Realising agility in technology change

Agile software delivery is something I’ve been involved with for two decades now - since the early days of XP, Scrum and the Agile manifesto. Those of you who have worked with me or heard me talk on the subject will know that I often refer to the mixed economy of agile software delivery in a non-agile world. This boundary between the flexibility of an agile delivery and some physical world constraints is usually the cause of many challenges when implementing change.

Back in the early 2000s you met the non-agile boundary pretty quickly. Many of you will remember working on programmes where application software was created using agile techniques but there was a huge waterfall plan for configuring the physical tin and wires in a data centre. To a large extent this often got in the way of true agile delivery and the incremental realisation of value.

In recent years there have been huge advances in how and where our application code gets executed. In the Cloud we have transitioned through virtualisation, containers and into Serverless computing. The physical world of custom built data centres for enterprise applications dissolved into infrastructure as code delivered alongside the application software using agile techniques. The frontier of the physical world was rolled back and agility in delivering change increased as a result.

The shift in thinking from discrete change projects to continuous product delivery and the evolution of the IT organisation to incorporate DevOps means that we can now be truly agile in technology delivery.

It may be a key enabler, but there is much more to business agility than technology.

Creating true business agility

The barrier to further business agility is often the physical manifestation of the organisation itself. Either directly or indirectly through outsourcing arrangements organisations employ people to execute many parts of their processes and deliver their products and services to their customers. These people often need to be hired, trained and homed in a new office, none of which are typically agile activities.

The advent of the pandemic brought about home working on a global scale. Offices in cities around the world lie empty. Undoubtedly this means that changing the physical arrangement of an organisation is in some ways easier. No more refurbishments, office moves or finding new desks for that extra team. On the surface it may appear that the next physical barrier to improved business agility has been pushed back.

Does an office-less organisation realise true business agility?

There’s no doubt that removing some physical aspects of the organisation can improve responsiveness to change and agility. Scaling up and redeploying remote workers does not require changes to the built world. There is also an opportunity to have people in new locations not covered by existing city centre offices. Think of the potential benefits of having more of your people closer to your customers. A sort of edge computing for customer service.

In one sense the closure of the office, a physical container around people achieves a similar result to the removal of the container around our application software in Serverless computing.

That is though probably as far as I can stretch my analogy. Let’s face it at the end of the day people are not software. Personally I’m not ready to be fully plugged into the matrix! For me face to face contact with colleagues and clients is an essential part of the work and human experience. True business agility is not about how we build software or offices but the people in the organisation. Social capital in those relationships and high performing teams are the real enablers of business agility.

The advent of increased flexible and remote working can enable greater business agility through removing some physical constraints. I would however suggest that true business agility is about people focused change. So no matter whether you’re going office-less, hybrid or fully back into the work place if you want increased agility to adapt to the new world focus on winning over the hearts and minds of your people and taking proper care of their wellbeing.