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Agile practices bring the digital enterprise to lean success


Guest blog by Samuel Greengard

Digital technology has introduced enormous changes to business and IT. It's safe to say that disruption is the new normal, and innovation is a baseline for better business. Achieving these goals—and transforming challenges into opportunities—increasingly revolves around a simple, yet complex, concept: agile practices.

Agile practices are no longer confined to software development initiatives, such as DevOps. The concept has reached the mainstream and impacts almost every function and group. Likewise, it's a critical factor across disciplines and industries. It helps fuel a data-driven enterprise along with automation. Together, these lead to a leaner and more efficient organization.


Intentional agility

According to a July 2016 MITSloan Management Review and Deloitte University Press research report, Aligning the Organization for Its Digital Future, creating an effective digital culture—and one focused on agile—is an "intentional effort." It noted that nearly 80 percent of respondents from digitally maturing companies say their companies are actively engaged in efforts to bolster risk-taking, agility, and collaboration. By contrast, only 23 percent of companies at the early stages of digital development are doing so.

Digital-savvy executives focus on three critical areas related to becoming more agile:

  1. Evolving from vertical to horizontal. "Hierarchical leadership structures were designed for complex organizations in more stable times. To become nimble and foster collaboration, some large organizations are simplifying their structures." For a major software company, for example, agile meant reducing the number of locations while growing. This was a deliberate decision to allow employees to work in closer proximity and collaborate more effectively.
  2. Establishing cross-functional teams. The report notes that "flatter and more fluid" is more than a buzzword. It's critical for reducing bureaucracy, silos, feuding and many of the problems that pop up in legacy organizations. Using collaboration methods and tools to drive integrated interactions, line of business (LoB) units, and IT staff can better understand issues, work toward common goals, and identify and engage in agile practices.
  3. Building a governance structure and guidelines. A horizontal and cross-functional structure cannot devolve into a free-for-all, the MITSloan report points out. "Senior leaders can set high-level guidelines that local business units and functions can then apply." For example, one global conglomerate engaged in shipping, logistics, and related tasks tapped social marketing campaigns that touched on controversial environmental issues. However, senior leaders established global standards and objectives to guide the campaigns and online discussions. This ensured a unified message while allowing regional and local markets to tailor the ideas—and actual agile practices—to their issues and needs.


Finding success with agile practices

Making the transition to agile is no simple task. It requires new habits, new thinking, and new parameters. For example, the MITSloan report found that 48 percent of respondents could not agree that they were actively implementing initiatives to change the culture to be more collaborative, risk-embracing, and agile in response to digital trends. Among the key differentiators? A reported 76 percent of organizations that are digitally maturing give their employees the opportunities and resources to develop their digital acumen, compared to only 14 percent of early-stage organizations. This may include anything from software and devices to training and development.

Another critical factor for realizing success? These organizations stress innovation—87 percent versus 38 percent. This often takes the form of testing rapidly, learning from failures, and steadying iteration. Just as mobile app development now focuses on regular incremental releases rather than big bang updates once a year, business-centric efforts that focus on agility operate the same way. However, these may require new and different tools, including agile project management.

An organization must approach a real-time business framework holistically. Agile practices must include: connected platforms, as well as analytics and collaboration capabilities that enhance productivity and drive quick decision-making. This requires the right IT systems, including clouds and mobility. In the end, as World Economic Forum points out, "Companies will also need to embrace a leaner organizational setup, moving away from traditional hierarchies to a flatter structure, with higher levels of employee empowerment enabling faster decision-making and greater agility."



Samuel Greengard.jpg

Samuel Greengard is an award-winning journalist who has written or contributed to seven books and penned more than 2,000 articles for consumer, trade and custom published magazines. He specializes in business and technology. His latest book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press). He also has written white papers, e-books and other materials for many of the world's largest corporations.

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About the Author


Tracy Siclair has worked for HPE for 20 years in various positions, all geared towards providing a better customer experience. She has a passion for thinking out-of-the-box and finding innovative ways to get the job done. While not on a computer for work, she enjoys watching her kids play sports, photography, videography, and the occasional game of billiards. Tracy resides in beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado.