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App Dev, Agile, and You, Part 2 — Getting Up to Speed: What you can do now to boost agile development and fast delivery

Today’s CIOs know they need to move faster, at the speed of business.

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Today’s CIOs know they need to move faster, at the speed of business: The latest Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO survey, The Creative CIO, emphasizes the fundamental changes to the CIO role, with more than a third of IT leaders reporting an enterprise-wide digital business strategy. However, the typical IT organization’s technology delivery capability — with its legacy systems and traditional skill sets — can’t keep up with the pace of business transformation. CIOs recognize that the way they plan, design, build and deliver solutions, using traditional sequential methods, is too slow, too cumbersome, and too costly.                                                                                      

Agile development, according to Gartner Research, is a set of approaches to software development that share a common philosophy — including embracing small teams, engaging business leaders, following sprint goals and boosting continuous learning. According to the survey, agile methodologies — which can improve responsiveness and innovation, simplify organizational structures and deliver a more engaging customer experience — are now preferred by six in ten CIOs. The need and justification for agile is obvious, says Mitch Kenfield, Principal and U.S. Service Management Practice Leader at KPMG, who says CIOs are constantly faced with business leaders coming to them with a need but then turning to a third-party service that can deliver in less time and, often, for less money.

“They are always thinking, ‘How do I keep up,’” says Kenfield, who points out that third-party services don’t face the same challenging and cumbersome requirements that internal IT organizations do. “This is a big concern from a CIO perspective.” The answer, he says, is agile methodologies — but CIOs then have some big questions about going down the agile journey, such as ‘How?’ and ‘When?’

As an organization gets started on the agile path, the role of an agile coach, often called a “scrum master,” is extremely important. “You need someone who understands how to navigate and facilitate the process,” he says. “For example, in agile you have to really debate concepts of a must-have requirement versus a should-have… in other words, is not getting this feature worth delaying my product delivery.” Typically, IT leaders identify that agile coach externally in the beginning, with a third-party consultant who can get the process going internally. “An IT organization will typically do that for some small number of projects so the organization gets exposure to it,” he says. 

A Skillset Change for Developers

No matter how the IT organization gets started with agile, there’s no question that developers need to evolve their own skillsets. The long, detailed sets of requirements that are handed to development in a traditional model are very different than a “story” that is given to a developer in an agile model, which may be far more brief, high level, with just a simple user goal — leaving the developers to mock up a couple of options.

“The agile skillset is more collaborative and interactive,” says Kenfield. “It’s about being willing to build something out, communicating back and forth, getting close and making changes, which is a different skillset than you telling me exactly what to build and I do so to the letter.”

That transformation is challenging for IT teams, and typically doesn’t happen within an organization at a broad scale but within a subset of the solutions delivery arm. Typically, a group within an organization, perhaps an internal center of excellence, creates an agile team to work on a few key projects. Or the IT team will focus agile just within a specific technical space, such as a SaaS configuration, while the rest work within a traditional waterfall approach. 

The Agile Tipping Point

While agile may start small and may still not be implemented by all IT organizatoins, it will see a tipping point where more and more is done with agile across the organization, predicts Kenfield. Digital tends to be where most start in terms of dipping an organization’s toes in agile, with mobile and SaaS tools serving as common beginning points. 

The growth of agile fits hand-in-hand with digital transformation, he adds: Anything that is consumer experience-focused, as opposed to just processing transactions, by definition will see fast-paced change, with quick time-to-market requirements — what was needed six months ago is not what will necessarily be needed six months from now.

“Data, mobile, all those things are constantly being tweaked. Companies are always asking themselves, ‘What do I need from my data now?’ This is increasingly difficult to deal with if you only have traditional methodology underneath,” he explains.

However, not all business units will accept “good” over “perfect,” such as those processing financial transactions. And not all business units can devote the time to be collaborative with IT teams. In those cases, agile may not make its way into the development picture. So, it’s essential for organizations to determine the right areas where they can start building out their agile capabilities, exercise and grow exposure to them — so they can use them in other areas over time, down the line. 

CIOs are under pressure to become more agile overall — in response to the digital transformation and globalization sweeping the business world today. According to the 2016 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO survey, agile methodologies have become, by far, the most preferred strategy to ensure innovation and responsiveness as IT works to deliver solutions at the speed of business. The next challenge is for every IT organization to determine, for itself, how to develop agile skillsets, grow agile capabilities and get the entire business involved toward greater agile success — with the CIO leading the way.

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