Although more tech teams use iterative project methodologies in the USA and Europe than any other methodology (State of Agile, 2015), we here in Australia have been slower to embrace the change. Not surprisingly, the reluctance to try something new is based on the fear of regressing back to the days when technology projects were equal parts magic and science. Consider this statement from a healthcare CEO client of ours: “Why would I want to change methodology now that we are finally, after all these years, starting to see some positive business outcomes?”
Fair question, but also fundamentally flawed. Most people recognise that the technology in our businesses changes remarkably year-on-year. However, few acknowledge that we continue to deploy the same resources, skills, and methodologies to manage the evolving technology year-on-year. Technological change is crying out for methodological change to keep up.
Technology professionals have a lot more to give to the business than just technology.
But iterative project management methodologies (Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Feature-Driven-Development, etc) are not new business concepts. They are simply packaged and delivered slightly differently. Lean, for example was born out of the Toyota Production System, developed in the 1950s and 1960s focused on quality and efficiency in the manufacturing operations of the organisation. To see this in action, consider the following operational processes found in every business:
- – Meetings
- – Reporting
- – Budgeting
- – Performance Management
- – Payroll
- – Accounts Payable
- – Accounts Receivable
What do all these business processes have in common? They iterate! Imagine the complications of conducting payroll annually rather than fortnightly. Would revenue reports be more useful if you saw them ad-hoc, or consistently structured monthly? Clearly business has seen the benefits of doing things iteratively, so why not ask your technology team to do the same?
Too many business executives measure their IT department on a different yard-stick from their operations, finance, marketing, and other departments. Its no secret that we atsoftsolutions despise this. Our vision is to ensure that IT is seen as equals in business, even if it means we have pull our socks up, work harder, skill up, and integrate better with our business colleagues. But it all starts at being measured on the same KPIs.
So, if Marketing is asked to report on the ROI of a particular campaign every two weeks, so should IT be asked to report on ROI of their cloud infrastructure every two weeks. If Operations is required to report any production delays, so should the Application Development Team report on software functions released for general use that are not meeting performance expectations.
But you cannot do any of this until you ask your technology teams to iterate. Lay down the challenge to fall in line with the rest of the company’s business units. Because it is my sincere belief that your IT team will exceed all expectations, and may even give some of the other business units a run for their money. Technology professionals have a lot more to give to the business than just technology.
When they do start iterating you’ll see a transformation. You’ll see a self-evaluating, self-functioning team of technology professionals with a new found motivation where each employee sees themselves in the business strategy, not just the technology one. The ability to see one’s individual performance in the overall business strategy is as intrinsic as motivators get!
Short iterative bursts of workload will mean mistakes will be acknowledged immediately. And the changes needed to ensure those mistakes are never made again are implemented quickly. Learning is actualized within two weeks, not after a 12-month project is delivered late and over budget (and early mistakes have been forgotten). Only applications that are needed will be released for general use, the YAGNI principle will rein supreme; no more wasted time and dollars on functions used once a year by some obscure business process. The ability to switch focus (in response to competitive market demands, for example) will be a effortless for an iterative team. Greater communication between IT and the various other business units will result in greater innovation, synergy, and productivity previously tangled up in old-world project methodology red-tape.
[Source:9th Annual State of Agile Survey]
Continuous improvement will become part of the DNA of your technology team, giving way to higher quality work output. And the one key business outcome that every business executive in the world wants will become second-nature: greater transparency. Armed with data flowing from your technology team that is congruent and comparable to your other business units, you will now be able to make precise data driven strategic decisions that benefit the business overall.
Given the right culture, buy-in, and expertise, implementing an iterative framework for your technology team is not difficult nor costly. It does however, require perseverance, commitment, and clear targets or goals (notice how these are nothing new for the rest of your business units?). The time invested has a payback period calculated in months, not years. And the long-term upside means the ROI is very favourable (putting it as subtly as I possibly can).
There’s also a hidden benefit that I never expected to see, yet it happens time and time again. The methodology inspires a surge in intrinsic motivation in technology professionals. I have seen previously dysfunctional teams come together and collaborate at a level that results in greater employee retention (which we all know is really important for knowledge workers), better work output, and healthier attitudes. One particular company elected to rollout “agile-in-essence” across the whole company after experiencing such an overwhelming increase in team productivity.
So next time you are making a strategic decision that brings together all your business units, ask yourself whether more accurate and timely data flowing from your technology team that is easily comparable to the rest of the business could help in your decision making process?