Software has fundamentally changed the way that companies deliver new products and services, explore new channels, and interact with empowered customers. In fact, 81% of business leaders recently surveyed by Forrester believe that technology is a central element of their business model. Software is essential to even being in the game, and to make a difference, it has to be more competitive and innovative.
Agile and lean promise greater flexibility, higher quality and increased velocity than traditional approaches. Agile is popular for development teams, but in order to get benefits across the organization, something more fundamental is required: holistic change—a transformation to processes, organizational models, development practices, tools and architecture.
In Forrester’s Agile and Lean Playbook, my colleagues and I maintain that it is critical for companies to define and execute a holistic change strategy based on a five-step framework in order to realize agile benefits and success.
Step 1: Appoint a smart change leader to adopt and scale agile. Being responsible for the change program is a daunting task. The change leader is responsible for defining and continuously selling the transformation program to his or her peers, ensuring that top executives are standing behind the transformation initiative, and convincing teams around the organization to proactively collaborate in the program. In the first 90 days of transformation, the change leader should build a work plan that defines metrics for the transformation program, actively shifts the focus to value, and provides a complete overview of the program’s role, vision, mission, contributions and deliverables.
Step 2: Adopt lean principles for your program, but adapt them to company culture. The success of a transformation to agile and lean depends on how fast and well the organization buys into agile and lean values and principles. Lean can be seen as the foundation for agile, as the principles explain why agile works and help measure whether agile practices are helping you move in the right direction.
It is critical that the organization deeply understands lean principles and decides which it will adopt and in what order: 1) eliminate waste (add nothing but value); 2) respect people; 3) build quality in; 4) optimize the whole, not the parts; 5) create knowledge (focus on learning); 6) deliver fast; and 7) defer commitment. By considering the culture of the organization, it will be possible to focus on a set of principles that make sense.
Step 3: Align the transformation strategy with business priorities. Maximizing agile’s value requires focusing on certain aspects of the business to distinguish between good and bad projects for agile. Though agile will often help throughout the organization, the cost can only be justified in areas that are having the biggest challenges or that are adding the most value. Agile values include 1) individuals and interactions over processes and tools; 2) working software over comprehensive documentation; 3) customer collaboration over contract negotiation; and 4) responding to change over following a plan.
Step 4: Apply agile and lean practices to processes, people and organizations. Understanding and committing to lean principles and agile values is critical and only the first stage of a long transformation journey. The overall strategy should help empower application development teams to select the right agile and lean practices for the right projects, as agile will have a sizeable impact on traditional project-management processes. Scrum is the most-adopted agile method in the market, not only because it is the simplest to use, but also because it focuses mostly on project-management practices and business collaboration, an obvious place for many organizations to start. But many organizations actually adopt a mix of existing practices together with SCRUM: kanban, XP, BDD and others. The strategy should also help balance the right mix.
Step 5: Use agile and lean ALM tools, and enough architecture to encourage continuous change. In any transformation program, sooner or later you will hit the technology wall. Process alone will not be sufficient to scale agile through the enterprise, and continuous change can be challenging. The road map of tools for project management will need to be open and dynamic because as maturity and scale change, so will the tools. There are tools that help learning and adopting agile and lean, as well as tools that help scale it out, and there is a right time and situation to adopt new tooling if not from day one of your transformation.
The ultimate outcome of a transformation is not the adoption of agile and lean, but instead the creation of an agile and lean organization that measures, learns and adapts to its working environment. With a holistic approach to transformation, an organization can define and execute a strategy based on lean to successfully transform to agile, ultimately making learning and improvement part of the organization’s DNA.
Diego Lo Giudice is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves application development & delivery professionals.