There's No 'Thing' You Can Do to Be Agile - InformationWeek

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Christopher O'Malley, CEO, Compuware
Christopher O'Malley, CEO, Compuware

There’s No 'Thing' You Can Do to Be Agile

The Agile concept isn't just about IT and development, but about a mindset that has to extend throughout the business.

Agile development enables IT to deliver software that is more tightly aligned with the relentlessly evolving needs of the business, with greater speed and efficiency. But Agile development alone can’t make your business more successful, because success in today’s dynamic, competitive markets requires agility across all dimensions of your business, not just software development.

After all, in an increasingly digital world, market change is continuous and pervasive, and can occur with once-unthinkable speed and magnitude. So your product development, finance, marketing, partnerships, HR, and even facilities must all be capable of responding individually and collectively to those changes.

Unfortunately, there’s no "thing" you can do to endow your business with this kind of multi-dimensional agility.

To put it another way, there is no one  thing or set of things you can do. That’s because agility by its very nature requires you to do different things at different times in response to different conditions. This may seem so obvious as to be trivial, but it’s not.

Christopher O'Malley
CEO, Compuware
Christopher O'Malley

CEO, Compuware

Lead by Being Agile

Most leaders have been socially and culturally conditioned to demonstrate their leadership by making strategic decisions and then “staying the course". Stick-to-it-iveness, persistence -- whatever you call it -- historically has been understood as a manifestation of the kind of inner strength that‘s desirable in a leader.

Sometimes persistence is good. Agile businesses often stick to core values and vision, because they’re the right values and the right vision. Agility isn’t about changing for change’s sake. It’s about making the right change but only when there’s a legitimate reason to change.

This openness to change doesn’t always sit well with classic leader types who tend to be driven by their internal motivations, rather than external/environmental ones. “I’ve changed my mind” often sounds to these leaders an awful lot like “I was wrong,” which is a message that can feel like it strikes at the heart of their credibility.

Zigging can also often entail the sacrifice of time and money that have already been invested in zagging. Yes, if the change of direction is the correct one, those sacrifices are really just wisely cut losses. But to the untrained, non-agile eye it still looks like plain old waste.

Is Crazy a KPI?

Leaders who revoke Monday’s marching orders on Tuesday, and then ask people for the same commitment to those orders as they had for the ones before, have one more problem. Those people may at times both question their leader’s sanity and feel like they’re losing their own.

In fact, social psychology teaches us that it’s much easier to keep building consensus for an existing idea that everyone secretly knows is wrong than it is to initiate consensus for a new idea that is not yet proven to be right. Cynics, in particular, tend to feel more comfortable in a familiar situation they know to be wrong than in an unfamiliar one where people are striving to change for the better.

Interestingly, some who most resist the change you want to bring to their work express exuberant support for the change you bring to everyone else’s. At Compuware, we had a developer with 40-plus years on the job who said he loved how we were incentivizing sales around customer satisfaction, shifting to social media, and even moving our non-differentiating business functions to consumed cloud services. What he couldn’t stomach was that he was being asked to change from waterfall to Agile.

He even went as far as to make the claim that Compuware had already tried doing something “similar” to Agile back when he first started at the company in the 80’s. He also insisted that it had been a mistake then, that all the lessons of the years since had gifted us with a process that worked, and that going back to what he perceived as the dark ages of Agile would undermine the platform.

My response was pointed. I told him to stop lying to himself, that it was clear we had to reinvent mainframe development to keep pace with today’s digital markets, and that our customers would fail if we didn’t. I then asked him to not be an obstacle to this effort, and to help us build a bridge to a brighter mainframe future.

What soon became clear is that this employee only wanted to be appreciated for what he had done. He had zero interest in doing something new that would earn him fresh appreciation today. Sadly, this story didn’t end well for anyone.

For every employee like that, though, I’ve had many more who found the dramatic shift in our business culture and processes inspiring. But, as the saying goes, sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. Perhaps the greatest agility-related challenge leaders face is the one that awaits only those who through inspiration and trust actually manage to successfully transform their workplace culture. Those leaders pay dearly for their success by having to deal with employees who, on their own initiative, introduce disruptive change to the business with what is often startling frequency and passion. That’s when leadership starts to feel less like captaining a ship and more like riding a bucking bronco.

None of this is to say that agility comes at too high a cost to be worthwhile. On the contrary, anything of value will have a commensurate price. But no leader should be seduced into thinking that agility can be ordered from the cloud. It can’t be, because agility isn’t something you buy or do. It’s something you become.

Christopher O’Malley is CEO of Compuware. He has nearly 30 years of IT experience, with past positions including CEO of VelociData, CEO of Nimsoft, EVP of CA’s Cloud Products & Solutions and EVP/GM of CA’s Mainframe business unit, where he led the successful transformation of that division.


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User Rank: Apprentice
12/30/2016 | 6:17:37 PM
Re: Management goes Agile
I've seen more success with Agile than failure but as Chris draws out in his article you must have leaders who understand this is an attribute you want the business to develop not merely a set of techniques for use by engineering! Compuware has become an Agile business which includes use of agile methods for software development and customer engagement.

