The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

Archive for January 12th, 2009

Starting the Agile Dialog

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A question I always pose to executives who seek my advice on rolling Agile in their companies is “What would you like to accomplish?” I ask this “trick” question as the first step in a dialog aimed at developing a deeper understanding of rolling Agile at the enterprise level versus rolling it selectively in pockets. I usually consider the dialog successful when the executive has thought through the various possible foci for enterprise roll-out and is comfortable enough to start setting expectations with his teams, peers and superiors.

I find quantification extremely effective in cutting through the mystique of software engineering, enabling executives from all walks of life to put their hands around a topic which might not be in their domain of expertise. As I said in my recent Cutter essay, I usually point out three “axes” of quantification, as follows:

  • Time-to-market
  • Productivity
  • Quality

The three “axes”, of course, are not absolutely independent. For example, improvements in time-to-market could be very hard to accomplish if quality is not adequate. However, these kinds of dependencies are better explored at a later point in time. In the initial phases of the dialog, my objective is to simplify things to the point the executive and I can jointly think of the Agile roll-out as a one axis thrust. A dual axis thrust, e.g. simultaneously improve both time-to-market and productivity, is definitely feasible. However, I do not generally recommend doing so before an organization reaches an acceptable level of maturity using Agile methods.

Simplistic that the “one axis thrust” might seem, it actually leads to examination, and sometime reexamination, of fundamental tenets of operation. For example, an executive considering the time-to-market axis often needs to determine whether increasing market share through fast delivery of products should indeed takes precedence over improving cost structure through higher productivity. An executive considering the quality axis often starts looking into life cycle costs of software versus “just” R&D cost. It is a small step from here to debating whether a company should focus on growth through acquisition of new customers or on customer retention.

Questions like those listed above are characteristic of roll-out of Agile at the enterprise level. The scale adds questions of strategy to the customary Agile business value considerations. Large scale Agile deployment is likely to transform the company’s R&D organization as well as other functions in the company’s value chain. For such a transformation(s), intentionality is critical: the goals you’re accomplish need to be stated up-front and made clear to the organization, esp. those who’ll be part of this transformation. This seems obvious – people should know why they’re going through all this trouble to transform – but simply getting everyone on the same page is too often overlooked.

Hence my simple question: “What would you like to accomplish?”

Written by israelgat

January 12, 2009 at 10:17 pm

Posted in Starting Agile

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Why Now?

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The decision to launch The Agile Executive in January 2009 stems from the confluence of economic imperatives, unfulfilled business needs and maturation of adjacent technologies that make this a perfect time for deploying Agile at the enterprise level.

The current macro-economic crisis has created a great deal of uncertainty with respect to operating environments. Corporations, large and small, are forced to revisit their core assumptions and modus operandi in response to changes that were not anticipated just a few months ago. The ability to quickly reconfigure the business is the best antidote to the challenges pervasive uncertainty poses. The flexibility and speed of Agile could and should play a critical role in reconfiguring the business to better respond to change. Dealing with “changing requirements” is what Agile was built from the start to enable.

In spite of all of the progress made by Agile methods over the past few years, most of the effort still goes towards the nuts and bolts of Agile. Hence, three needs have largely been left unfulfilled:
  1. The application of Agile at the corporate level as distinct from piecemeal implementation in selected pockets
  2. The utilization of Agile methods beyond software
  3. The development of business designs that take advantage of the capabilities of Agile methods

Effective fulfillment of these three needs is likely to transform and increase the value of not “only” R&D, but the company as a whole.

Last but not least, the compound effect of coupling Agile methods with technological progress in adjacent domains of software creates new opportunities for utilizing Agile. For example, virtual appliance techniques open the door for bridging the chasm between software development and IT operations. We are now able to “containerize”, distribute and provision the output of hyper-productive Agile teams as virtual appliances in a much faster manner than through traditional deployment methods. The power of so doing was demonstrated close to two years ago by Walter Bodwell who prototyped a containerized version of the BMC Performance Manager using rPath virtual appliance techniques. If we were to do so today, we would use rPath virtualization technology to put the BMC Performance Manager in the Cloud.

We will explore the various topics listed above at greater length and depth in subsequent posts. For now, think of The Agile Executive as a Michelin guide to your executive journey into Agile.

Written by israelgat

January 12, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Posted in Macro-economic Crisis

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