27 February 2020

Putting Agile Scrum Methodology into practice: The Perks & Challenges

Agile Perks and Challenges

By Sophia Hobman, Test Practice Lead

Optimation’s Agile framework brings significant delivery benefits, including reduced time to market, increased outcome quality and greater customer satisfaction.  According to Nathan Wilson, Gartner:

Use of Agile methods has the capability to transform IT-business relationships and have a major positive impact on IT value delivery. However, the value will be delivered only if the CIO and the entire IT management team are dedicated to the culture change that is necessary for success.” 

 

Our Approach

An example of how Optimation has differentiated itself is by using the Disciplined Agile Delivery method which uses a scrum framework to build systems.  This has also allowed us to continuously improve delivery, rapidly respond to changing Customer needs, and deliver Customer outcomes earlier than expected. 

SCRUM3

Agile Scrum Methodology

 

Although there are many perks to an Agile engagement, there are also a number of common challenges faced when applying Agile to business.  So whether you have already started on your Agile journey or you are just thinking about it, you will unfailingly ask yourself this question at some point:

Is my business ready to run with Agile?

 

 When faced with this question, Optimation will lead a business to ask themselves ‘How empowered is our customer to make independent delivery decisions to enable efficient prioritisation of workloads?

 This question goes to the heart of achieving company buy in to run with Agile, or not.  As without company buy in to an appropriate delegation model, and a level of trust amongst the doers of a team, the challenges Agile frameworks present can sometimes seem impediments.

At Optimation we have found that Agile works best in practice when:

  • Everyone is involved throughout the initial discovery and plan phases so that the team understand what the customer and their users need. Being part of early discovery and plan phases helps the development team to understand the vision, goals and user experience.  It also gives the team an understanding and better engagement with the customer and their end-users.
  • It’s not enough to “do agile”, team members need to “be agile” to be an effective team. The culture of the organisation will make or break agile.  It is very difficult to be agile in a command and control type of culture.
  • An active product owner that is empowered to make decisions, prioritise features, and who participates in daily stand-ups and retrospectives is vital. This provides transparency to the customer about progress, it means that decisions can be made rapidly, and the customer is taken on the journey with the development team.  No surprises leads to a good customer engagement experience.  It also makes them embedded in the team rather than being a bystander.
  • Not every agile team needs to work the same, but they all need to work the same way within a team. We have different agile teams for different customers.  For example, they don’t all story point in the same way, and the availability of the customer may be different, the architecture (cloud vs on-premise) may be different, the degree of testing the customers want will be different across clients but everyone within a team should know what to expect in terms of the agreements they share.
  • If the team dynamics don’t work, and coaching hasn’t worked to change the team, change the members! The team needs to be synergistic otherwise the delivery will suffer. 
  •  During our 27 years of working within the IT industry and delivering agile engagements, we’ve collected a set of perks and challenges which are useful to consider when deciding if Agile is the right approach to take.

Perks

  • Quality Communication - This is a cornerstone of any Agile methodology used. An Agile approach favours individuals and interactions, over processes and tools. In the case of the Scrum framework a series of collaborative and focused ceremonies are held where team knowledge is shared and opportunities for team empowerment are created (e.g. Daily Scrum, Sprint Planning, Retrospectives and more).
  • Early Product Visibility - Customers see working software, which is close to a releasable product, at regular intervals along the lifecycle of an engagement rather than toward the end. This early visibility provides opportunities to pivot, the delivery direction, early in an engagement without wasting time or money.
  • Customer Collaboration – Agile Scrum allows for early Customer engagement combined with high collaboration. This opens the door for efficient feedback loops and increases Customer satisfaction levels.
  • Continuous Improvement – Agile Scrum fosters an environment for development teams to inspect and adapt their approach according to any incoming change, rather than following a predefined path. This leads to more engaged and motivated teams who are then able to self-organise.
  • Quality – Including Customers into quality reviews and feature demonstrations allows for easy process adaption to suit changing Customer needs faster leading to frictionless defect resolution.

Challenges

  •  Cultural Alignment – Complex organisations often have multiple organisations supporting them for specialist services such as infrastructure. Deploying change into a customer environment may require additional planning outside of the traditional scrum framework to be able to deliver the project into production. As a vendor delivering into a customer organisation, this takes effort to understand the organisational processes such as writing change plans, attending CABs, synchronising deployment with implementation windows, and bringing all the third-party resources on the journey.  Time needs to be allocated to this activity and suitably skilled resources should take responsibility for them such as a project manager.
  • Environments- Not all customer environments are the same. Sometimes we are able to use a cloud solution all the way through from development to production, however, sometimes there is a need to deploy a solution to a hybrid environment where there are both on-premise components as well as the cloud.  Initially, it can take some time to understand the environment landscape and just which servers are available in a customer environment and/or whether new ones are needed.  Finding out who to contact can also take some time depending on whether you are primarily liaising with the business or IT department.  Allowing a single sprint for sprint zero is often not sufficient under these circumstances.  Our advice is to understand that as soon as possible so that adequate time can be allowed for.
  • Funding Arrangements – When presenting engagement costings to a Customer the inevitable conversation on whether a fixed price can be offered takes place. A fixed price provides a definitive delivery price against a definitive scope. A perfect mix for a perfect engagement, if nothing changes. With Agile, a delivery team will provide a high-level scope but they reserve the right to make agreed adjustments to the scope when more detail is understood.  This is all in the name of ensuring a successful outcome, by not focusing on unnecessary things. The key is to have clear decision-making responsibilities within a team and ensure the Customer approval stakeholder group is engaged from the start so that quality communication, as per the Perks above, occurs. Using the Scrum framework, this is where the role of a Product Owner is crucial to ensuring calm and considered changes to scope can occur.  The customer has the right to determine the features and their priorities and make changes, however, they need to be prepared to ask for additional funding if this is required.  The transparency needs to be in place so that this doesn’t come as a surprise to the Customer, and also the trust needs to exist so that any request for additional funding is to meet their changing requirements.

Additionally, the great news is that all of the challenges mentioned above can be avoided through embarking on an Agile cultural change journey as a concurrent activity to the core Agile delivery engagement. This change journey should be aimed at embedding the principles and mindset of the Agile Manifesto.  Educating stakeholders, on the mind-set of Agile, which achieves buy-in at any organisational level. When done well it also results in high trust across a Customers business environment and ultimately leads to a more empowered workforce and the necessary foundation for delegated decision making. 

So, should we use Agile for our next engagement?

 

Each framework approach costs, but with a little thinking, we can determine which one will deliver sustainable Customer value. The hard part is carrying out critical thinking to support the decision and Optimation is here to help you do this, and do this well.

 

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