Can organisations be big AND agile?

Ian Andrews Engineering Nationwide

By Ian Andrews
Head of Engineering

When the term Agile is used in the world of large organisations, it’s simply a synonym for ‘cheaper and faster’, along with a widespread assumption that it is a purely a methodology. Similarly, delving a bit deeper, there is also a disconnect between business operations and tech teams in terms of understanding and implementing Agile.

So firstly, is it a methodology or a mindset? I believe Agile is a mindset, and the manifesto corroborates this position:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Large corporations often look at start-ups with envy because of the speed with which they can execute, the lack of perceived controls and a fleet of foot approach. The strength lies in business being able to work closely with tech, being able to respond to change quickly and so enable quicker routes to the realizing of business benefits.

AGILE MEETS LEGACY AND SCALE

In my experience, large corporations are shackled by legacy and scale, plus they are fundamentally more grown up – i.e. they have to solve bigger problems. When large organisations try to emulate Agile in pockets with best intentions, and often lots of excitement, it doesn’t always lead to the desired outcome.

Rapid adoption of delivery methodologies can result in a misinterpreting of mindset and businesses can end up in a half-way house. I’ve personally struggled throughout my time in large organisations where there is desire for pace and value with no compromise on original set of requirements.

SERVICE LINES MEET TECH

When you get people inside business service lines who need something done by a certain date, their vernacular is increasingly ‘let’s do this Agile’, but they haven’t anticipated nor understood the changing mindset that they need to adopt it. And even when business and tech get closer together it rarely works as a collaboration.

I thought for a long time, like so many, that Agile was a set of methodologies. The revelation that it was a mindset requiring different disciplines and methodologies really blurs the line between Waterfall and Agile. In fact, an Agile mindset lends itself to delivering all types of change.  It means having more conversations, planning little and often, keeping everything transparent and blurring the lines between job roles.  It means taking personal responsibility for quality in an environment of trust and accountability.

These techniques can be applied regardless of methodology, which is what has to happen in large organisations. When you start to remove the barriers between business service lines, IT delivery and business operations you get a much tighter coupling between the outcome the business is looking for and how IT responds.

So my conclusion is that it’s a mindset that transcends both methodologies. And it’s most useful when viewed in this way – and especially for large organizations where you can’t afford to be a purist about any one approach.

AGILE AT  NATIONWIDE

We’re embarking on a very big transformation programme through our Big Investment, and part of that is moving slowly and sustainably towards a new working paradigm with Agile at its heart. But not with the superficial intent of getting it done quicker and cheaper as that acting with that intention alone tends to create further complexity. The irony is that that will probably happen eventually as a result anyway.

KEY TAKE-AWAYS

My advice to large organisations keen to embrace an Agile mindset would be to embrace the business’s desire to move at pace but to be instrumental in educating business leaders about the change in attitude and behaviours that will be required to make it work. It’s not just something that you do in IT.

And if I were to distill the most important principles of Agile for large organisations, I would say they are:

  1. Individuals having the ability to accept change and adapt quickly.

  2. Brutal transparency.

  3. Trying to solve problems, including anti-patterns, swiftly.

  4. Sharing the right knowledge to the right audience.