How to make your (entire) enterprise more agile

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29 July 2015 | 0

“Agile lets you retain the larger context in which all the other work resides. All the executives upstream and all the developers downstream are looking at the exact same map, so it all lines up with what each group is dealing with. That way you can say, ‘OK, this is step 1 of our 70-step plan to increase revenue by X! We’re on our way!” Jaffe says. To do that effectively across an entire organisation requires a shared architecture and extensive communication and collaboration, which isn’t without its issues.

Communicate a shared architecture
“Agile teams are often dispersed and isolated; they typically don’t collaborate with others unless they are in a scrum environment. These individual teams often experiment and develop technical guidelines as they go, but for large-scale development environments and for larger enterprises, agile teams need to share an architecture with the group to foster cohesion and compatibility so that all the pieces come together,” says Jaffe.

Extensive knowledge-sharing and constant communication can make sure that the work isn’t siloed within development teams and that other areas of the business are on board and on track with their contributions to the larger goals. “This was not just a transition for the product team, it was a transition for the entire business. Everyone had to be on the same page, from executives to marketing to sales to developers, everyone. And while we’re in a great place now, it wasn’t without its hiccups,” says Paull.

The transition took about 18 months, with the first six to nine being the trickiest as the business adapted to the new methodology. But once the shift was made, it went quickly, according to Jaffe.

“Suddenly, everything started flowing downhill with a lot of momentum – it was like a runaway train at first. Release after release, sprint after sprint, bam! Bam! Bam! We had to get out ahead of a couple really crazy release cycles, figure out how to change the teams, make sure the communication was there, and address issues that were cropping up,” says Amanda Paull, vice president of marketing for Extensis.

Transition period
Extensis’ Martin describes that transition period as challenging with issues initially presenting themselves across the board. He notes that everyone was pitching in to help bring the initial uncertainty under control. There were changes made to every aspect of process, prioritisation, development and output that spanned the entire company.

“We were playing ‘whack-a-mole’ at first. We’d have a problem fixed in one area, and then someone from marketing would come to us and say, ‘Uh, that thing you did broke something else over in our systems,’ and then we’d have to add that into an existing sprint — it was crazy, but it was crazy good. We were seeing a lot of longstanding issues finally being addressed, and it was happening quickly and the results were incredible,” Martin says.

To maintain transparency and insight as well as share and organise, Extensis uses common agile tools like JIRA, Confluence and the Slack collaboration platform. The entire business can log into any of these tools to check on progress in other areas, to log their own accomplishments and get a quick snapshot of each sprint and each project. And because the tools are easily customisable, Extensis has adapted the solutions to meet the unique needs of its business, according to Martin, “With JIRA, we’ve eliminated the need for a lot of separate tools, which saved us money on overhead, and we’re all working from the same ‘dictionary,’ so to speak.”

Deconstruction
For Extensis, deconstructing the higher-level business goals and introducing insight and transparency into key product initiatives has been a surprisingly positive experience, says Amanda Paull, Extensis’ vice president of marketing.

“After a sprint is completed, we do retrospectives with the entire company to look back and see what worked, what didn’t, and develop concrete steps for improvement — we do this all the way up to the executive level. You’d think each department showing what’s behind the curtain would be really difficult, but our people take great pride in showing what they’re working on, what they’ve accomplished in front of the rest of the business, and it feels very rewarding,” Paull says.

Moving to Agile has also increased Extensis’ release frequency from four to six per year to nine over the last 12 months. In addition, Extensis was able to introduce two new products while improving customer satisfaction, and the change has allowed the firm to move into adjacent markets more quickly, too, according to Martin.

Extensis was also able to address a long-standing issue that was driving most of their customer incident reports, but that developers hadn’t been able to address before. “We put that [long-standing issue] into a series of three sprints, and it was fixed in six weeks. Suddenly, we saw a 60% drop in service calls — 60%! I had to go back and check to make sure we hadn’t changed our reporting, or were using a different tool or something when I saw that because it was unbelievable. Nope! We just fixed it quickly, efficiently and effectively,” Martin says.

Extensis customers are much happier with the product and feel they are getting more value because of the faster releases and increased version control enabled by agile, says Martin. Not to mention that the firm is seeing lower costs associated with quality assurance.

“We’ve also been able to get into adjacent markets more quickly. It’s freed up creativity from all directions, because no one’s saying, ‘Well, I know what I’m working on for the next two years, so why bother trying something new that won’t ever see the light of day?’ Now, we can do more with what we’ve got, and try new things. It’s been an incredible transformation,” Martin says.

 

 

Sharon Florentine, IDG News Service

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