It has become the case that no industry presentation, or document, is complete unless the words “agile” or “agility” have been incorporated, but for many IT shops the thought of making operations agile is, frankly, as conceivable as the Captain of the Titanic successfully avoiding that fated iceberg; there is just no way it would have been possible without a thorough redesign of the ship, overhaul of the processes, and a re-plotting of the ship’s course.
The reality is that, as in the case of the Titanic, the poor souls on-board in April 1912 didn’t stand a chance, as the ship could not respond fast enough to:
However, the Titanic was, quite simply, the most majestic, powerful, luxury, feat of ship-building the world had ever seen; nothing could be faulted, she was a beauty upon the seas, so it was only when she was required to respond quickly to external and internal demands that the blemishes began to appear. This metaphor really illustrates the crux of the “agile” wave in our industry and why all IT shops need to sit up, listen, and act before icebergs appear that we too cannot avoid.
In the western world, consumers have been, and are continuing to be, conditioned to expect access to goods and services when they want them, how they want them, whichever way they want them, and from wherever they want them.; this conditioning is placing huge demands on the markets to respond to customer demands and it is those able to respond most efficiently and effectively who will ultimately thrive. Take Facebook, for example; in a recent article by Sarah Wilson (TechTarget, 2015), Chris Mason, Software Engineer at Facebook, stated, “Facebook desperately needs not just scalability, not just availability, but flexibility… We need to be able to change around our infrastructure to add new services and accommodate new things”; I believe we’d all agree that Facebook certainly have done a great job at innovating to deliver strong business results.
On the other hand, if we take a look at the woes of the UK supermarket giants, we can clearly see the Titanic analogy striking an unfortunate harmonic chord, as company Execs, who have built solid UK businesses over decades, face tough competition against new market rivals such as Lidl, Aldi, and, online, Ocado. Agility in a beast of a company, like our often multi-faceted UK supermarkets, is no mean feat, but necessary.
How do we get Agile?
A drive to agility can start in a number of places; it could be driven in a department, or for a specific task; it could be delivered through a point tool, or through a change of mind-set. The most successful outcomes should occur when an agile mentality is driven from the top of the organisation down throughout, entwining it into organisational culture. Implemented incorrectly however, without the right technology tools and business processes, it could lead to rash, uninformed decisions being made leading to the opposite effect: negative business outcomes.
So, how do we get agile? We need to make it business strategy; we need to plan carefully, and like all significant business strategies that involve change, we need to go slowly enough for the organisation to adapt to new work practices, (DevOps and Fail Fast project methodologies for example), but quickly enough that the initiative does not lose momentum. We also need to implement the right technology tools to support the strategy, both to support executing business agility, (Business Intelligence (BI) tools and open source software (OSS) for example), but also to give the organisation tangible milestones.
Unfortunately, there is no perfect, cookie-cut formula, but there are some headlines that can get us going in the right direction.
In summary, while this blog is not an exhaustive investigation into technologies, processes, and strategies to successfully develop a more agile business operation, it does highlight that agility is intrinsic in being able to react more effectively to the fast-moving pace of market/customer demands facing our organisations. An agile mentality to IT systems and strategy, combined with world-class personnel is two thirds of the formula, with the final third being a cultural instalment of the agile mantra from Board-level down.
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