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To Agile or Not to Agile: A Message to Decision Makers

A Vice President of Sales and Marketing sat in front of a wide-eyed Agile Coach trying to explain to him the importance of having something called business and IT alignment. It all sounded interesting and the Agile Coach almost had him until he heard the phrase “work together daily throughout the project”.

Daily? Throughout the project??

“I have a hard enough time listening to those programmers drone on with their IT acronyms and such as it is”, he says. “Now you want me to spend time with them every day? I thought this was an IT thing. Why can’t I just tell you what I want and you can get back to me when it’s done? I simply don’t have enough time on my schedule as it is. How am I supposed to set aside time every day for them too?”

It’s true that many Agile transformations begin with someone from IT deciding this is a direction we need to go in. IT decides it needs to deliver faster. They want more visibility in cost of change. When change happens (and it always does), they want to be able to react quickly. They want more teamwork and less silos. And not to be overlooked, they don’t want to get months down the road only to find out they were working on the wrong stuff. So, we will try this Agile idea because I hear it helps all those things.

Herein lies the problem; you can’t have any of them without business engagement. While these all sound like good ideas, Agile is Business Driven IT.

Think of it this way…can you think of any company in the world that would not benefit from having an IT presence in one way or another? Now, can you think of any company in the world with no set of customers whose business they are trying to gain? So why then, does this business and IT alignment seem to elude us so frequently when it is so critical to being successful in today's world?

Granted, it used to be that IT was perceived by many as some black ops group in the basement of the organization we only interacted with when email went down or we needed a printer set up. They were mostly introverted, moody and perceived as arrogant. Times have changed (mostly).

A new wave of IT professionals is hitting the market. It’s been slowly happening for some time but in the past 10-15 years, it has gained quite a bit of steam. We’re seeing technology professionals with strong business acumen and a greater focus on interpersonal skills (or what we affectionately refer to as 21st Century Skills). They have a desire for greater collaboration with their corporate counterparts who represent the voice of the customer and are desperate for their input on what is considered business value. In fact, this new breed won’t turn a single screw unless “the business” has engaged with them on what customers really want, what their feedback is on what we’re creating and whether there is a value-based need for rapid change. They then embrace that change…even late in development.

But they have one, huge, elephant-in-the-room problem. They can’t be successful unless they are engaged with the voice of the customer regularly. Their business counterparts. The ones who take pride in knowing the market, knowing customer needs and being able to translate those needs accordingly.

Without that voice, IT will simply deliver what they perceive to be customer desire. Kudos to them for wanting to deliver value. But now ask yourself, is your IT department the group you want making decisions on what your customer ‘wants’? They can absolutely deliver innovations and technology solutions. But who will represent your customer when it comes to whether or not it was the right innovation and solution?

In the time you’ve spent reading this, how many different apps do you think have been released for your smartphone? That’s how fast technology is changing. That’s how fast your customers expect to see value and for you to respond to their rapidly changing needs. Those who cannot adapt become last year's failed company.

That’s why organizations are adopting Agile.

Want to have an organization great at changing direction as needed with minimal disruption? You need to apply agility.

Want to better understand how your organization delivers its technology solutions and have input on said solutions? You need to apply agility.

Want to be the final voice on what is considered business value delivered to your customers? You need to apply agility.

Want greater visibility and predictability on how and when that value will be delivered so you can make better strategic decisions? Well…you get the point.

But it takes effort. It takes time. Agile is no different for our business reps and executives than it is for IT; you’ll only get out of it what you are willing to put into it. Half-hearted effort with what we hope is minimal involvement? Don’t be surprised when your adoption looks that way as well.

The only constant in life is change and the demand for change from our customers is greater now than it has ever been. If you’re wondering whether or not the investment in time and money is worth it, weigh that out with the cost of not being able to adapt and deliver quickly. Add in the fact that your competitor is probably making that investment right now.

“I have to work with IT daily? Throughout the project?”

Hmmm…doesn’t sound too bad now that I think about it.

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