Written by: Deepak Gupta, Vice President & Delivery Head – Application Development and Maintenance for Retail, CPG and Logistics, Infosys.
“Deliver business value faster” seems to be the mantra for most CXOs in their bid to survive and thrive in today’s marketplace. They are investing heavily to modernize their IT landscape to accelerate innovation, deliver high-quality customer experience and thus grow business faster. The implementation of Agile and DevOps practices is a crucial step toward realizing these goals.
Not all have succeeded, however. The Infosys Agile RADAR insights from its 2021 survey of 1000 respondents across business and technology practices in the US and Europe, revealed that only 53% of businesses achieved desired business outcomes from their Agile investments. While Agile practices have been around for years, companies still struggle to realize their true business value. Moving from a traditional, top-down approach for decision making to a more outcome-driven approach has proved to be challenging for organizations in the best of times. The COVID-19 pandemic has added a new set of complications to the mix.
Interestingly, a 2020 McKinsey study found that companies with Agile practices embedded in their operating models managed the impact of the COVID-19 crisis better than their peers. A closer look at these companies shows strong alignment of business and IT as a key component of their successful Agile implementation.
Even as the pandemic exposed enterprise vulnerabilities and lack of resilience in the face of rapid change, it also challenged long-held beliefs and rigid mindsets. An unseen benefit to emerge from the uncertainty was that more enterprises began to rethink their operational models with sharper focus. In Agile, they saw greater possibilities to build true agility and resilience across the enterprise while others realized the need to revisit their earlier implementation approach so as to extract its full potential
Improving Effectiveness of Agile Implementations
Typically, Agile implementations fall short of success when real business-IT alignment is missing. With exciting developments in cloud technologies, business and technology need to co-develop faster. This requires a massive change in mindset but a huge opportunity awaits companies that are willing to make it.
Often, since most Agile implementations are born in IT, the scope of adoption remains limited to IT or siloed departments. Even when adoption is expanded across the organization, most departments, barring IT, continue to operate in traditional ways causing inter-departmental friction and delays in decision making that affects business outcomes. The IT team can be as agile as they want but they still need the support of operations, finance, legal and infrastructure teams who might follow a waterfall or project-based mindset.
Business outcomes become limited if “Develop and deliver faster,” is the sole objective. Instead, sufficient attention must be paid to validating the product against the larger picture – what’s the business outcome aligned to the customer’s need? Does it deliver the desired return on investment?
A heavy delivery focus often means business priorities miss the target on what customers need. A lack of engagement or research effort with customers means they are missing opportunities to derive valuable inputs that drive key decisions and priorities.
Moving to A Product-Centric Approach
The Infosys Agile RADAR survey referenced earlier found that 74% of CXOs (business) and 46% of CIOs (IT) prioritized product management investments. The rise and threat of the digital native – Uber, Airbnb among others – is compelling Fortune 100 companies to embrace a product-centric approach. In today’s software-defined world, they recognize the need to stand out from the competition. More than ever, customer experience continues to drive loyalty that, in turn, drives business value. Enterprises realize that AI, data sciences, analytics, and cloud technologies can make all the difference in elevating the human experience at every touchpoint – stakeholders, customers, ecosystem partners included.
Enabling long-term agility
Enterprises might adopt Agile out of necessity. Yet, a McKinsey (2020) study found that companies that ranked higher on managing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis were also those with agile practices more deeply embedded in their enterprise operating models. If we look at companies that have succeeded in Agile implementation, product centricity is a binding factor.
Best practices in product-centric Agile delivery include:
- Business and IT alignment: Business and IT must work together to co-develop an end-to-end view of the business value chain. Integrated, cross-functional, and self-organizing product teams build around value streams that are mapped to help identify and prioritize features. They use advanced engineering practices guided by an agile, iterative goal-setting framework.
- Data-first live engineering approach: Enterprises need to double down on their investments towards setting up platforms, DevSecOps, data analytics etc. to become enterprises that respond in real-time to change of any form – a client requirement or threat from the competition or supply chain related. Continued investment in this approach will help enterprises to scale Agile and DevOps across heterogeneous landscapes while establishing a standard organizational rhythm that provides momentum for faster value creation.
- Leading by example: Leaders with clarity on their North Star must execute their vision, articulate it to their teams, and address impediments so that those continue to contribute.
- Ensuring data relevance: Using customer insights based on the right data inputs help strengthen customer journeys.
- “User-centric” decision making: Frequent end-user interactions are key. Constant communication and feedback help unclog any blocks.
Agile-friendly mindset: Even if a department is not Agile, it needs to support others who are. Refining training, communication, and performance reward and recognition efforts help reinforce change.
True agility is an enterprise-wide, ongoing journey. To begin with, companies need to bring in every part of the business on that journey, even if it increases in complexity and duration because the benefits can be truly limitless in the long term.