Lost in Petty France: taking agile to the enterprise

By Peterguess According to GOV.UK it takes “at least three weeks” to get one’s passport renewed. If it takes two days to get there, two days to get back, what is it doing for the other 10 days? Background checks, watch-list checks, wanted-list checks, fraud-checks, depositing the cheque-checks are all electronic and cannot, surely, take 10 days. You can expedite your passport renewal and get it in 4 hours if you appear in person. What would it take for the passport office to adopt fours-hours for all applications? It would require that it become an agile enterprise. Note that, compared to the USA (4-6 weeks or 2-3 weeks expedited), Australia (3 weeks or 4 days expedited) and Canada (3 weeks or 1 to 10 days expedited), the UK Passport Office is doing very well.

Agile reduces the time taken to bring business ideas to reality. By putting the focus on smaller projects turned around in shorter timescales, agile is designed to get results quicker, delivering the priority needs in priority order, minimizing risk and improving quality. However, agile methodologies can be useful for improving functions across the business by helping teams focus on evolving their approach as other internal demands and/or market conditions change.

Rethinking internal IT

One of the main aims for agile is to keep pace with what the business requires and adjusting to the changing business world at the same cadence as the business must. Indeed IT makes it possible for the business to adjust to market conditions with a speed that has never before been possible. No longer can we deliver what the business said it needed six months ago and we can’t put any effort into something that ends up out of date before it’s completed. Establishing an agile development process speeds up the delivery of value back to the business and eliminates much unnecessary rework along the way.

This emphasis on creating results faster links into other areas of IT too. Where IT meets the users, in the service desk team, support staff who are more agile, more self-organizing, using a mix of tools, people skills and experience fluidly, discover that they have more freedom to concentrate on problem solving and customer satisfaction. This means empowering staff with more flexibility on how they approach problems and directing them to take ownership of users and their issues. In return IT gets more visibility into the changing landscape of the business and the ability to adjust real-time and plan ahead as trends emerge. Instead of annual reviews of data, IT should be reviewing data daily looking for trends and shifts in business behavior and thinking.

Adoption of agile across IT results in improvement in the overall processes and culture around service and support. There is better communication,  everyone has better visibility of what is going on and each participant has a sense of ownership in the outcome. This attention to business needs and velocity raises end-user satisfaction and leads to improvements in call resolution metrics.

As agile affects the development process calendaring and social tools get more widespread adoption and are seen useful across IT. But these tools also provide a place for all stakeholders, in IT and outside IT in the business, to collaborate together and track what is being delivered and when. For release planning this is critical in avoiding problems of dependencies and problems around availability across IT systems, personal and infrastructure.

In a jam? Just add agile!

This model of Agile IT can be taken into other areas of the business where the need to respond faster to requests is becoming a pressure point. For other business units, such as marketing, sales or operations, agile can be used as a way to re-think processes too.

Introducing agile to any non-IT department involves helping them see why the guiding principles of agile can be useful for their own projects. What’s not to like about a more joined-up approach across teams that helps deliver better quality work faster? It’s all about working out how to apply this in real life situations and building up a picture of what would work well for each team.

If agile software development focuses on matching the marketing rhythm; an agile marketing team should be looking to match the sales department’s tempo. An agile marketing team would be working on projects with their sales counterparts and other inside groups and maybe even outside agencies in a fast-paced, results-oriented, engaged manner. Taking a more agile and collaborative approach might involve some of the following:

  • Internal marketers and agency teams tracking competitors and correlating with sales team feedback from their customer interactions giving a 360° view of the market tracking trends, threats and opportunities in real-time. Doing so makes this part of a holistic campaign rather than a sequence of unrelated launch events pushed into the market blindly.
  • More collaboration across sales and marketing so that if a competitor launches a new product, then sales’ response and marketing offers can be co-ordinated rather than run as separate efforts.
  • As and when market changes occur, marketing can adjust not only the content but also the medium through its closer understanding of sales needs and market expectations. And it can do it today rather than sticking to what was planned six months ago.

All of this should mean the best possible outcome for the business. In practice, agile will be part of the mix that a marketing or sales function could bring in. There is still a requirement for a guiding vision that will be supported by planning, but this should fit alongside a more general approach that can react more quickly to market conditions.

When looking at agile in the business, a more joined-up approach across teams and driven by more orchestrated tools and processes makes sense. Most employees could tell a story on being asked to do something quickly by a colleague from another department who seemingly doesn’t understand how much effort that task really entails. Better visibility into the processes that go on behind the scenes will give teams more realistic expectations of when to expect work to be delivered and means they can plan ahead for it.

Agile’s benefits go beyond an improved project outcome. Done well, adopting it should create a more responsive business and happier staff who understand each other better. If individual agile business units work, think how effective connecting them up to form one single agile organization could be.

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