How Agile Development Powers IT at the Speed of Business

By any number of measures—scientific progress, computing power, economic output, enterprise technology—the pace of change continues to accelerate exponentially. When combined with the shift in customer and employee expectations of technology (a.k.a. the consumerization of IT), this likely spells the end for waterfall-style development processes and expensive, disruptive, long-lead-time big-bang enterprise software system implementations.

Agile methods speed software developmentTraditionally, the challenge in waterfall-style development processes was ” trying to come up with every requirement a product might possibly need to meet before starting to build it,” according to CIO magazine’s Sharon Florentine in How to Use Agile Development to Avoid Project Failures.

Because it’s difficult for people to identify and articulate every feature they may need in advance, additions and changes to specifications were nearly inevitable, leading to scope creep, which caused most projects to be delivered late and over budget.

Given the accelerating pace of change, the concern today isn’t so much that users can’t predefine all needed features (though they still can’t), but that even if they could, the list would be obsolete well before the project was finished. Possibly even before the list was finished. Business requirements today simply change too quickly. And “It’s…depressing for developers (to)  see that the product they’re working on doesn’t meet the objectives (business or consumer) while they’re writing them,” per Florentine.

As noted in both the CIO article and here previously, the answer is to utilize an agile approach to development, combined with collaborative teams: “You’ve got (to get) business and IT working together, collaborating, and that’s what will make the difference…At first, everyone feels like they’re ‘forced’ to work together, but once it becomes apparent that the goal for both teams is continual improvement, that’s when you start to see the value.”

Even more powerful than having IT develop a product that iteratively meets an expanded range of user needs is for IT to create an environment where users can do it themselves. Graphical workflow process automation tools enable business process owners to map out their own business processes, starting with simple tasks and building in complexity over time.

One example is an HR manager automating a simple task (such as ordering business cards for a new employee), then building upon that over time to automate a much more complex process (like employee onboarding). Taking an agile approach enables business process owners to achieve “quick wins” by automating simple tasks, then building the confidence and trust to expand the parameters for automation.

With the right tools, processes can be tested and tweaked before activation. And since processes can be easily rolled back if needed, and the workflow process design happens at the system of engagement level with no modifications to core enterprise applications code, there is virtually no risk that user-designed processes will “break” any mission-critical functions.  Mature workflow automation tools will provide this agility while still giving the IT organization ongoing management and monitoring of these processes.

Collaboration and agility are vital components of project success for IT and the business. By empowering business process owners to easily design their own customer-facing services and automated workflow IT groups can better align their goals address a critical issue raised in the CIO article, that “what the business side and IT side want to deliver don’t sync.”

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