It’s been 30 years since the creation of the agile manifesto. And yet, agile remains misunderstood by the vast majority.
When any idea becomes corporatized, it can turn into a prescribed orthodoxy. That’s what happened with lean and what’s happening with agile.
Agile Has Gone Mainstream. But There Is a Problem
Our recent report 2022 State of Digital Transformation unveiled that 57% of enterprises had adopted an agile framework for implementing digital initiatives. Even the federal government follows agile methodologies for 80% of its IT projects.
Source: 2022 State of Digital Transformation
But this mainstream adoption of agile methodologies has also created a problem — theater over throughput.
Agile is not a doctrine. It’s an elusive idea — a set of guiding principles, not rules. When organizations prioritize agile ceremonies over employee experience, they are left with peels but no juice. The lack of throughput leads to organizational backlash and can create resistance to a larger agile transformation. If an agile implementation causes your engineering team to spend more time in meetings, that’s really the opposite of agile.
Therefore, successful agile transformation starts from the ground up, from a concept that’s at the heart of agile philosophy — automation.
Automation — The ‘A’ in Agile
If you wish to create an agile organization, focus on maximizing developer productivity by automating your engineering processes.
The cost of running software has been heavily commoditized. The rise of the cloud has changed how people build software. A few years ago, launching to production servers was very expensive. Now, you can replicate production locally and release it multiple times a day.
“Automation elevates developer experience and gives them more heads-down time to code.”
Automating your release pipeline so developers can ship code multiple times a day is a more effective step towards becoming agile than introducing any agile ceremony. If your developers can’t do their jobs effectively because VDIs are slowing them down, even the world’s best scrum master can’t help them.
Automation elevates developer experience and gives them more heads-down time to code. When there is more rigor in your engineering team, its benefits permeate other departments.
For example, once your engineering team has a strong DevOps culture and effective CI/CD, they might feel the need for a design system, influencing designers and product managers. However, introducing a design system without automation might not have worked effectively. It’s always better to start with automation.
Automation Drives Agile KPIs
The book, Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps, mentions four key metrics to measure DevOps efficiency. These metrics aren’t goals but a good indicator of agility:
- Cycle Time (Change Lead Time) – Time to implement, test, and deliver code for a feature (measured from the first commit to deployment)
- Deployment Frequency – Number of deployments in a given duration of time
- Change Failure Rate (CFR) – Percentage of deployments which caused a failure in production
- Mean Time to Recovery (MTTR) – Mean time it takes to restore service after production failure
Automation directly impacts all the above KPIs. Therefore, automating your engineering processes is essential to measuring and improving agility. Without it, organizations will struggle to measure their maturity.
“Good, fast, cheap — Pick two” was how organizations managed projects. Today, it’s not uncommon for market leaders to offer the fastest delivery, highest quality, and lowest prices. The common thread among them is that they use automation to break the PM triangle. Regardless of industry, every organization today is a technology company.
Automation Beyond Engineering
Automating engineering processes is a critical step in any agile journey, but even non-IT teams can benefit from a DevOps mindset.
In 2021 we automated the workflows of all the departments at Modus Create with Jira. This shift to asynchronous collaboration reduced meetings, automated manual tasks, and freed up hours for each team member to focus on high-priority tasks. Instead of real-time status updates and back and forth messaging, all teams track their progress in Jira.
Similarly, there are several examples of non-IT teams becoming more productive with automation. Whether it’s the HR team using the latest SaaS tools to manage recruitment pipelines or the sales team using a CRM to consolidate all their workflows, each department can use automation to work more effectively.
There is also a risk and regulatory aspect to automation. Legacy systems can be brittle. Several regulations, such as Sarbanes–Oxley and GDPR, call to restrict the direct access to user data. Automation helps businesses meet such requirements and strengthen the overall security posture.
There Is No Plateau Anymore
In a world where change is the only certainty, agile transformation isn’t about reaching a state of maturity. Instead, it’s about developing capabilities to manage the pace of transformation.
There is no plateau anymore — no room to simply coast after a sprint.
“Organizations that automate retain staff better.”
Concepts like DevOps, Infrastructure as Code, and QA automation didn’t even exist in the mainstream a decade ago. Agile leaders need to be aware of where they need to be and how they can manage the pace and cost of transformation. Managing the change journey is as important as managing the business.
Tools and processes are the touchpoints of knowledge workers. Therefore, organizations that automate retain staff better. Modern tooling and developer experience are more critical to culture than a swanky office. Additionally, automation attracts exciting talent, laying a strong foundation to scale aggressively.
How agile are we? — is a question that often captures the imagination of modern leaders. While automation isn’t a silver bullet, it’s a great indication of a team’s agile maturity. It gives you a great platform to launch agile initiatives and ensures that the team reaps the benefits of transformation.
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