Collaboration is a key building block of an Agile business. You can't just tell people to collaborate. You need to provide workspaces and tools that support but most importantly a culture that's supportive of sharing and questioning. We use Atlasssian Confluence but the basic function of a wiki to allow both structured and unstructured contributions. Dynamic pages replace rigid documents. Ideation and planning happens in waves and is refined into epics and stories. Again tools help we use Atlasssian JIRA but any tool that lets the teams have a shared understanding of work being refined, ready, in progress, and complete. Collaboration isn't just for engineers and product management! If marketing and support don't evolve from expecting a huge spec document and formal training on the entirety of a new release they'll never keep up if you say move from annual to quarterly releases.

Training is needed in the agile techniques you'll use and it's important that everyone has a starting shared understanding and is ready to evolve their agile practices together. The time to train certified product owners, scrum masters and everyone involved when transforming an existing waterfall organization is like laying a good foundation needed if you want to build something great.

What do you do? The most important part is you have to take these agile tools and techniques apply them to a difficult problem and through success in solving it you cement a new culture. A culture that values outcomes over effort, working software over documents, and people over process. This is all they really said at the start! It's worth rereading the Agile Manifesto from time to time.

Best Regards,

Sam Knutson
VP, Product Management
User Rank: Strategist
12/30/2016 | 1:10:25 PM
Success with Agile
@moarsauce123, a key factor to a successful transformation of any kind is the management and leadership that is shown during that transformation. I agree that there are many examples of companies 'wanting to be agile' but not understanding what that takes. It takes a commitment from all levels of management, starting at the top. It requires and understanding that change is never easy but is essential to be successful in the digital world. Although agile will be implemented in a slightly different way at every company, the basic tenants of agile can be used. Scrum, Kanban, paired programming and other agile frameworks are available to be adopted where it makes sense. There is no one-size-fits-all for agile within an organization. Each team needs to decide what will work best for them.

I've been a part of the transition to Agile at Compuware over the last few years. It has been successful because of commitment from everyone in the organization, starting with our CEO. We have been agile for over two years, delivering new features, new products and updates to existing products the first business day of every quarter. (January 2017 will be the 9th consecutive quarter). We have reduced our product defects year over year while increasing the amount of code delivered. Prioritizing and addressing defects and reducing technical debt are part of our agile process. These are a part of every sprint and every delivery. We know you can't 'ignore' anything if you are going to meet the needs of the market.  As was mentioned, refactoring, technical debt and the like cannot be ignored. They have to be included in the agile process.

It ultimately comes down to the culture that is created within the organization.  A culture that is focused on success, using the appropriate methods and doing what is right for the customer creates a winning combination. Agile is one of the tools that is used to achieve the desired results, 'being agile' should not be the end goal. Using agile and transforming an organization to be agile can be done and it does work. As with most things, it's not the idea – it's the implementation.

Agile can be done with a commitment acoss an organization and by creating the right culture. There truly is 'no thing' to do to be agile. 
User Rank: Apprentice
12/30/2016 | 11:42:08 AM
Re: Management goes Agile
In my 4 decades of software development I have never seen such a farce, as is "Agile", in my life. Its horrendous, at best. Accountability via the management or via the developers gets thrown out the window.  We develop on the fly. We test on the fly. We fix on the fly IF we even fix things now....

Ask any user of US federal government contracted software projects (via Accenture) just how good "agile" is.  There are no such things as bugs, the fix for a bug is called enhancements and requires a new contract and project. Yea, thats accountability for ya.

Agile is a joke.  Anyone who has been frustrated at today's user-facing systems not working correctly in production has had a taste of "agile"......   sit back and relax while they do nothing and pin the blame on the user.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/29/2016 | 7:15:52 AM
Re: Agile is R&D
Thats not agile, thats pragmatic.
User Rank: Ninja
12/27/2016 | 12:18:27 PM
Management goes Agile
Sadly, in my experience "going agile" means to management that they no longer have to plan anything, can change their minds on a daily basis, no longer designate clear responsibilities, no longer bother to document anything, and enjoy making absolutely no commitments or decisions. The arguments each time: "we need to collaborate more" and "we are agile now". When pressing for a definition and clear examples as to what that is supposed to mean, you get dismissed as not being a team player. It is even worse when you are already at the bottom of the chain, such as in QA or as tech writer.

I am sure there are plenty of success stories about proper change to Agile and what have not. I've been in three agile shops now and they all were between anarchy and the wild wild west. What was common for all is that Agile was the death to quality. We no longer did things right the first time, goal was to slap stuff together as quickly as possible and then "iterate over it"...which never happened becaus anyone who muttered the word "refactor" got the stare of death. Fixing bugs? Considered optional. Stuffing in new features a days before release date? You guessed it: "we are agile now" and seek feedback (aka support calls) from customers.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/27/2016 | 7:52:09 AM
Agile is R&D
Agile is R&D not just developing process. Without scientific background your product will be developed fast, but will not succeed. Learn more about 100% Agile strategy:
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