The Agile 2018 conference is wrapping up in San Diego today, and for once the conversation wasn’t focused around enterprise Agile and scaling Agile. Of course, those are still important topics to many businesses, but by now the industry has had 20 years to figure out the process and they are ready to take the next step, which is about discovering if Agile is really delivering on what it set out to do.
According to Shannon Mason, VP of product for CA Agile, when businesses started out on this journey, they were looking to transform the way they work. While Agile has helped speed up the delivery and the development process, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is meeting customer expectations.
“Businesses say we want to build better products and if we happen to do that faster, then that’s great,” Mason said. “But if you ask them what did they end up doing, they find they built a lot of things faster, but they don’t know if they are actually building things that are better.”
The problem is the focus has been around output and not enough on outcome. Outputs measure what you produced while outcomes measures the results or value of what you produced. Being able to measure output is great, but you have to constantly transform and adapt, and too often CA was finding Agile processes were turning themselves and other organizations into a feature factories rather than providing a full organizational continuous flow.
“We were congratulating ourselves at the end of the month for having planned for 300 things and doing 290 things and then planning for another 300 things,” said Mason. “We started to ask ourselves, we did all this work, but what did we actually want our customers and our users to get out of it and did we actually do and achieve that?”
To change this mindset around, Mason explained businesses have to go back to the basics in a sense. In order to continuously improve, the have to get continuous feedback and continuously learn. It is easy to track and gain insight from traditional key performance indicators like productivity, quality and throughput, but if you are only focused on the delivery metrics, you are only look at one angle. “We need to step back and look at what does it mean for our customers to be successful versus the leading indicators,” Mason said.
There are metrics businesses can and should start tracking, such as how many people are starting to use a feature once you push it out, what marketing campaigns are pulling them into the product, and is everyone engaged. “Rather than just looking at it from one angle, you want to be able to provide that full view, which also gets us into the continuous flow piece too,” Mason said. “We are all aligned on this goal that we are looking to achieve.”
Another problem is that at its core, Agile is a human endeavor, and too often businesses overlook their employees’ connection to the work. Mason finds a majority of employees are disengaged and have no idea what the strategy of the organization they work for is. “How can you feel some sort of connection to your customer when you don’t even feel a connection to the company you are working for,” she said. Organizations and tools should be purpose-driven, specifically focused on the why of the work and connecting that into people. “Part of our research has shown that if you have people really understand why they are doing the work even if it feels tiny or small and the potential impact to that, then they are more likely to stay longer, go the extra mile to figure out how to solve the problem and really feel committed to achieving the goal.”
Mason expects the future conversation surrounding Agile to focus more around funding. She explained businesses are starting to look at their annual budget and resource allocation process, and trying to figure out if they have actually accomplished what they set out to do in the first place, and how funding played a role in accomplishing that.