How enterprises can successfully scale Agile development

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Are organizations seeing the benefits of Agile at scale? Depends on who you ask.

Enterprises in the UK, for example, spend 37 billion pounds ($47 billion USD) a year on failed Agile IT projects. And around a third of Agile transformations partially fail, according to the same report.

On the other hand, there are inspiring effusive success stories, ranging from Lego to The National Bank of Canada, where Agile has helped accelerated business value delivery.

That’s hard to do in organizations with huge product portfolios – both customer-facing and internal –which is why the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®) is the framework du jour.

But here’s the rub:

Agile development teams do not work in isolation. Their dependencies on many other players and functions are key to understanding why your Agile transformation might fail. And why, in lieu of a single tool or process, organizations need to identify and eliminate long cycles and wait times within development itself, and beyond.

The disconnect between the business and Agile development

Agile development teams rely on vital work carried out by people upstream from the ‘create’ stage, people who work hard to understand and articulate a customer’s needs. That ‘ideate’ phase includes planning, creating business cases, and UX design to name but a few key activities – very creative and technical work that plays a crucial role in meeting end user needs.

Developers are also highly impacted by activities that happen downstream from code-commit, like testing, deployment, customer support, and operations. That’s when bugs, vulnerabilities, and new feature requests are surfaced.

Meaning, no matter how fast the developers go, the overall flow time – from when work begins to when it ends – is intrinsically connected to the rest of the value stream.

All too often it’s these dependencies, plus reams of unplanned and often invisible work, that are impeding value delivery and making developers frustrated, disenchanted and miserable. They are the currents that pull against Agile’s positive impacts.

That’s why the continued focus on connecting development to the business and all other stages of the software delivery value stream is absolutely crucial to any digital transformation.

An Agile organization’s biggest architectural blindspot? Its toolchain

The complex product work to deliver software spans a heterogeneous toolchain, which encompasses planning, requirements management, design, development, testing, support, and operations.

However, nothing drives down developer productivity and engagement like the constant context-switching between tools to piece together all the information required to do their job.

What developer wants to log in to multiple tools to find the details of what needs to be done, only to discover that the data doesn’t even match up and there is no single source of truth?

So, what can you do? Do you simply force everyone to work in the same tool? Of course not! Because you would lose all the benefits of fit-for-purpose tooling, which all Agile practitioners need to thrive.

Instead, you should look to automate the flow of knowledge work between teams at every stage of software delivery process from ideation to operations (and back through the customer feedback loop), across all the tools in play.

Tech giants like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google treat their entire software delivery toolchain like a product. Their integrated toolchains automate the flow of knowledge work between specialized practitioners at every stage of software delivery from ideation to production.

Since most businesses are not Microsoft, Amazon or Google, yet most are disrupted by them, they need to build their toolchain from the best commercial and open source products and then architect them for flow.

Clever Value Stream Architecture designs for speed, visibility and traceability and it relies on APIs and abstraction. A well-architected pipeline also takes into account that the frequency of tool turnover is only going to increase. Thus, it must be able to easily plug-in to new sources of work and strangle out old ones.

Automation – through tool integration – provides the opportunity to eliminate duplicate data entry (waste), automate handovers, and create digital traceability. Here are some examples:

Bring the Work to the People, Not the People to the Work

In organizations implementing SAFe®, Tasktop brings the work directly to the practitioners’ fit-for-purpose tools, putting an end to the double entry, the information goose-chase and the constant context-switching that wears developers down.

Moreover, all Agile development work – in true SAFe®-style – is tied back to the original requirement (and any customer changes) set by a portfolio or program manager. Integration maintains data fidelity as it synchronizes the information from tool-to-tool, so teams get it right the first time and eliminate hours spent on rework.

Tasktop connects the network of people and best-of-breed tools that plan, build and deliver software at scale, from ideation to operation (and back through the customer feedback loop), which:

  • Automates the flow of information across the value stream: Integration enables the frictionless flow of artifacts (such as defects, user stories, trouble tickets), as well as information from events (such as build failures, version control changesets, security scan vulnerabilities and performance monitoring alerts), across the tools and stakeholders in the software development value stream. This removes non-value added work and bottlenecks; increases velocity and capacity; enhances collaboration; enables automated traceability and even improves employee satisfaction, and visualizes a product’s journey from business request to delivery.
  • Creates a modular, Agile toolchain: Software innovators require a best-of-breed tool strategy. Tasktop enables organizations to use the products that best support each discipline while getting the benefits of a single, integrated toolchain. This helps you drive more value from each tool, as well as easily add, replace and upgrade tools when you modernize, creating a proactive environment for innovation and minimizing disruption.
  • Enables visibility and traceability into the value stream: When managers want to see metrics and dashboards to understand project status, to optimize the process or to ensure compliance, it has been nearly impossible to get a real-time, holistic view across unintegrated tools. Tasktop unlocks lifecycle data from these application tool silos by automatically compiling modeled lifecycle activity data into a single database. This data can be used to create consolidated, full-lifecycle reports and dashboards, as well as for traceability reporting, and provides insights into how your SAFe transformation is going.

Want to know more?

How the Flow Framework™ Maximizes Your Wins from SAFe®

Gain powerful insights into your SAFe transformation with Value Stream Management

Let us help you with your SAFe journey today

Request a highly-personalized demo to see how integration is the lifeblood of your SAFe transformation and how visualization can help you zoom into the details that makes your software delivery tick.

We also offer specialized workshops and courses with the industry’s leading authorities on flow and value streams:

Visualize your value stream (with one of Tasktop’s Value Stream  Architects): This free one-hour consulting session will help you identify the value streams within your organization today, visualize the flow of work, and help identify opportunities to make your value stream more tangible. Learn more.

Introduction to value streams (with Brian Ashcraft): This two-hour training course enables you on the fundamentals of getting started with a VSM initiative, including common attributes, an improvement methodology, analytical methods, and a tooling assessment. After attending training, you will have the knowledge to become a VSM ambassador at your organization or agency. Learn more.

Flow 101 Workshop (with Dominica DeGrandis): Flow is the continuous smooth and fast delivery of business value, and is the first of the three foundational principles underpinning DevOps. This two-day hands-on workshop shows you how to enable flow in your organization using lean practices. The workshop is best suited for teams engaged in Agile or DevOps transformations who are looking to leverage Value Stream thinking to make their transformations more successful. This gives teams the opportunity to discuss and determine prioritization policies, workflow design, and metrics used to measure team performance. Learn more.

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