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Agile Systems Development (Part 4) – A Journey of Steady Improvement

By:  Horia Slușanschi, Agile Coach, Hewlett Packard Company


Speed.jpgIn Part 3 of this series, we explored the current HP working definition for Agile Systems Development as a system of 24 skills to be perfected. We also highlighted that Agile ways of work are not just for software-intensive systems development teams; for maximum benefits they get replicated as fractals throughout the enterprise.  This next blog suggests a typical path for an Agile journey of organizational transformation.



Is Agile suitable for “this”?

Since activity in many enterprises is structured in portfolios, programs and projects, many people are tempted to ask themselves “is this project/program/portfolio suitable for Agile methods?”  The answer is often “yes” once one understands the inherent flexibility within Agile Systems Development.


Language Constrains Thinking

Our language constrains us. We typically use words as labels for “fixed” concepts. Agile work processes are designed to be fluid and adapt over time to provide optimum results with economy of effort, as best suited to their specific context.


Therefore, when we say “this project uses Agile methods” we don’t have an easy way of conveying the fluid nature of the label “Agile.” The structure and details of the work process in a high-performance Agile team are free to adapt over time to the demand profile confronting the team. The exact flavor of “Agile” for each initiative is likely to be different due to the varied backgrounds and skill sets of the people involved.


Is Agile like Ketchup?

A client asked me recently if Agile methods are similar to ketchup. Are they similar to a condiment that goes well with most every kind of food? And if so, is there an equivalent of a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, that wouldn’t work quite as well with ketchup?


The short answers to these questions are yes and no. A longer answer starts from the observation that there are no areas of work that wouldn’t benefit from a smoother flow of activity, with less waste, producing more value, sooner. While Agile ideas and techniques are not a cure for all ills, they provide a sound foundation for rapid adaptability and steady improvement.


When it comes to striving to perfect Agile skills in an organization, it helps to begin by developing a shared understanding of the areas and initiatives that would yield the most benefit, and then work (with low amounts of work-in-process) in decreasing order of value (just as with a typical Product Backlog). Agile patterns of work are effective at improving all sorts of activities, not just the creation of software.


A First Step – An Agile Readiness Assessment

Many organizations begin their Agile journeys with a Readiness Assessment. This is a short activity that develops a snapshot of the organization’s culture and identifies a promising roadmap for Agile training and practice.


To run a Readiness Assessment, an experienced Agile Coach pairs up with an Agile champion local to the organization undergoing transformation. The pair then conducts interviews and discovery workshops with leaders and key practitioners. The aim is to understand what works well, what things people are proud of, and what dissatisfies them. Then by combining these insights with an appreciation of the organization’s portfolio, the most appealing candidates for improvement using Agile concepts are identified and socialized. This then forms the basis of a roadmap for Agile transformation.


Beginning Agility

After the Readiness Assessment, the first part of the journey usually begins with setting up and strengthening a community of Agile practitioners so improvement ideas can be disseminated rapidly and broadly. This community ensures that the pilot Agile teams and projects proceed with a steady pace of improvement.


Improving Agility

The next stage of organizational development involves growing capacity by steadily increasing the number of high-performance, longer-lived, self-organizing, cross-functional teams. The objective is to find the optimum capacity that leads to a sustainable cadence of delivery. From an executive perspective, the strategic goal is to even out the demand stream over time.  This enables production to proceed with a minimum of disruption induced by variation in the composition and number of high-performance teams involved.  Then as customer demand patterns shift, capacity can be set aside and release-trains adjusted accordingly, with much improved predictability.


Mastering Agility

Once a broad base of high-performance teams gets established and value delivery proceeds smoothly and regularly, leaders must continue to foster the discipline of continuous improvement. Traditional barriers and friction sources between departments are systematically made visible and resolved with respect, kindness and compassion, in a united spirit of service to customers and commitment to joyful work. Simple yet powerful problem-solving techniques such as the A3 management process become widespread, across all organizational levels.


The story so far

In this installment, we’ve explored what a journey of Agile-inspired improvement might look like.  In Part 5 we’ll look ahead to the future, considering the implications of increasing numbers of Agile organizations working in partnership.


Other blogs in this series: 


Related links: 


About the Author


Horia Slusanschi.jpgHoria Slușanschi, Agile Coach, Hewlett Packard Company

Horia serves as the leader of the HP Agile Mentoring Office and the HP Software Engineering Profession. He is passionate about helping professionals to perfect their practice of effective habits inspired by the Agile mindset. He is trained as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt practitioner, and holds a PhD in Computer Science. Horia also serves as the Service Delivery leader of the Project Management Institute’s Agile Community of Practice. Reach him at or @KiwiHoria.

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About the Author
Horia Slușanschi serves as an Agile Coach leading the HP Agile Mentoring Office and the HP Software Engineering Profession. He is passionate...

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