The adoption of Agile as a work management methodology outside of IT is accelerating and shows no signs of slowing down. Particularly for marketing and product development, it’s easy to see why: teams that have embraced Agile methods have seen tremendous improvement in achieving their business goals.
Of course, IT is already well aware of the benefits of Agile. Advantages like faster time to market, increased adaptability, massive productivity improvements and the ability to deliver a more customer-centric product have made Agile the de facto standard among development teams. As other business units see these advantages, it’s only natural that they want in on the secret.
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As the Agile experts within most organisations, IT has a tremendous opportunity to champion Agile adoption and mentor other teams in implementing it the right way. By lending their expertise, IT can help ensure a smooth transition and demonstrate their strategic value to the rest of the organisation. Here are five ways IT can lead the Agile charge:
- Distinguish agile from Agile. The word “agile” is already part of the vernacular in other departments, but likely not in the uppercase “A” form. Most every team strives to be lowercase “a” agile: nimble and able to respond to opportunities or challenges quickly. However, uppercase “A” Agile is not an adjective. It’s a specific methodology with an established set of principles and practices. The most important thing for IT to do when mentoring other teams is to make that distinction very clear. Otherwise, IT will be talking about apples, but what other teams hear sounds more like oranges.
- Ask questions and listen. Because Agile has a very distinct definition, some teams may not fully understand exactly what they’re asking for. Start by asking questions like, “Why do you want to adopt Agile?” and “What are you trying to achieve?” The answers might range from “because my boss told me to,” to “we’re losing market share.” When IT can fully understand the challenges or goals of other teams—and what’s stopping them from achieving those today—it puts IT in a much better position to recommend ideas and help with Agile implementation.
- Don’t force Agile on them. Recognise that while Jira or some other scrum tool might be your panacea, it may not work in the context of other teams. As a mentor, it’s IT’s job to be an advocate for its mentees in the enterprise and help them to find solutions that work, regardless of whether they fit the dogmatic Agile approach. After all, you’re ultimately in this together. Forcing a team to adopt a tool that won’t work could set them (and by default, you) up for failure. After asking some questions to understand the issues, you may find that Agile is not the answer. That’s valuable insight, too. If it likely won’t solve the challenges, save yourself and the team a tremendous amount of time, effort and upheaval in forcing through a new system of work that, well, won’t work for them.
- Start simple. As the existing Agile authority, it might be tempting for IT to take an authoritative approach, insisting that Agile is an all-or-nothing proposition: you either adopt the entire Agile Manifesto, or you just don’t do Agile. But, the reality is that approach doesn’t always work outside of IT (or inside IT for that matter, depending on your context). It’s OK to be semi-Agile. Perhaps start with implementing a Kanban board that uses visual queues to help organise and prioritise work. This low investment, simple way allows the team to get comfortable with a specific Agile tactic, and sets them up for a relatively quick, easy win, allowing them to reap some immediate productivity benefits, rather than suffering through a 6-month or longer implementation process before they ever see any results.
- Make Agile accessible. IT can offer tremendous value in coaching teams in the software/technological aspect of Agile by providing access to the tools that make executing it possible. But, there’s also business value accessibility to unlock. IT can help other teams understand the importance of the newfound visibility into productivity, capacity, etc. In most organisations, IT has become an expert at measuring productivity and throughput, justifying additional capacity investments with data and demonstrating ROI. Marketing, product development and other teams can also benefit from these insights. IT can show mentees how to use Agile to demonstrate business value and influence business decisions.
As the Agile experts, IT has an opportunity to mentor other organisation teams in adopting this high-productivity, customer-centric approach to work management. There’s no doubt that “going Agile” has benefits beyond the IT function that can benefit the overall business’s success. But, they also have a responsibility to do it in a way that makes sense within the context of the teams’ work, needs and challenges. While it may not be added into the Scrum plan as a sprint, spending time in this mentoring capacity can certainly yield benefits for both IT and the entire organisation.