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StrategyApr 19, 2022

How an Effective Agile Strategy Drives Business Value

Alyse White and Luke Hamilton

Many companies face pressure to change rapidly, from market disruption, competition, customer demand, or even regulatory changes from the government. Companies that utilize an effective Agile Strategy enable business agility and are more likely to respond to changes quickly and safely.

For example, many companies were taken off guard at the beginning of the pandemic. Companies who relied solely on their brick-and-mortar stores were shutting their doors and found themselves needing an online presence. Those with an online presence were rapidly working to enhance their service offerings to do things like make purchasing in-store inventory and picking up curb-side easier.

While the pandemic is an extreme example of market disruption, no matter the desire for change, companies are looking for ways to enable innovation and business agility. For companies who are reliant on technology, many struggle with how to leverage technology to enable business agility, instead of unintentionally preventing it. When technology is required to drive innovation and enable business agility, having a robust agile strategy is the key to success.

When responding to customer requests takes months...

Picture taken from https://xkcd.com/

What is Agile Strategy?

Agile can mean many things to many people, but at its core, Agile is a methodology that enables teams to deliver value to their customers faster through small but consumable increments. Many companies may wonder which agile strategy would be best to use within their organization to achieve the greatest benefit. It may be tempting to do things “by the agile book,” but we find many companies must utilize a hybrid approach to achieve the results they seek.

A hybrid approach means companies must focus on measuring the outcomes of using agile, instead of measuring the adoption of agile. One way to measure agile is analyzing quantitative metrics on team performance. Team performance should always be combined with outcomes. It doesn’t matter if you have the best burn-down chart in the world if no value is delivered to your customer at the end of the delivery cycle.

“Agile Environment” in Practice

Agile environments can look very different from traditional software development environments due to changes in culture, investment in continuous improvement, and feedback loops provided by iterations. In a blog by Credera’s CEO, Justin Bell, we share the number one barrier to agile adoption is that the company’s culture isn’t ready.

It’s important that companies working to adopt an agile environment foster a culture of learning rather than a culture of fear. This culture of learning in open-minded teams enable continuous improvements of processes and mindsets. These continuous improvements are enabled by consciously analyzing iteration data, holding retrospective sessions, and conducting post-mortems when things go wrong.

Analyzing iteration data allows teams to identify trends, such as frequently underestimating the time required for tasks. Retrospective sessions allow team members to identify possible areas of improvement and reinforce processes that are working well. Paired with a culture of learning, these feedback loops help to make agile environments flexible and growth oriented.

What are the Benefits for an Agile Organization?

We know that using agile can improve business agility, enable innovation, and help to deliver value to customers faster, but why? The short, iterative development cycles used in agile allow for the team to leverage learnings from previous releases to shift directions when needed. By failing fast and often, keeping lead time short, and focusing on iterative improvement, the team reduces waste and spends more time on high-value work. This continuous cycle ensures that the business can respond to changing market conditions and, ultimately, allows the company to be more competitive.

Agile Organizations adopt additional processes that build upon agile ways of working such as Lean Management and DevOps practices. According to the 2013 – 2016 State of DevOps report, companies who utilized Agile and DevOps were twice as likely to exceed profitability, market share, and productivity goals and saw 50% higher market capitalization growth over 3 years when compared to companies who did not.

Benefits of Agile and DevOps

Agile Team Structure

Good agile teams work collaboratively throughout iterations (sprints) to plan, estimate, assign, and complete work items.

Below are key roles within an Agile team:

  1. Product Owner – A critical member of the team is the product owner, who works to define and prioritize work items in the backlog and provide direction for the project. A good product owner must be available to the team throughout the project, knowledgeable about the project needs, and empowered to make decisions for the project and organization.

  2. Scrum Master – The scrum master's responsibilities include running meetings (such as standups, planning, and retrospectives), reporting on team progress, and managing external blockers.

  3. Development Team – Developers make up the rest of the team and are responsible for delivering work throughout the sprint. Development teams should be free to self-organize, assigning and estimating work together. Instead of being instructed how to complete work by someone outside of the team, self-organizing teams determine how to best complete their work items.

The Product Owner, scrum master, and development team work together throughout the sprint to ensure the desired functionality is delivered as effectively as possible.

Agile Best Practices and Ways of Working

Agile best practices can be hard to define since every company slightly adjusts the agile methodology to best fit their way of working. At Credera, we believe that two agile best practices are:

  1. Focus on enabling continuous improvement.

  2. Create empowered teams.

By shaping the cultural mindset guiding agile implementation, companies are more likely to capitalize on their employee talent and maximize achieved value. How you build and support your teams directly impacts their performance potential.

Champion key attributes of high performing teams as summarized below:

  • Dedicated resources which remain stable over time – Dedicated resources (rather than those that work on multiple teams/projects) are more productive and produce higher quality work. Stable teams are also more productive, predictable, and responsive.

  • Estimating stories – Using story points and breaking down tasks results in higher quality than light-weight scrum. Both methods result in less defects than completing no estimates for stories.

  • Managing work in progress – Reducing the number of tasks in progress per team member results in higher quality and responsiveness.

  • Regular retrospectives – Better responsiveness and quality is expected from teams that remain open-minded and work to improve each sprint.

Teams may not be able to immediately adopt all Agile best practices, but better adherence to these principles often results in better performance and business agility.

Agile Strategy and Technology Enabling Business Agility

Picture taken from https://xkcd.com/

Putting It All Together

A good Agile Strategy starts with creating an Agile Environment. To foster an Agile Environment, companies must build an Agile team structure that feels empowered to enable continuous improvement through feedback loops to deliver small incremental changes to customers. The most successful teams use an Agile methodology to improve their development process in addition to improving the features they deliver to their customers.

Companies on a path to improve their Agile Strategy may find that the work is never over! The important part is getting the correct methodology and mindset in place to enable continuous improvement and business agility.

Is your company looking to change or implement an Agile Strategy? Reach out to our Agile Strategy experts at findoutmore@credera.com to start a conversation about creating an agile environment that makes sense for you.

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