Agile, DevOps Feed the Need for (Business) Speed

Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? “Slow and steady wins the race”? Econ 101 lectures about economies of scale? Business truisms like “Nobody ever got fired for buying…” (insert any large, established vendor name here)?

Such nuggets of business wisdom seem to no longer apply. Today, in the words of author Jason Jennings, “It’s not the big that eat the small, it’s the fast that eat the slow.” Competitive advantage comes from reworking business processes and service delivery models to improve speed not by 10% or even 100%, but by multiples. Consider:

    • How Agile, Scrum and DevOps meet need for business speedAccording to a recent Financial Times story by Lisa Pollack, “A Berlin company, founded in 2013, built an online service that allows new customers to open a bank account in under eight minutes…The company, Number26, has signed up more than 30,000 customers after launching what it deems ‘Europe’s most modern bank account’ in January.”

  • Faced with a three-month project to add disclaimer text required for regulatory compliance across an array of websites, a large government agency turned to an alternative workflow automation tool and the project was completed in a matter of hours.
  • Using the same tool, Kinetic Data consultants developed a process that enabled a global technology company to provision a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) that adhered to their business rules, by creating and linking a series of API calls. Running that process, a new VPC can be provisioned—all of the required steps, from request submission through having a server up and running in Amazon’s AWS infrastructure—in 45 seconds.

While nimbleness and agility are attributes most commonly associated with startups or small companies, even the largest enterprises can achieve significant increases in business process speed by deploying the right tools and embracing Agile software development models.

Per the Financial Times:

“Competition…from small, young companies, is prompting some well-established businesses… to adopt so-called ‘Agile’ methodologies for product development, most commonly the variant known as ‘Scrum’ (short cycles of development completed by cross-functional teams with the goal of delivering a product to the customer that they can use and further refine)…(because) becoming Agile should help them both respond to change and deliver products faster…

“The performance gap between the newer Agile ways of working and more traditional styles of top-down, plan-driven project management is huge. The most commonly used old approach, ‘Waterfall,’ has a success rate of just 11 per cent, according to The Standish Group

“Scrum will make anything three times as fast. Why then don’t all companies use it? The only reason you wouldn’t use it is that you have some problem that prevents its use…

“But with the pay-off being a 39 per cent success rate over 11 per cent, and more nimble companies threatening to eat the establishment’s breakfast, Agile methodologies like Scrum seem a fine place to start.”

Clint Boulton echoes these conclusions in CIO magazine, writing “Tasked with accelerating business innovation, technology leaders are swapping traditional IT project management for continuous delivery and iteration of software and services. But to succeed CIOs say such emerging models of IT deployment require strong collaboration with business stakeholders…

“In a world where consumers are accessing data online and through mobile applications, (the past) we-ask-for-it-and-you-deliver-it-when-it’s-done model will not suffice…(so) Many CIOs are adopting Agile development and DevOps models in which they partner and work closely with the business to build new software… Gartner estimates that about 25 percent of Global 2000 companies are expected to adopt Agile and DevOps methodologies by 2016.”

Both authors acknowledge, however, that transitioning from traditional waterfall software development to an Agile approach requires significant change, not just in practices but also in thinking and philosophy. And change isn’t easy, particularly in large organizations.

Here then are three practical steps to getting started with Agile development, Scrum teams, and DevOps models within the enterprise:

Start small…

Business process automation (BPA) is an excellent application for Agile development. But this doesn’t have to mean huge, supply-chain spanning projects. Look for opportunities to automate smaller, more manageable processes like bug/RFE processing, server provisioning, and infrastructure alerts.

By combining a passionate team with the right task workflow tools and an Agile approach, BPA can be practically applied almost anywhere and everywhere within an organization.

…then grow across the enterprise…

One highly practical and high-value area to apply Agile development practices is in employee provisioning, taking an enterprise request management (ERM) approach. ERM combines a single, intuitive user portal with back-end process automation to enable employees to easily request any goods or services needed to perform their jobs, and view the status of open requests at any time, from any device.

An ERM implementation typically starts small, with just one or a few services (often, though not necessarily, IT services). The first iteration of the request portal can be rolled out quickly, often within 30 days. Additional services can then be added incrementally.

As employees (and their managers) in departments beyond IT see what’s possible, they frequently want to add their own services. And as services provided by other functional groups (HR, facilities, finance, training, etc.) are added to the catalog, it’s use and impact spreads across the organization.

Some proponents of Agile recommend that those adopting it “fail fast” in order to learn from mistakes. The ERM approach however is more about “succeeding fast,” generating quick wins that both demonstrate its speed and cost benefits for service delivery while also building usage and support across the enterprise.

…by empowering users.

The ultimate in “continuous delivery and iteration” of business capabilities is to empower users to design, automate, test, modify, and deploy their own processes using graphical workflow-mapping tools.

IT provides guidance and support, but the business users with the greatest knowledge of how the processes work (or how they should work) are able do the heavy lifting, and to integrate their familiar department-level tools and data sources without having to write code.

Reorienting software development practices from traditional methods to embrace Agile techniques and DevOps models is challenging. But with triple the speed and a three-and-a-half times higher success rate, the rationale is compelling. And with an incremental approach and the right tools, even the largest organizations can compete with startup speed.

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