I love riding 100 mph on twisty, turning race tracks -- my favorite is Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. In racing, as in business, keeping the finish line in mind is important, but if you can’t negotiate the curves and respond quickly to changing conditions along the way -- you won’t win.
In this uber-competitive technology marketplace, the pace of change is only increasing. Disruptive new technologies are changing the game. Savvy business leaders are applying key agile concepts of continuous innovation, shorter iterations, and fail early/fail fast/fail often experiments not only to the development team - but to the entire portfolio management process.
Agile is not just for developers anymore. Once considered an esoteric “thing” that software developers “did,” Agile practices have moved mainstream and are spreading across the the enterprise. Business leaders are working to engage more people throughout the entire company to make more informed decisions at a faster pace. The demand for better business agility is especially evident for portfolio management and strategic planning that has traditionally been tied to annual planning cycles.
An Agile business will establish a much faster cadence than the traditional annual planning cycle. It doesn’t start and stop each quarter or once per year. Planning and preparation become a continuous flow process with a regular cadence of weekly, monthly, and quarterly events for planning, execution, and strategic decision making.
Betting on a big-bang project to deliver new software in a 12-to-24 month development cycle is a potential recipe for failure given the current pace of change. Even if you are trying to plan a six-month product cycle, you may miss the latest handsets and the latest tablets - in other words, you are going to be behind.
An Agile business focuses on delivering incremental value in shorter time frames. This means each increment has to be smaller and hyper-focused on the value to the business or customer. Desired capabilities need to be reduced to Minimal Viable Features that are validated for the scenarios people want and use. By delivering functional software sooner, you have more opportunities to get customer feedback, adjust and adapt.
In some scenarios, evidence will suggest making small adjustments - other times a major pivot may be called for. Instead of betting the whole pot up front (as in waterfall), break opportunities into incremental objectives that can be validated along the way. By embracing the concept of a Minimum Viable Product, you can get to market quickly, then refine and expand.
Visibility and feedback are critical for steering effectively and making smart decisions. Kanban boards help people collaborate by making it easy to see the stage of planning or development key projects are in. Simply getting executives involved to see how much work is “in flight” on a Kanban board often brings an “ah ha” about what really matters to the business. Then, everyone can agree on working on the most important things first.
A new wave of Agile transformation is changing the way businesses fund and develop projects. Business must learn to embrace agility as more than a development approach if they are to survive. Strategic planning, product and portfolio management are now recognizing that Agile offers the best chance to keep pace and win the race. Agile is becoming a necessity for businesses trying to keep current in this changing marketplace.
To learn more about how to build an Agile business, sign up for Rally’s conference, RallyON June 3-5, 2013 and attend my session on Monster Portfolios.
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