What is Agile transformation?

Agile transformation applies agile principles to an entire company, facilitating a cultural shift towards a more-nimble mindset, organization-wide.

The benefits of an Agile approach to software development are well documented. For the last twenty years, more and more software-development businesses have made the switch from traditional ‘Waterfall’ development practices to Agile methodologies. This has allowed them to create higher-quality software products that are better in line with customer needs and expectations, while also improving project transparency, flexibility, and time to market.

With these advantages, it is becoming apparent that the Agile approach may also be successfully applied to other aspects of business. Agile portfolio management and Agile project management are two examples that make use of Agile ideologies—such as continuous improvement and continuous delivery—to improve areas of a business that may or may not be directly involved in development.

Agile transformation takes this process to its logical conclusion, applying Agile principles to the organization’s culture, and promoting a shift in company mindsets towards adaptability and reactiveness.

Uncoupled from the business lexicon, ‘agile’ simply means ‘to be able to move or respond quickly.’ But while this basic definition still holds true in modern usage, it has also gained additional connotation. With the introduction of the Agile methodology, ‘Agile’ became a widely used IT term, describing an innovative approach to software development. Unlike the Waterfall methodologies that had for so long been the accepted standard in software development, Agile forgoes large product launches in favor of constant, iterative, on-going launches where improvements are always being made and rolled out.

The main goal of Agile software development is to produce working software more quickly than was previously possible. Teams work concurrently rather than sequentially, building functionality throughout the app all at once, and releasing their changes as they are completed. To facilitate this approach, the teams must embrace four Agile values, as described in the original Agile Manifesto that first formally introduced the Agile methodology. These values are as follows:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Although often used synonymously, the terms ‘Agile transformation’ and ‘Agile adoption’ refer to two different things. In this case, the distinguishing element to be aware of is scope. Agile adoption is more small-scale, while Agile transformation encompasses the entire organization.

Agile adoption refers to applying Agile processes, either to single projects or many projects across multiple departments. In essence, Agile adoption is the act of doing Agile. This may include adopting a vetted Agile framework, such as Scrum, Lean, or SAFe. Although making the switch to an Agile-focused development methodology can present certain hurdles, Agile adoption is relatively easy.

Agile transformation, on the other hand, is not as simple. It involves applying Agile principles on an organizational level, restructuring mindsets and overhauling company culture to encourage Agile behavior outside of specific projects. In other words, Agile transformation moves beyond ‘doing’ Agile, and into ‘being’ Agile.

Agile transformation requires more time and effort and relies on an organization’s ability to create their own manner of operating—a successful Agile transformation may be more difficult for established businesses than for those that are just getting started.

Instead of being built around a siloed structural hierarchy, Agile organizations operate more like a network of teams. These teams operate using short learning/decision-making cycles. Additionally, Agile organizations democratize decision rights to the teams themselves, helping to establish a unified purpose and working with reliable data to ensure that decisions are well informed and in line with company objectives.

With this new mindset come many potential benefits, even beyond the advantages offered by Agile adoption. These benefits include:

Improved adaptability

As mentioned above, a key value of Agile is ‘responding to change over following a plan.’ On an organizational level, Agile’s agility stems from the increased flexibility it brings to companies. When changes occur, Agile businesses don’t have to worry about being locked in to predetermined roadmaps. Instead, they can quickly pivot to account for new data, feedback, or goals. Without unnecessary layers of management to slow course correction, teams can respond instantly.

Optimal collaboration

Agile places a clear focus on communication and collaboration. Instead of narrowing departments’ view to only their own tasks or responsibilities, Agile increases transparency and gives everyone involved the ability to see progress, offer insights, and share skills. Agile transformation removes barriers that would otherwise stand in the way of company-wide collaboration.

Increased focus on customers

Just as Agile development involves customers in the software creation process by constantly soliciting and incorporating feedback, an Agile business will align their structure to match the customer journey, working closely with their clients to determine how to best operate to meet and exceed expectations.

