Agile beyond software development

CIOs increasingly look to agility to deliver its benefits wider in their responsibilities.

Over the past decade, technology-focused organisations have increasingly adopted agile ways of thinking and acting. Today, “being agile” is no longer a fad for the early adopters; it’s a majority concern, impacting even conservative organisations such as banks and the public sector.

This adoption started with a developer-led, grassroots movement and, over time, migrated upwards and outwards to impact organisational strategy. As organisations increasingly feel the impact of market disruption and digitisation, CIOs increasingly look to agility to deliver its benefits more broadly.

Agile ways have expanded outwards from the developer team in the software development value stream, with application all along the value stream — from “Ideas to Outcomes.”

As organisations move upstream into project, program and portfolio management, new and evolving scaling approaches are powerfully extending agile thinking in demand and capacity matching: enabling a fast, responsive flow of work to the development engine. At the other end, the DevOps movement enables that flow to continue into production, while business agility thinking (echoing Lean Startup ideas) complete the circle.

But CIOs know this is a limited view of the value stream. Their responsibility for an application only ends when it’s decommissioned from the last server and no longer exists or requires any work. Further, their responsibility includes both custom-developed software and commercial off-the-shelf software supporting the organisation’s everyday operations beyond the core value stream, as well as operational situations from highly repeatable, simple operations to chaotic emergencies.

To understand this space, an ITSM- and ITIL-centric view of operations comes naturally to CIOs.

Across this wide span of needs, agile lessons and principles provide contextually useful practises.

Lean/Agile Lessons for CIOs in ITSM

Customer Focus

This shift is being driven by the demand of customers within and outside the organisation. It requires a shift of focus from IT-internally assessed output metrics to customer-assessed outcomes, based on fast realisation of value: meeting customers’ needs. In doing so, CIOs will need to consider both short term realisation and long term sustainability, avoiding a simple “order taking” mentality.

Fast Flowing Processes

To realise value earlier, the lessons of Flow, and its contributory factors in understanding variability, reducing queues, reducing batch sizes and aggressively controlling the volume of Work in Process.

Simplification

To enable fast flows of value and long-term sustainability, the IT organisation will need to have a high awareness of the value that its components offer, and the many trade-offs required to maximise value where multiple factors interact. Systems, tools and processes should be frequently reviewed to remove barriers to sustainable flowing value. This will require interaction with external departments such as HR and Finance as well as internal IT change.

Systems Thinking

Complex IT systems often work in non-obvious ways, with non-trivial systems effects, where the interaction effects of the components are more impactful than the simple combination of the list of components themselves. This is even more true of the human and organisational systems that operate them. CIOs will need to have a holistic view of their domain and watch for systems effects of decisions and actions.

Objective Reflection and Obsessive Learning

As continual processes, most ITSM operations avoid the risk of the classically never-revisited Post Project Review. However, organisations must create space for learning and improvement, based in the objective assessment of current state by the people who work in it.

This learning can only be grounded in the objective reality of the actual work, and the real place it happens, and is best accomplished by management-worker pairs, each bringing their perspective to bear.

Go and See. Show Respect. Ask Why.

Visualisation

This is a particular problem for knowledge work where much of the work is invisible. To ensure that the transparency essential for effective operational decision making, proactive improvement and organisational trust is truly created, strong visualisation systems will be required that pervasively surface key data in real time, strongly highlighting variances and emergent effects early to avoid “Green-Green-Green-EMERGENCY” reporting scenarios.

Management Mindset and Leadership

To effectively achieve the above takes a new mindset, one focused on Leadership as much as Management, that respectfully devolves much decision-making to the people closest to the information while strongly communicating values and vision. That develops trust and commitment through transparency, and measurably increases employee engagement and motivation.

To introduce and institutionalise this in an organisation takes a significant investment in updating the belief system and mindset of the only class of worker who can define and change systems of work: management.


Martin has held many different positions over two decades: business analyst, project manager, Scrum Master…

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