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How Agile Can Yield Effective IT Business Alignment

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In agile projects the product owner is often seen as the person who primary assures the connection between business and IT. But for effective IT-Business alignment having a product owner is not enough. What can people from the business, demand and supply parts of the organization do increase the effectiveness of IT – Business alignment?

At the Agile and Software Architecture Symposium 2014 Klasien Postma from Ordina presented “Agile projects do not yield an effective IT business alignment". In her talk Klasien showed how can you apply lean thinking to decide which architecture documentation is needed and when it is needed, discussed why Agile practices are often only used by the IT Teams in many projects, and provided suggestions on how to increase the involvement of stakeholders from business, demand and supply in agile projects.

Klasien presented her experiences from working in different architectural roles with the council for the Judiciary and with the Dutch tax authority, both governmental organizations. The trends that she sees in these organizations are centralization towards fewer offices, specialization using shared service centers and an increased focus on IT governance.

The council for the Judiciary uses two kinds of teams: Product development teams which are chain oriented teams that focus on the business value and the project scope and service development teams which are component oriented and focus on quality and re-usability with a cross-project scope. The teams use several backlogs to manage their work and collaborate with other teams.

Klasien provided a set of questions based upon lean thinking that can be used to decide which architecture documentation is needed and when:

  • Who needs the document?
  • Why does he/she need it?
  • What’s the value to him/her?
  • What if the document is missing?

Different kinds of architectural documents can be used. The domain architecture can be used for long term planning, where the project start architecture supports project initiation. A solution architecture with architecture control and change management is used during the sprints.

According to Klasien these are the reasons why demand, supply and business do not collaborate as partners:

  • Users are referred to as clients, not colleagues
  • Supply is not considered as a business partner
  • Many prejudices, not enough confidence

In her talk Klasien provided suggestions to the different stakeholders to increase the effectiveness of the business-IT alignment. Her advice to the business is to become aware that automation is their concern, and that business people should dig into automated processes and try not to be averse to IT. To stakeholders coming from demand she advised to visit executive offices as reality usually differs from theory, and to involve real users when making specifications and don’t consider IT as too difficult. Finally to stakeholders from the supply side she advised to invite users besides the product owner to the demo and to visit specification meetings and focus on simple explanation.

For business-IT alignment, collaboration based on equality is the most important said Klasien. An effective adoption of business reality into IT solutions requires a mindset beyond thinking in models and predefined patterns.

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