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App Dev., Agile, and You, Part 1 — Building an Agile Bridge: How CIOs can talk to developers and business leaders about moving at the speed of business

In an era of digital transformation, speed is of the essence. The changes and opportunities that digital technologies are bringing, from data analytics and cloud adoption to IoT and mobile, are so quickly changing and evolving that, in order to remain competitive, no department can sit idly by.

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In an era of digital transformation, speed is of the essence. The changes and opportunities that digital technologies are bringing, from data analytics and cloud adoption to IoT and mobile, are so quickly changing and evolving that, in order to remain competitive, no department can sit idly by. Instead, whether it’s marketing, finance, operations or IT, every corner of the company needs to capitalize on the vast digital opportunities coming down the pike. 

How can the CIO and the IT organization support that? By moving at the speed of business. Today’s strategic-minded CIOs know that the best way to become fast and flexible is through a continuous delivery framework using the incremental, iterative collaboration of an agile development methodology, rather than the slow-flowing waterfall, or traditional sequential development.

According to the 2016 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO survey, agile methodologies are preferred by six in ten CIOs to improve responsiveness. They recognize that the biggest continuous frustration from business users of technology is the time and cost it takes to deliver, says Mitch Kenfield, Principal and US Service Management Practice Leader at KPMG.

“There’s a perception that technology organizations can’t adapt and respond as fast as the business environment changes,” he says, adding this can result in missed business opportunities, as there is a time lag between when a need comes up and when needs have changed — the customer may receive a deliverable, but it’s what they needed three months ago while two weeks ago their needs changed.

Agile development, on the other hand, grew out of the need for a faster-paced, more efficient alternative that embraces an approach of evolving requirements and solutions through self-organized teams and “sprint” goals. According to Kenfield, agile is all about providing “good” capabilities faster, rather than “perfect” capabilities more slowly. “Providing good delivered solutions faster gets the business more immediate value,” he explains. 

Agile requires a new DNA within IT teams 

Whether or not they have implemented agile development methods, Kenfield says CIOs know that traditional methodologies are not fast or flexible enough. “I would argue that 10 out of 10 CIOs recognize the need for a different way to provide solution delivery,” he says.

First of all, moving toward agile development means the CIO needs to lead an internal change within IT.  For a larger IT organization accustomed to a cumbersome, slow approach, moving towards agile can simply seem foreign. An application development team with a traditional waterfall approach, including governance gates and formal requirements and lengthy test phases, may find trying a project using agile methods tough to tackle beyond a very small team. 

“It requires a drastic change in how my team interacts; it’s a different mindset, skillset and team DNA,” says Kenfield. The challenge for the CIO, he explains, is to move beyond the “ingrained” thinking that teams default to for projects requiring lots of early-stage approvals, funding gates, budget releases and the organization of teams.

“We had a large, brand-name client who had 17 documents required to get through their SDLC process,” he says. “They don’t know how agile will even fit in, which can be daunting for CIOs internally who ask, ‘How can we change our delivery methodology so I can leverage agile in the best way?’ ”

Implementing agile, however, is not just about changing how IT delivers, but requires a significant change in the relationship and interaction between IT and the business in terms of how they work together. “Without change on the business side, IT teams can become frustrated with the agile process and begin to feel like it is more trouble than it is worth,” he says.

CIOs need to build a bridge between business leaders and IT

Even if the CIO does get internal teams to move toward agile, the onus is on business leaders to change as well. Traditionally, a department head might sign a requirements document and the IT team would go away and build an application, pulling the business back in when it is time for UAT.   Agile methods, however, don’t work this way: Instead, business and product owners need to be constantly involved throughout the process, something they might not be used to.  

“The concept of agile is about specific teams of functional business people that understand what they want, who get together with technical people that can build and work interactively,” says Kenfield. The focus is on getting needs built out, validating and moving forward to get something working faster, as opposed to going away and building to match an exact design document. With agile, for example, the IT team would show its progress every couple of weeks, so product owners need to be very committed to meeting in working teams, Kenfield explains. “CIOs have an absolute challenge in getting business owners to step into their side of the equation and get deeply involved.” 

The CIO focus, according to the Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO survey, has moved beyond “keeping the lights on” to creating business value. With no end in sight for digital transformation, CIOs are under pressure to promote that business value, which agile can help with.

“All CIOs know they have to get better at this, and most see agile development methods as a way to do that,” says Kenfield. “It’s only the tip of the iceberg — the momentum we see agile gaining will continue.”

But building a bridge between IT teams and business leaders is a must for the CIO, since business involvement is essential for agile development success.

“There has to be constant interaction and a willingness for business leaders to say they can live without this, or this is not exactly what they meant,” he says. When that doesn’t happen, agile development breaks down:  “Then, you’re left with the worst of both worlds: You built something they didn’t like, faster.” 

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