Businessman walking up a long flight of stairs - agile business challenge concept
PHOTO: Unsplash/Joshua Ness

Despite the prevalence of digital businesses today, operations executives still have hundreds of processes that are managed manually and continue to result in slow performance and high costs. In fact, the problem is so pronounced that recent research from TrackVia, which offers a platform to streamline workflows, shows the inability to speed up processes is turning some organizations away from digital transformation.

The report, entitled Giving Up On Digitization Initiatives, pointed out that while it may seem like a simple solution to digitize those processes with enterprise software applications, that effort is laden with roadblocks.

Enterprise IT in Business

Even though manual processes are operationally inefficient, the options for digitizing are often equally frustrating. In some cases, where digitization is necessary, operations executives aren't even going to IT for help because IT departments are overburdened and lack the resources needed to meet the quickly growing demands of digital transformation.

In order to become truly agile, the report points out, businesses need to find solutions to reduce the burden of working with overwhelmed and underfunded IT departments. This may appear like a problem to be solved by IT but, in reality, it goes right across the organization. Just look at what the research found:

  1. 50% of the 200 enterprise operations executives in surveyed in March said it takes 6 months or longer for IT to consider their request for an application.
  2. 58% say it takes another six months or longer for IT to develop, test and deploy their application.
  3. 62% say they’ve wanted to submit a request to IT but decided against it.
  4. 62% say their core systems make it difficult to digitize processes.
  5. 90% augment core systems by downloading data to spreadsheets in order to manipulate, analyze and share the data.
  6. Once it's developed, 90% say they augment core systems by downloading data to spreadsheets in order to manipulate, analyze and share the data, further hampering productivity.

Related Article: Agile Management Driven By Digital Initiatives

Agile-Driven Business

If agile was originally a way of developing software under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams and their customer/end user, it now has wider business implications. Agile business, by extension, refers to distinct qualities that allow organizations to respond rapidly to changes in the internal and external environment without losing momentum or vision. Adaptability, flexibility and balance are three qualities essential to long-term development.

To move from traditional business to agile business, there are three key steps executives need to implement, according to Alex Robbio, president and co-founder of Belatrix Software. No one best practice is out there for scaling agile. Different organizations take different approaches, Robbio said.

1. Plan and Adopt Agile Practices at the Team Level

Individual teams need to make specific changes to how they operate, for example adopting scrum or kanban. Businesses have a variety of different agile methodologies to choose from and many adapt their chosen methodology for their specific needs.

At this level, having a digital workplace makes a real difference. For example, is it easy for employees to share their computer screen at the touch of a button? Do employees have high quality microphones if they want to talk to another colleague in a different location? Does the team have the tools that help them work more efficiently together?

Related Article: Agile, SCRUM or Kanban Boards: Is There a Right Answer?

2. Adopt DevOps and Continuous Integration

Downstream agile activities are the changes required at later stages. At a basic level, DevOps involves development and production working closely together to ensure faster and more predictable software releases. Continuous integration, meanwhile, involves team members integrating their work at least daily and receiving immediate, automated feedback in order to improve quality. In both cases, the workflows and processes of a digital workplace become a core part in ensuring team members receive feedback and improving communication between teams (particularly in a DevOps environment).

3. Embedding Agile Requires Organizational Change

When an organization goes all-in on agile, it involves changes to the entire organizational structure, including prioritizing projects and initiatives. Typically, your process starts with creating so-called “scrum-of scrums” where you have multiple scrum teams. As you continue to scale, you will likely need to bring different agile teams under your central program management office.

As with the other two levels, having the processes, communication flows and tools which characterize a digital workplace will be crucial in bringing agile to the whole organization. Effective governance structures and management can only be achieved if information flows are digital. In agile for example, can team members easily see the status of the burndown chart? “The changes don't only relate to processes. While it is always mentioned, cultural change plays a key role in the success of any agile — and digital workplace — initiative,” he said. “The only way agile development has a chance to succeed is if the culture empowers employees. And this needs to extend throughout the organization, including executives and those on the business-side of the organization.”

Agile in Practice

So who does this work in practice? BPMOnline is a global software company that offers low-code, process automation and CRM. The company's head of marketing, Olga Noha, explained that they had introduced agile methodology to the marketing department a number of years ago and have been using it successfully ever since.

Being agile helps them better plan and prioritize, but at the same time, you can face some challenges. She said it is hard to estimate correctly the time and resources needed to complete the project if it involves a certain degree of sophisticated creativity. “This leads to errors in the process and missed deadlines. Another aspect is that planning takes too much time when a lot of small and urgent tasks are on the plate and the planning itself 'eats' up the time that could be spent on productive activities. So the option here could be a combination of agile and classic planning,” Noha said.

The right type of technology is crucial in making agile a success. On the one hand, agile can be defined as a short-term planning approach that allows organizations to stay on top of things and change marketing processes based on current needs and strategy, and on the other as an operational methodology that helps respect priorities.

This approach is based on rapid iterations instead of pursuing global campaigns set in stone and the use of tests and data that helps us to choose the best direction for the moment. The beauty of scrum is the strong focus on collaboration and daily communication. The strong collaboration focus leads to a happier and more productive team. All these benefits significantly influence our customers experience and satisfaction. “Agile marketing no doubt offers a lot of benefits. However, every business has to define their own path at creating operational processes based on the specifics of the business and the needs of the customers,” she said.

"Most organizations have come to the realization that becoming an agile company, especially as it applies to digital transformation, is no longer a buzzword but a business imperative," said Jesse Shiah, CEO of AgilePoint. Due to the rapid evolution of technology, future-proofing is critical to the customer journey-mapping processes that support sustainable agile digital transformation. These processes must be dynamic at runtime (or hyper-agile) to deal with exceptions and seamlessly bridge today’s demanding digital customers from their current experience to a new experience.

However, sustainable, “future-proof” digital transformation isn’t just about implementing certain technologies; it alters the way in which organizations conduct business and helps support the organization’s strategy.

“The digital transformation journey is no easy chore, but using agile makes the transformation easier. It brings the transformation solely out of the IT department and into the whole organization,” said Shiah.