HR & Management

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How to turn your business into an agile one

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The problem at the top

Let’s put aside that great team-level execution has failed to solve our business problems, and move to how work gets planned and staffed. Here, conversations shift to project charters, business cases, funding and resource approvals. We discuss how often they plan, who’s involved and how much time and effort it takes.

One client told me their annual plan approved 71 projects for their BI teams, and that all 71 were currently active “because managers need to see progress.” Half were holdovers from the previous year. The final blow landed when they told me they expected none of the projects would wrap up this year!

We can solve this WIP problem by giving it the Kanban treatment. Prioritise projects by value to the business, list steps a project must pass, and limit how much work can be “in progress”. Teams only pull new work when current work is done. Presto! Project delivery becomes predictable and we’re only building what the business values most. We’ve solved our problems, right? No.

Becoming an agile business

Markets change every day. New customer demands never stop. Survival depends on being able to regularly, and inexpensively, change portfolios of projects to stay ahead of new business realities. To shorten the time it takes to select winning ideas and consistently deliver them to customers requires that we solve the disconnect between our strategies and the work of our teams.

The answer lies in how to break down initiatives, keep teams aligned with changing priorities, automate progress reporting, and choose metrics that drive continuous improvement. At the core of this is a quarterly group planning ceremony, Big Room Planning, where teams and leaders align to build shared, realistic release plans everyone can commit to.

Now each team’s work stays aligned with strategy changes, and Scrum teams can “look up” to understand the rationale behind what they are building, and how their work contributes to company strategy. But, we need one more thing.

Feed your agile culture

An agile business knows that strategy, capabilities and culture have to be designed together to achieve real organisational change. Culture results from how people interact, so we seek interactions that promote constant learning and improving – retrospectives and good performance metrics help.

Finally, we’re not just doing agile, were being agile. We’ve got everything necessary to solve our big problems. We are focused on creating customer value instead of just creating process. We’ve bridged the chasm in the middle of our organisation and now we can actively steer our company in response to the changes in our markets, truly becoming an agile business.

Doug Dockery is director of agile management at CA Technologies

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