Agile is a set of approaches (like Scrum) focused on developing software in an adaptive, efficient and iterative way. Agile values functional software, responding to change, and collaboration among developers and with customers. This is achieved by organizing teams to promote self-organization and cross-functional capabilities.
An important element of Agile is not letting process become more important than solving the problem. Teams are encouraged to identify the uncertainty they face and find solutions to those challenges. Agile is most successful when the entire organization follows it.
Agile, in its simplest form, provides a set of guidelines for helping teams maintain focus on the evolving needs of the customer throughout the development cycle. By iteratively refining functionality, soliciting feedback and enhancing working increments over time, Agile empowers organizations to build on progressive learnings — and work toward delivering a product that encompasses the end-to-end user journey.
There are many approaches, from Scrum and Kanban to Lean Software Development, which can be applied to Agile, but it's critical to recognize that simply adopting these practices in a templatized manner won't help your organization achieve its transformation goals. Likewise, limiting the adoption of Agile to development teams — or attempting to implement this approach without shifting the underlying culture — will inevitably lead to poor results and missed opportunities.
But even those that have effectively transformed with Agile often notice opportunities for further optimization throughout the development process. Teams may be able to rapidly develop and deliver applications, but the approach often reveals corresponding challenges with technical support, security and automation. While Agile is effective at highlighting these issues, it isn't intended to provide solutions — it doesn't include specific tactics for execution or measurement. Instead it assumes organizations will need to adopt other practices and methodologies in tandem.
Whether starting with Agile or DevOps, here are a few key factors to consider:
Start small and simple.
Plan to apply the principles of Agile to implement change in an iterative and incremental way, treating the adoption journey like a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This means empowering your teams to learn through iteration, adding complexity incrementally over time. Without this approach, you run the risk of re-creating something that operates and produces very similar results to existing systems without yielding much improvement in outcomes.
Not all challenges are created equal.
Throughout the process of transformation, organizations almost always discover multiple types of problems and opportunities for growth — simple, complicated, complex and chaotic. There are principles and practices that align to each type of challenge. The highest-performing organizations recognize the need to address all four types and enable adaptive use of the best-suited principles and practices for each situation.
Look beyond leadership for solutions.
Many leaders attempt to define the solution to be implemented, which naturally creates resistance and significantly limits effectiveness. Greater success is found when leaders clearly define the problem and desired outcomes, along with boundaries and clear levels of decision delegation. The goal should be to create a space where those closest to the work are given the freedom to experiment and discover solutions.
Lead through culture.
Ongoing support and engagement from senior leadership is a key indicator of success in any transformation. As a leader within your organization, your role must be to drive and support the critical culture changes required to enable communication, collaboration, compassion and creativity. Throughout the transformation, you must consistently examine which elements of the current culture are impeding growth and identify steps to shift your words and actions to support behaviors that will better enable agility.
Don't set it and forget it.
Anticipate that the first iteration of any solution will be imperfect and plan for ongoing improvements accordingly. Even those solutions that are well-suited to your existing needs or circumstances will need to be adapted over time to deal with new uncertainties and ongoing changes. This need for continuous optimization applies to software products, processes, tools and larger transformative efforts.
Avoid falling back into old habits.
Both organizational inertia and fundamental human nature make it easy for businesses to get comfortable with the way things are, for better or worse. Even once you've made the commitment to change, in the long run, if the cultural mindset doesn't equally transform to embrace the new way of doing things, these changes are likely to fall away. To combat this issue, goals and successes should be consistently communicated and celebrated beyond immediate teams to the organization as a whole. Leverage ongoing performance metrics to ensure changes continue to demonstrate value — and reinforce these changes over time.