Almost everyone working close to an IT or development team will have heard the term ‘agile’. It’s an undeniably popular approach that will often be used when a new software is being developed, enabling teams to quickly review and respond to any unpredictable circumstances and shifting goal posts.
To formally define the approach, Google explains it as: 'relating to a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterised by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.'
So, with the agile benefits clear and proven, why is it rarely practised across other business areas?
Digital transformation is about revolutionizing the way business is done and future-proofing your organization for the continuously changing internal factors, external competitors, industry trends and new technologies. With this in mind, an agile approach to rolling out new initiatives across the business will ensure all teams involved can quickly adapt and deliver value often – the key to innovation and surviving in a rapidly developing digital world.
Here, I lay out ten benefits of why we think an agile approach to digital transformation is the best way to go.
At the heart of agile is the flexibility it offers. Traditionally, new business initiatives are specced out upfront with very detailed requirements and little room for change, particularly as the project kicks off. The agile process, however, accepts change, and even expects it. If the team discovers that a different solution provides better results for their specific challenges, then they have the flexibility to test and switch. Likewise, if the business’ priorities change halfway through.
2. Business value comes first
Agile recognizes that technology alone is not a solution, and this could not be truer for digital transformation. Only once a team has defined the business challenges, objectives and practical use cases should any new initiative begin. The agile methodology ensures you always start with the ‘why’ and the entire approach is aligned and responsive to business’ needs.
3. Continuous improvement
Agile teams are always learning, collaborating and adjusting throughout regular iterations, reviewing what is working well and what can be improved. It means everyone has the time to not only expand their own knowledge but all learnings can be identified, shared and applied to the project at each stage before moving forward.
4. Frequent value delivered
Working in short, productive sprints means that features are delivered incrementally as the project evolves. It is not surprising to hear digital transformation projects expected to last up to one or two years, if not more. In fact, digital transformation is a process that should never end. So, working in an agile manner ensures valuable outcomes are delivered in smaller chunks, more frequently, rather than waiting up to six months for an outcome that may, in fact, be overwhelming to the business.
5. Cost control
Keeping sprint lengths the same throughout a project allows the team to know exactly how much work can be accomplished, and therefore the cost for each sprint. It also allows for budget refinements on a regular basis and changes to be made often without exorbitant costs as a result.
6. Risk reduction
An agile approach to digital transformation projects practically eliminates the chance of failure. Daily updates, constant communication, regular testing and collaborative feedback at the end of each sprint ensures nothing is missed and every issue is captured and dealt with early.
7. Great communication and engagement
Digital transformation will never be achieved with just one team. To be successful, the business and IT units need to work in unison with a clear vision of the organizational challenges that need to be solved. Agile encourages regular communication, constant collaboration, feedback sessions and continuous stakeholder management, which is critical to the success of any transformation project.
8. Complete transparency
With regular collaboration, communication and updates between multiple agile teams comes higher visibility across the business. Agile ensures every team member up to the key stakeholders has the opportunity to know how the project is going. Daily updates and progress charts offer concrete, tangible ways to track progress and manage expectations at every level.
9. High quality
Quality of work improves within an agile environment because testing and optimization start from the very beginning. It naturally allows for the early sight of any issues and the relevant adjustments to be made quickly. Agile within digital transformation also encourages teams to embrace innovation and technological excellence.
10. Higher team morale
There is no change or innovation without people. To create a highly motivated, high-performing team requires a level of self-management, the encouragement of creativity, time to reflect, regular knowledge sharing and continuous learning – all of which are advantages of the agile process. Teams that are constantly working overtime to meet unrealistic deadlines will inevitably lack the inclination, or time, to think about anything else other than the task in hand, stifling the creation of any new and innovative ideas.
To summarize, digital transformation, although often seen as a buzzword, is not going anywhere. Organizations are now at a crossroad where they can either keep doing business as usual or change the way they work from the inside out. Adopting an agile approach to change encourages continuous innovation and enables businesses to become disruptive market leaders, shaping the future of their own industries.