. For this reason, it doesn’t make any sense to immediately bring agility to all areas. However, a big concept is needed: how can a structure be created within which small, agile teams can work while still meeting the requirements of the business and remain compliant? To create a willingness to be agile, the entire way of working must change: from the remuneration and promotion criteria to the formation of the individual teams. What is needed is a climate of openness and a willingness to exchange ideas without boundaries and fear. This often cannot be achieved in a single step across a large organization.

Teams are often used to working in closed units and keeping track of their own smaller goals. Implementing ideals such as measuring effort in achievement rather than time can help – especially since this system needs to be extended uniformly across the entire organization in an understandable and transparent manner. This won’t happen overnight. Coaching, training and educating these new approaches across large organisations cannot be underestimated, as ultimately businesses need to mesh new-world ideas into an old-world thought process.

The technology behind

As well as organizational and cultural hurdles, there is also a technological level: if teams do not use uniform technology for work planning and creating transparency, uniform project management with consideration of expenditures and investments can become problematic. This implementation is always an iterative process in which all feedback should be incorporated. All tools must interact with each other, accessing the same data pool, because there must be only one truth as a basis for planning, implementation, testing, release management, reporting and organizational understanding.

In companies, the work is often based on SAFe, the Scaled Agile Framework. It combines approaches from the agile methods Scrum, Kanban and Extreme Programming with Lean Thinking and Lean Product Development. With the help of this framework, a construct of many smaller systems can be made agile.

One of our largest customers use CA Agile Central as a hub for all these tasks. The planning tool was configured specifically for the group’s requirements and enabled Continuous Integration and Delivery (Devops). The aim is to get a comprehensive overview of all delivery execution in the teams whilst also showing the contribution of the execution to strategic objectives. On this platform, you can see what has been developed and what code has been released – and it forms the basis for further plug-and-play solutions, such as for project and portfolio management, and thus the assessment of the role per individual project.

Midsize beginning – Big ambitions

One of our first transformation pilot projects was initially limited to one department – as a proof of concept. It was not without problems to integrate and transform the structures into an Agile based delivery unit.

From the outset, the decisive factor was the great attention given to the project at corporate management level and the active support of the branch management. It turned out to be particularly effective to make key members of the organisation individual “champions”; ambassadors for agile approaches. They would ensure that rules are followed and that messages remain consistent. The whole team was responsible for the milestones, supported by coaches and tool specialists in an open forum.

In the context of agile planning there were boot camps and training. Additional “agile points” with screens in frequented areas showed the status and shape the understanding of the specific language in the project.

Special attention was paid to compliance during implementation. New developments were intensively checked for their compliance with rules and release management was strict. There were reporting structures for management across all planning cycles that provided insight into which applications are being processed, which processes are affected and what exactly has been implemented in a release.

All experiences and best practices are fully documented to facilitate expansion across other offices, the goal being to create a blueprint that can be implemented anywhere with slight local variations. Teams from other countries are already traveling to the site to learn about agile practices and their successes.

This best practice examples shows that solid and comprehensive planning that allows quick adjustments and one hundred percent management support, is essential during an agile transformation.


James Ifill
James Ifill is a Principal Agile Consultant at CA Technologies currently working on the implementation…


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