Agile: 3 steps to get started

Want to apply agile across your whole organization? Consider this advice around centers of excellence, process, and tools
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Employees hanging notes on wall to represent agile methodologies

The Agile Manifesto burst onto the scene in 2001, introducing the world to a revolutionary methodology that focused on a quick, iterative approach to software development. At first, agile was squarely focused on the IT department, but as digital transformation reworked organizations from the ground up, it became increasingly apparent that agility was the path forward in a rapidly changing digital world.

Today, organizations are applying an agile approach across their entire organization, and as they do so, they are transforming people, processes, and technology. If you can adopt agile practices across all three, your operational efficiency, flexibility, and pace of innovation will all dramatically improve.

Here are three steps to get started with agile.

1. People: Create agile leadership structures through Agile Centers of Excellence (ACoEs)

Transforming your organizational culture requires stakeholder buy-in, and nothing accomplishes this more holistically than a dedicated team whose sole responsibility is to drive change.

Think of the Agile CoE as a dedicated team whose sole responsibility is to drive change.

Think of Agile Centers of Excellence as repositories of agile best practices with subject-matter experts who not only research these best practices, but articulate a vision for change, establish KPIs, train key members of your leadership team, conduct larger company workshops, and even help hire agile-specific roles such as Scrum Masters.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Because their work fundamentally cuts across most business units, they can not only give you tremendous insight into the totality of your operations now, but they can also articulate a path forward: Which department needs to adopt an agile approach the most? Should you start with sales or marketing? How do these departments interface with your IT department, and how can you enhance collaboration between the two? These are just some of the questions that the ACoE can begin answering.

2. Processes: Incorporate effort-value matrices into your workflow

Once you have a clear vision for where your organization can become more agile, you need to standardize workflows that enable nimble, self-adjusting teams. Rather than the rigid hierarchical structures of years past, agile organizations are embracing teams that can weigh priorities quickly and make strategic deviations where necessary.

Effort-value matrices allow teams to visually plot their tasks according to their importance and the time that they will take to complete. In this way, they can prioritize quick wins when necessary or carve out time for high-value but high-effort tasks.

[ Need to explain key Agile and DevOps terms to others? Get our cheat sheet: DevOps Glossary. ]

This simple workflow visualization decentralizes the decision-making process, allowing smaller teams or individuals to track their tasks directly back to business objectives. However, there are benefits to accountability, and the beauty of an effort-value matrix is that a team can collaboratively justify decisions using this framework as a guide.

3. Technology: Flatten tech hierarchies

In the early days of agile, in-house programmers and IT staff were the gatekeepers of application development and operations. While they’re still important, today’s  open source tech infrastructure has paved the way for a more collaborative and democratized process.

Today's open source tech infrastructure has paved the way for a more collaborative and democratized process.

As recently as five years ago, APIs were the bastion of the IT department or tech-first companies – used primarily for developers to work with other developers on things like mobile app development. Today, we live in an environment where companies can easily build a product or service by pulling together different open-source APIs. These out-of-the-box solutions require minimal coding and can increase time-to-market.

It’s also becoming easier for anyone to code, thanks to coding bootcamps and more intuitive platforms. These new citizen developers are often much more closely aligned with necessary business outcomes. 

Getting agile

Operational agility isn’t just about IT anymore, and we need to think about it on an organization-wide level. This can be a daunting task, but if you break it down into people, processes, and technology, you can begin to get the pieces in place for a successful transition.

Start with people and by getting the necessary stakeholders on board. From here, you can map out a vision and begin transforming your workflows and technology to enable nimble teams to quickly iterate ideas and bring products to market.

[ Want Agile and DevOps best practices? Watch the on-demand webinar: Lessons from The Phoenix project you can use today. ]

Katherine Kostereva is CEO and Managing Partner of Creatio. Creatio is a global software company providing a leading low-code platform for process management and CRM. The company has been highly recognized as a market leader by key industry analysts.

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