As previously mentioned, making a full-company transformation towards an Agile culture can be much more difficult than simply adopting Agile development methodologies. There are several hurdles to be aware of when considering Agile transformation, including the following:

Commitment

Agile Transformation isn’t a switch that can be flipped, and it’s not a weekend training; true Agile transformation is long term, sometimes taking years. As such, its success depends on the continued commitment of the entire organization. Unless those involved have a clear vision of the benefits of Agile transformation, they may not exhibit the necessary endurance to see it through to the end

Leadership

Because Agile transformation often takes so long, there is a very real possibility of it being derailed by changes in leadership. Restructuring of the C-suit can remove managers who have championed Agile transformation, replacing them with new leadership that is not willing to provide their support. And because Agile transformation depends heavily on executive buy-in, and because the benefits of Agile may take longer to manifest, the entire transformation initiative is extremely vulnerable to managerial shifts.

Alignment

Agile software development requires alignment between all members of the dev team. Similarly, Agile transformation demands alignment from every member of the company. All employees at all levels need to be on the same page for a new Agile culture to take shape. Promoting these principles in traditionally non-customer-focused departments may be especially demanding, and certain elements within the organization may be resistant to changes that they feel are unnecessary.

Although the Agile methodology eschews planning in favor of flexibility and adaptability, achieving a successful Agile transformation requires a clear roadmap. That said, not everything can be panned completely up front. There are as many different paths to achieving Agile transformation as there are businesses, but to help ensure a successful transition into an Agile company, consider the following steps:

Identify goals

No organizational change bursts into existence without being driven by a need. With this in mind, the first step towards Agile transformation should be to identify this need and to clearly enunciate what the company hopes to achieve by adopting an Agile culture.

Create a tactical plan

With goals identified, the next stage is to create a plan for the company to follow. This plan should not be set in stone—it will need to remain flexible. This will probably be a transformation unlike any that the business has ever attempted, and there are bound to be points where the plan itself will need to be revised to remain viable.

Create a communication plan

Along with the strategic plan, there should also be a plan in place to ensure that everyone in the company is up to speed on what changes are being made, why the changes are being made, what is expected of them, and how the transformation is progressing.

Establish leadership

Leadership can be a major enabler of Agile cultural transformation. These leaders must function as Agile evangelists, fully embracing Agile principles in their work lives and championing Agile throughout the company. It will fall on these leaders to help ensure that the organization has what it needs to operate with Agility.

Eliminate silos

Agile transformation is contingent on unobstructed data and complete transparency. Organizational silos and unnecessary bureaucracy can stand in the way of that visibility and will have to be removed. There is a good chance that this step will be an ongoing process and may even include making changes to office layouts or other elements that can either promote or hinder collaboration.

Provide training

To get the most out of new Agile concepts, employees will need to be trained. Agile coaching helps promote improved company-wide buy-in, as individuals learn best practices and important processes in line with the new Agile mindset.

Acquire resources

Agile favors individuals and interactions over tools, but that doesn’t mean that tools aren't helpful in achieving Agile transformation. As tools and other resources are acquired and applied towards the transformation, businesses will need to assign ownership and provide training on how to use them.

Perform regular check ups

Once the transformation itself is underway, regular checkups will give leaders the insight they need to know when a course correction is warranted.

Years ago, the introduction of Agile development methodologies revolutionized how organizations build and release software. Today, Agile is changing the business world again, but this time, the change is much more fundamental. Companies that wish to adopt a mindset of adaptability and reactiveness need the right tools to help them achieve their goals. ServiceNow has the answer.

ServiceNow’s Strategic Portfolio Management (SPM) helps organizations apply and extend Agile methodologies across their entire infrastructure. Built on the award-winning Now Platform®, SPM brings together essential philosophies, capabilities, processes, and integrated technologies. The end result? A foundation of reliable, relevant data and tools, supporting Agile transformation throughout the enterprise.

Make Agile the heart of your culture and the driver of your success; fully align strategic initiatives with day-to-day work and gain the agility your business needs to excel. Try ServiceNow Strategic Portfolio Management today!

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