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Taking the lead in an Agile enterprise

Executive managers are now taking the lead in adopting Agile and Lean processes to create Agile enterprises.

In a global 2000 firm, the decision to first use and then scale and manage Agile is often organic, moving from the bottom up. But more and more, experts say, top-level decision makers are driving the directives. However, when and how to scale can take many paths.

Jeff Sutherland, CEO at consulting firm Scrum Inc. and a co-inventor of Scrum, as well as a signer of the Agile Manifesto, said that in the early days it was a grassroots movement within development organizations, and that's still the case in many companies. But, he said, "More often now I get calls from CIOs or CTOs saying they're doing Scrum on a small scale; it began from one team, and it's now becoming a company-wide issue. I've seen a number of companies where 30% seems to be a tipping point."

Sutherland said that when the project success rate of Agile is typically three times that of traditional project development, "that starts to get the CEO's attention."

The first thing Sutherland does on a client engagement is hold a management workshop and ask why the company wants to do Scrum. "We say, 'Scrum will give you big headaches.' It's a continuous process improvement; it will surface all the problems. Management needs to be ready to fix them. If you're not ready, don't implement Scrum."

Robert Holler, CEO of Agile project management tools vendor VersionOne, said that when the company first started out, it sold its products to a lot of smaller companies; now, they're selling to larger companies as well. "Agile typically enters through a development team or R&D team, typically with a champion. That might carry us through the ranks to a small division, and that champion will typically take it to a senior executive -- depending on the size of the company, [it could be] a vice president or a chief technology officer; it's rare, but it can be a CIO."

Sometimes the organization will get a mandate, said Holler. Or, "As new things arise, typically at the program level, they'll make a decision to go Agile. It permeates -- sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. I've seen it happen every way under the sun."

According to a recent Agile study by research firm voke inc., survey participants reported that 67% of Agile initiatives were championed by executives.

As IBM began its adoption of Agile development practices, it started with small pockets, said Harish Grama, IBM's vice president of rational product development and customer support. "You don't suddenly stand up one day and say, 'Thou shalt be Agile.' We identified two or three critical projects we knew shouldn't fail and put a focus around it, from both a top-down and bottom-up perspective. Once we found our feet and learned the pitfalls and best practices, we built expertise in a centralized place, then started to inject more projects. We got coaches; it was a bootstrapping process."

For Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS), a business unit of Boeing which has the largest share of software developers in the company, the decision to go Agile "is usually made at the project level by project management and/or team members," wrote Curtis Hibbs, lead engineer of Boeing Agile Software, in an email interview. "It's a business decision made on the merits of each project's individual situation. Success is often measured on previous implementations to provide significant incentive for additional Agile adoption."

HP's Kelly Emo said Agile often begins with the application team, which was the case at HP. "We use Agile methodology in the delivery of a lot of our software solutions. It was a combination of application owners and development managers and the quality organization coming together. They wanted the goal of agility and faster delivery, and [they] wanted to start [adopting] Agile practices." 

Scaling and managing

The decision to scale Agile out to the enterprise and the responsibility for managing Agile projects and portfolios often falls into one of three decision-making groups: the project management office (PMO), a Center of Excellence (CoE) or at the executive/CIO level.

"We see all three scenarios," Emo said. "Most often the Center of Excellence. There's a conversation with customers and a driver for more standardization of tools and capabilities." 

VersionOne's Holler said Agile typically has a champion within a company, and it grows from the team to form a practice group or a CoE around Agile. In addition to the PMO, he said that other drivers of Agile include the engineering and program organizations.

Sutherland said that an Agile effort needs a sponsor from senior management, and then there needs to be education. "You need a Scrum team of five to seven people who figure out all the issues that prevent good implementation. Then you start systematically removing blocks in the company while training product owners and engineers, and building a backlog where you can launch a group of teams."

"In BDS, we centralized the support infrastructure; but planning and implementation decisions are made by each individual project/team," wrote Boeing's Hibbs. "Our support group, Lean-Agile Software Services (LASS), provides training and coaching for implementing teams and outreach efforts to raise awareness and share information. [It] collects data from Agile teams to develop metrics that show the benefits of Agile. LASS also supports proposal writing and contracting to include Agile software development in our program bids."

However, asked if there were plans to scale Agile enterprise-wide, Hibbs responded, "We have no plans to target any kind of enterprise scaling."

Emo said that in HP's customer base, Agile is typically not yet an enterprise-wide strategic initiative. "I think we will see an increase in the number of strategic imperatives, but I think the buzz is a little ahead of the majority of customers out there. I see a split in the market between the late majority and the early adopters, which is also true for cloud and other things with big advantages. There are certain organizations that have broadly adopted Agile, but the late majority is so focused on the day-to-day business [that] they haven't wrapped their heads around it."

Agile beyond development

Agile methodologies are gradually moving beyond software development, say observers. "There's anatural progression from the software organization to IT and help desk and DevOps," said Holler. "In the last year we've seen it further out in the business. We use Agile in marketing and have a dozen or so customers doing the same. It's not happening on a rapid basis, and typically it's under the umbrella of not just Agile but Lean -- removing waste from the decision process, optimizing flow, etc. The target market for us is software and software organizations, but there's nothing in our software that prevents it from being used in other organizations."

About Boeing's BDS unit, Hibbs wrote: "Right now we are concentrating our resources and transforming our software development teams. We recognize that there are significant opportunities outside of software for adopting Agile practices. As opportunities present themselves, we will take advantage of them, and at some point in the future, it is possible that we will decide to take more explicit steps."

Emo said HP is using Agile in marketing, although they haven't labeled it that. But she said they do standup meetings, quickly come together to manage tasks and make decisions, and try to get smaller chunks of work out. "The goal at HP is to be Agile with a lowercase 'a.'"

Sutherland says a cable company in Zurich with whom he worked recently was doing Scrum in software development and decided to run the management team as a Scrum team. "So they boot up as a management team running Scrum, then they will drive it to other business units that aren't software. We're seeing more and more of that."

He also suggested that U.S. companies are currently not as aggressive in adopting Agile as the Europeans. While he said there are some large U.S. companies that are very aggressive, "95% are a little bit asleep." In Europe, he added, "They have a lot of constraints with rules, barriers to competition and high costs, so to compete they have to be better than the average team in the U.S. or they can't get the business; there's more incentive to get their act in gear."

However, Sutherland said there is evidence that is changing. During this interview, he typed "Scrum" into the job search site. In the U.S. there were 21,115 job openings. "That's a significant number," he said.

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