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InfoQ Homepage News Scott Staples on Why Agile is Still Relevant

Scott Staples on Why Agile is Still Relevant

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Scott Staples is the Co-founder and President, Americas, for Mindtree, a global IT services firm.  Staples, in reacting to the "agile is dead" headlines, explained why agile development practices are still alive and well, why "agile" should not be a goal, but organizations should rather focus on outcomes, why many organisations struggle with agile implementations and what is coming after agile.

Why should organisations care about Agile? Isn’t it becoming old hat now?

Most of the time when Agile is mentioned, people think of Scrum.  Scrum is relatively simple and in many ways helps enterprises improve their overall application development.  However, just having daily stand-ups and two week sprints is not really Agile.  This gives enterprises some short term gains and IT teams can tell the CxO suite that they are doing Agile, but this is a false sense of achievement.  The biggest challenge is truly adopting Agile and getting to the nirvana of Continuous Delivery is cultural change.  The problem with Agile is that many people believe they can achieve incredible productivity increases without changing some of the fundamental organizational structures that have slowed them down in the past.  We should actually retire the word “Agile” and really focus on just the outcomes.  What organizations are looking for are ways to increase market share and reduce costs.  To do so requires “organizational agility”, not Agile software development.  So, the real question is how to bring Agile constructs to transform entire organizations.

Why are so many agile adoptions unsuccessful?

Agile is not magic.  Many people feel that if they say the word “Agile” enough, then magical things happen.  The reality is that the companies that excel in Agile are typically ones that grew up Agile from day one.  They installed a culture of Continuous Improvement and had business and IT on the same page from the beginning.  They created very flat organizational structures and fostered a culture of collaboration, innovation, and empowerment.  Agile culture is also about accepting failure, but making sure you fail-fast and move on.  Most companies struggle with the thought of accepting failure, but you have to fail in order to achieve Continuous Improvement.  This means a lot of executive training and participation is needed because Agile will not work if it is solely driven by IT and by middle management

How should organisations approach adopting agile? Or should there be a different goal?

First start with the “why.”  What is the sense of urgency to transform an organization to Agile?  Please note that we are talking about an “organization”, not IT or Ops … it has to be the entire organization.  The “why” becomes the rally cry and organizational beacon.  This could be faster time-to-market, business survival, better quality in code and products, reduced costs, and so on.  All of these factors can be improved by implementing Agile and LEAN practices.  Are companies trying to become more agile because it is a hot topic, or are they trying to become more customer-focused, nimbler, faster, and agile?  Agile is not about IT.  Once you have the “why” defined, then the focus should be on organizational change.  This will require a journey map and will take years, not months.  Planning and communication are imperative.   If the CxO organization is not fluent in Agile and LEAN constructs then the adoption will be a challenge.  This has to be an organizational change effort, not a new way of doing software development

There are a lot of agile scaling models available today – surely a company can simply adopt one of them and follow the rules to be successful?

No chance.  It is not that simple.  Following the rules of an Agile framework will not create lasting change.  It may improve a project or two, but in most cases it will isolate the team and create additional bureaucracy and politics that will unsettle an organization.  Once again, the key is culture.  For the individual, you need to stress and focus on why this is good for them and give them the tools and training to be successful.  From an organizational standpoint, you need Agile converts, evangelists, and coaches.  Lastly, the environment needs to change.  Collaboration, ideation, and innovation are difficult to achieve in a cube farm or with business folks sitting on one floor and IT folks on another … or even in a different building as we have seen.  Enterprises need to break down traditional silos and remove bureaucracy and levels.  This will put them on the path of Continuous Improvement and Continuous Delivery and it won’t matter whether they chose SAFe, DAD, LeSS, or Nexus as their framework.

What is beyond agile?

Simply … more Agile.  As mentioned earlier, Agile is a journey not a destination.  It is also very early in the journey for most companies.  The journey still needs to help companies get to Continuous Delivery (DevOps), removing Testing as a separate function and integrating this into the team, creating full-stack engineers, and driving cultural change.  While Agile has been around for a long time, we are actually in the very early days of Agile adoption.  It will be a fantastic journey and one that will change software development forever, but it will also change how businesses operate and how IT and business work together in the future.  It will be great to witness and Mindtree will be right in the middle of it. 

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