The Journey to True Enterprise Agility

In today’s highly competitive and dynamic business environment, software development organizations get pressured to release high quality valuable software products at an increasingly faster rate. Agile techniques emerged in the mid 90’s as a response to this pressure  providing a framework that seemed better aligned to this fast changing customer requirements and technology landscape.

The Agile manifesto laid out a set of values and principles that helped organizations bring more agility into their development practices. A lot of software development happens today using one or more of the agile techniques. The question however remains – did just following techniques bring agility to these organizations. Are these organizations really Agile ?  Or they are just “Doing Agile” – following practices while true enterprise agility remains an elusive dream.

What is true agility anyways? Is it following Scrum as prescribed by the Scrum masters or using Scrumban, Kanban, SAFe, DAD and the multitude of varying agile techniques that have come up.

Is it following the values and principles outlined in the Agile manifesto?

Given that the manifesto itself has not been revised for over a decade suggests that there is some weight in these values and principles. They do seem to help people and are comprehensive.

So does true agility mean building an enterprise that lives up to the Agile manifesto? Maybe some organizations, especially for those that are just starting, it’s a good prospect. Agile methodologies are mainstream in the product development However there are many others especially established organizations that already have systems and procedures in place with hundreds and thousands of employees that struggle to follow any of these approaches as prescribed in their totality.

And it’s not just about systems and processes. Agile is a lot more about mindset too isn’t it?. For these organizations, it’s not trivial to change the mindset, systems and processes in the ecosystem they operate. They would more often tailor the approach to their need. They are not doing Scrum or Kanban or SAFe or any other XYZ method. They pick up ideas that make sense in their context and adapt to their context and environment. It helps them move forward from where they were, which is great.

However there is a catch here. In adapting to the context, they do make compromises. Do these compromises sacrifice on agility? Compromises kick in when a particular practice however logical and beneficial it may sound seems almost impractical or very difficult to implement given where the organization context. For example, the agile manifesto principle number 8 encourages face to face communication. Now this is a difficult thing to achieve for most enterprises given the distributed global workforce of today. So then, going for the next best thing possible – video conferences is a compromise or a strategy? Instead of that compromise, if they had followed the principle and did those changes, would be they more agile? And once these compromises are done, it’s not trivial to move forward from there. Because those compromises then they become the next standard. They are the new way of life. So are these compromises missed opportunities? Would a different decision have ushered more enterprise agility and subsequent business benefits There is no straightforward answer to that.

The definition of what constitutes true agility depend on the enterprise, the industry, the domain and several more factors in the ecosystem. The rules that apply for an internet start-up will not apply for a large scale enterprise spread across several continents. In fact for enterprises, they could differ even from unit to unit.

This is why, for organizations that are embarking on the agile journey; its of paramount importance to define what true agility means for their enterprise. When you know the goal, there could be multiple ways of reaching there. The path does not matter. We are doing agile to achieve true enterprise agility, not because we love these practices. The practices and techniques are a means to an end. The goal post (true enterprise agility) is what we are after and that should be very clear to everyone.

The journey to agility is an interesting, exciting journey and painful at times, with hard choices to make. Having a clear definition of the destination will help make wiser decisions.

Hrishikesh Karekar

Hrishikesh is an enterprise agile coach with interests in varied disciplines. Frequently writing on Agile and Lean related topics, he also occasionally ventures into other stuff like Artificial Intelligence as well..