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Blog April 5, 2018

Why You Need the 6 Key Factors of Enterprise Agility

Rob Cuce

During my career, I have helped many organizations undergo Enterprise Agile transformations, bearing witness to behaviors that lead to both successful and failed implementations. Among the successful transformations, I have recognized six factors that I believe consistently enable the attainment of Enterprise Agility.

Let me stop for a moment to define Enterprise Agility. Enterprise Agility is the ability of an organization to consistently deliver value to customers in a constantly changing market. It is the ability to hear the customer voice, forecast the market, and quickly deliver a product that the customer values over the competition.

Enterprise Agility serves as a framework to deliver greater value faster despite the challenges of a turbulent marketplace. With markets changing faster than ever, many large corporations find themselves outperformed by smaller, more nimble companies that can pivot with changing market needs. Organizations must forecast customer desires and deliver their products along an anticipated roadmap. If customer desires are misunderstood, or disrupted by changes in the market, an organization can find themselves missing the mark if they cannot adjust quickly.

Organizations are intentionally undergoing agile transformations to achieve Enterprise Agility and remain competitive. Despite investing in agile coaching to build out Scrum/Kanban teams, and new tools to provide visibility into agile delivery, they often observe incremental results before plateauing. I find this hurdle can be overcome by addressing all six key factors of Enterprise Agility:

1. Lean-Agile Leadership

Leaders of the Enterprise must champion agile behaviors throughout the organization, providing a foundational understanding among employees of the agile transformation goals for the organization. Lean-Agile leaders focus on eliminating barriers, cutting out noise, and clearly communicating their vision. Most importantly they define the transition plan and communicate the employee's role in the transition and the end state.

Without a clear message from leadership on why they are embarking on an agile transformation, employees will struggle to buy into the Agile value proposition and adopt the necessary changes to their behavior. Leaders share their passion for the journey and the value of the end state to get the rest of the organization to join them on the journey.

2. Learning Culture

Embracing a culture of learning is at the core of Enterprise Agility. Those familiar with the "Plan-Do-Check-Adjust" (PDCA) concept, understand that the agile mindset is designed to help teams learn quickly from feedback and adjust. By empowering the entire organization to iterate through their work in a manner that promotes fast learning, individuals will feel a sense of freedom and creative license that manifest themselves in positive ways (e.g., adoption, improved delivery capabilities of teams). Without this mindset, individuals will resist change and the idea of relentless improvement.

Leadership can introduce this concept; however, a culture of learning is most effectively driven by management and individuals within the organization. Those that are performing the work must become the torchbearers for relentless improvement, empowering themselves and their teams to work together and hold one another accountable.

3. Enterprise Transparency

Instilling the value of transparency across the enterprise enables visibility into issues and, thus, the ability to prioritize appropriate action plans. Many organizations find themselves overwhelmed with impediments when they start delivering under an agile framework. Agile did not create these impediments, but instead revealed them earlier in the process. Without transparency, frustrations may be misguided towards the agile practice as opposed to the process issues that agile may be uncovering.

The factor of Enterprise Transparency strongly correlates with the Lean-Agile Leadership and Learning Culture tenants. Without encouraging transparency vertically throughout the organization, effective communication of vision and the value of learning can be inhibited and stunt forward progress of Enterprise Agility.

4. Continuous Delivery Pipeline

Having a Continuous Delivery Pipeline allows organizations to deliver new product features to customers as quickly as possible. It encapsulates the entire delivery process from concept to customer allowing for the definition of proper procedures to automate integration, validation testing and deployment. The fostering of automated validation via the Continuous Delivery Pipeline promotes high quality products that can be more easily released to the customer.

As Scrum teams embark on their agile journey and struggle to release working software into production, they quickly identify the need for a Continuous Delivery Pipeline. At the beginning of an agile transformation some Scrum teams may request a "Release Sprint" to release functionality into production as they are unable to quickly deploy software to production, limiting their velocity. Building out a Continuous Delivery Pipeline can be difficult and time consuming, but often yields the most value as organizations transition to Enterprise Agility.

5. Agile Architecture

Agile Architecture enables organizations to provide their customers the products they want in a stable environment. The concept favors simple and flexible architecture designs that can evolve over time to support the needs of changing solutions. It favors preserving design options and not locking into design decisions until necessary. Refactoring architecture regularly increases stability and reduces complexity.

Inflexible architecture prevents an organization from quickly reacting to changes in product vision or the marketplace. Without an Agile Architecture, development is challenged to deliver new product features to customers in a timely fashion and to automate testing to reduce manual quality control. I have found inflexible architecture is uncovered when teams begin implementing automated processes in support of the Continuous Delivery Pipeline.

6. Product Ownership

Strong Product Ownership skillsets are a must for organizations transitioning to Enterprise Agility. With the help of key business and IT stakeholders, as well as consistent communication with their customers, Product Owners provide the product vision and define a roadmap to achieve that vision. Their ability to receive input from multiple stakeholders, prioritize it appropriately, and help teams deliver early and often allows the organization to deliver maximum value to their customers.

When a Product Owner is unable to forecast changes in the market and adjust their product vision, both the customer and the organization suffer. If they are unable to effectively prioritize features from competing stakeholders, they will be challenged to optimally meet customer needs. If unable to clearly hear the voice of the customer, they will lose customers. If unable to support development teams during execution, they will fail to release a quality product to the customer. The impact of the Product Owner role to an organization moving towards Enterprise Agility, whether positive or negative, can be huge.

For many organizations, the path to Enterprise Agility can be a long and uncertain journey. A journey that can be intimidating to start and will test the resolve of even the most skillful senior leadership. Not to worry! There are frameworks available to help your organization, most notably the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). However you decide to approach it, focus on these six key factors of Enterprise Agility to provide substantial value to your organization and most importantly your customers.