by Diana Bersohn

Leading future-ready organizations

Apr 29, 2021
Agile DevelopmentDevopsIT Leadership

Agile development is key to effective transformation. Here's how to break through the barriers and achieve your Agile aspirations.

A glowing blue arrow speeds ahead of a pack of black arrows [lead / compete / momentum / growth]
Credit: Gremlin / Getty Images

In the past year of navigating an unprecedented pandemic, organizations across all industries were forced to pivot their business and operating models to adapt to rapid technological change. Many companies quickly started investing in and practicing Agile development methods. While this wave of Agile adoption set the foundation for transformational change, the reality is most companies didn’t fully accomplish what they set out to with Agile.

In fact, our research shows that going into the pandemic 40% of organizations felt highly agile when it came to flexibly making changes—that number has dropped to just 18% today. For the small few that seem to have cracked the code, Agile is working and they’re in a process of ongoing, continuous improvement centered around experimentation, collaboration, iteration, and a focus on the customer.

The rest of the companies are still getting stuck moving past the following key obstacles:

High dependency across application teams. Highly interconnected technology architecture leads to a highly integrated application team structure, which hinders the extent to which teams can operate independently and nimbly.

Friction between functions. Different operating teams across the application lifecycle (e.g. operations, finance, infrastructure, security, and quality) tend to have different ways of working, leading to friction at the organizational interfaces.

Nonelastic talent structure. Many companies are finding their practitioners are underutilized and underperforming due to rigid operating structures, and challenges exist to have access to the “right” talent at the “right” time. This is particularly poignant as teams begin operationalizing DevOps.

Complex governance structures. Legacy governance structures and long decision cycles are rooted in organizations where business and technology requests must go through complex and time-consuming governance and finance processes. This approval process stalls teams from beginning to work on their initiatives, thus impeding their progress and agility.

4 key steps to Agile transformation

To break through these barriers to Agile, companies need a restart. They need to continue to expand on the initial progress they’ve made but focus on implementing a wider, more holistic approach to Agile. Every aspect of the organization must be engaged in an ongoing cyclical process of “discover and evaluate, prioritize, build and operate, analyze…and repeat.” Technology leaders can lead this effort by focusing on transforming these areas:

  • Digital decoupling. Organizations that leverage digital decoupling are able to get on independent release cycles and unlock new ways of working with legacy systems. Based on our work with clients, we’ve seen that this can result in up to 30% reduction in cost of change, reduced coordination overhead, and increased speed of planning and pace of delivery.
  • Scaling DevOps. In our work with clients, we see firsthand how cross-functional teams and automation of application delivery and operations contributes to increased pace of delivery, improved employee productivity, and up to 30% reduction in deployment time. Additionally, scaling DevOps enables fast and reliable releases of new features to production within short iterations and includes optimizing processes and upskilling people, which is the starting point for a collaborative and liquid enterprise.
  • Rethinking talent management. Moving talent and partners into a non-hierarchal and blended talent sourcing and management model can result in 10-20% increase in capacity. This shift can also drive high levels of employee engagement, helping people feel empowered to put their careers into their own hands.
  • Taking a collaborative approach to learning. There is an opportunity to evolve culture by empowering team-level decisions, encouraging cross-team collaboration, and having innovative and experimentation focused mindsets. This leads to improved team productivity and effectiveness and shortened decision time. Moreover, companies can make significant progress by increasing the overall digital fluency in their organizations, equipping all workers with digital skills.

Achieving agility aspirations should be at the forefront for technology leaders striving to transform their enterprises. Organizations that adopt these new ways of working will improve their resilience and adaptability, increase customer and employee satisfaction, and ultimately drive their viability in the market.

The most successful transformations are executed in iterations, focusing first on the areas that will deliver the most value. Starting with pilots can be key to successfully showcasing value and winning the trust of key stakeholders. By experimenting and allowing for a fast-fail approach to building agility, leaders can leverage learnings across other areas of the enterprise.

Brent Smolinski, a managing director at Accenture, also contributed to this article.