In our June article Agile Debate Heats Up Again, industry gurus identify a number of reasons why organizations will fail with agile. Now the Australian Government Digital Transformation Office (DTO) has stepped up to the plate with a new Digital Service Standard which “establishes the criteria that Australian Government digital services must meet to ensure our services are simpler, faster and easier to use.”
The Digital Service Standard is in alpha phase and is intended for service delivery teams in Australian Government agencies. It is supported by Design Guides which include an Agile Guide for iterative and user-centred design and development. This Guide notes that Agile requires a change in mindset and is “about bringing together your existing people (business owners, designers and technical developers) to work together in a different way.” The Guide also provides a practical example by way of a link to how the Australian Government Department of Finance’s Online Service Branch adopted agile to improve service delivery.
However, the Agile Guide also sounds a note of caution: “We know the agile approach can be difficult in government and there are specific contexts where a more traditional project management approach may still be required (for example, on complex applications with critical functionality, and when co-location is not possible for teams).” The Guide does not mention the political challenges which may make the agile approach even more difficult in government. These were discussed in our July article Advance australia.gov.au: Our Own GDS brawl? .
Looking at the bigger picture, whether from a Government or Private Sector viewpoint, the real challenge is to change the management culture so that a suitable version of “Agile” is understood and practiced at all levels in the organization. In Australia, Jeff Smith did this successfully as CEO of Suncorp Business Services and is now working in the US as IBM’s new CIO, “leading a 20,000-person global IT team at IBM, which creates tools and services for the IBM workforce of about 380,000 people.”
For a good discussion of the big picture Agile approach, check out Steve Denning’s 22 July 2015 Forbes article How To Make The Whole Organization Agile, which starts with the question “Surveys show that most Agile teams report tension between the way the teams operate and the way the rest of the organization is run. Is it possible to make the whole organization Agile?”
Steve gives interesting, albeit sometimes controversial, answers to the above question, identifying some of the reasons why the upper layers are working at odds with Agile. Those include the management goal of “maximizing shareholder value”, which Steve says has been widely condemned “as ’the dumbest idea in the world’ but it is still very prevalent in large organizations.” The controversial parts include “Why SAFe Is Unsafe” in which Steve gives his view on why “some of the current efforts to “scale Agile,” such as the Scaled Agile Framework or SAFe, are counterproductive.”
(Interestingly, a Jun 17, 2015 CIO blog by Matthew Heusser, Introducing the scaled agile framework, has a concluding section Is SAFe the end, or the beginning? In which he notes that
“Dean Leffingwell, the lead author of SAFe, was a senior vice president at Rational Software Corporation (now a division of IBM), and many of the contributors to SAFe do have a Rational or IBM background.” Interesting in light of Jeff Smith’s appointment as IBM’s new CIO.)
Steve wraps up his advice on making the whole organization agile with a concluding section, “The Results Of Culture Change To Agile”. Here, Steve notes that “Firms that have made the shift to an Agile, customer-focused mode of operating generate consistently better results for their customers through continuous innovation and provide meaningful fulfilling work for those doing the work. Startups that follow these principles can grow without losing agility.” He concludes that “The core principles of Agile can be grasped quickly, but implementing them can take a lifetime. The challenge for leaders is to begin this life-long journey.”
Steve’s comments on “The Results Of Culture Change To Agile” find support from a July 31, 2015 article in The Conversation, The five most common mistakes a growing company makes – and how to fix them by Jana Matthews, ANZ Chair in Business Growth, Director, Centre for Business Growth at University of South Australia. Jana starts with the Q&A “many executives wonder if there is a secret formula behind scaling a business into a high-growth company…The answer is “Yes” – and what’s even better – CEOs can learn the art and science of business growth. ”
Jana has 20 years experience working with hundreds of CEOs of growth companies in Australia, US, Europe, China, India, Singapore, and New Zealand. Last year Jana was recruited by UniSA to establish the Centre for Business Growth “to help CEOs and their executive teams learn how to lead and manage growth. Since then, we have worked with over 75 companies across Australia with revenues between $5 million and $50 million, helping the executive teams understand what they need to do, or stop doing, to grow.”
From her experience, Jana lists the five most common mistakes CEOs and executive teams make growing a company and how they can overcome them. The mistakes and the ways of overcoming them sound a lot like Steve Denning’s advice on How To Make The Whole Organization Agile.
Jana concludes “For CEOs and executives who are ready to make change, growth requires vision, courage, knowledge, teamwork and execution.”