Agile. For the Rest of the Organization.

The use of agile frameworks has become increasingly popular outside the IT-world and spreads to business functions like finance, sales or product development. Even if we stay within IT; some people say that the new megatrend ‘DevOps’ is just a natural extension of agile concepts from ‘Development’ to ‘Operations’. At the same time it’s interesting to acknowledge that the root of agile IT frameworks is outside of the IT world, too. One example for this is Scrum, by far the most popular agile framework, which was developed in the early 90ties. Scrum took concepts from lean manufacturing (“The Toyota Way”) and Japanese Knowledge Management, further formalized them (typical for us IT guys, isn’t it?), bringing a more iterative and adaptive approach into the Software Development process – and now finally found its way “back to business” and is practiced everywhere.

So as often, history makes a full circle and comes back to mama, but on a more mature level – so rather think of it as an “upwards spiral” than a circle. As an interesting side note: You could make a similar story out of ITIL (use as a best practice for service organizations in general) or Cobit (use as a generic corporate governance framework), but that’s a topic for a different blog.

A Management Paradigm Shift

I strongly believe that the current spread of ‘Agile’ indicates a general management paradigm shift, which is driven by external factors such as increasing planning uncertainty, fast changing market environments and the rise of the ‘Generation Y’:

  • A shift away from the tayloristic top-down approach, which epically failed already 120 years ago, tried a rebirth with the ‘business process reengineering’-movement in 90ties and in worst case resulted in people feeling like dumb trained monkeys in the process chain and killing any kind of innovation. (Ok, that was a little bit too hard)
  • A shift towards self-organized, value-oriented teams with shared accountability, who iteratively inspect & decide on their own what the best way/process is to achieve the common goals (-> the concept of empirical process control).

While we probably all agree that the trend is going in that direction, I think it’s wrong to say that – applied to IT – this is somehow ‘the end of ITIL’. Maybe even the opposite is true. ITIL is best-practice content and not an implementation approach. The problem is not the content but the approach (tayloristic), which we sometimes use and always fails, and this is exactly where Agile comes in: Building an environment of self-learning, collaborating and motivated teams.  In IT Service Management, ITIL Best practices is and will still be the main inspiration for such teams what the content could be.

So going back to the ‘non-it agile’ topic and leaving the IT world, I collected some interesting examples on how agile and in particular Scrum is used in business functions:

Agile & Scrum for Marketing & Sales

This is currently the most popular use of Scrum outside IT and you will find many practical examples on the internet. When using Scrum, Marketing & Sales initiatives are designed & planned through the scrum backlog, broken into achievable sprints; progress is tracked in daily standup meetings. Continuous inspection and lessons-learned is built in everywhere in the process.

I found that this article describes the best how this could practically work: LINK

And this one on a more conceptual level on how Scrum helps to bridge the Gap between Marketing and Sales: LINK

At Glenfis, we currently use elements of Scrum (the Scrumboard) to track our training sales initiatives:

Scrum & XP for industrial product development

Joe Justice, a software consultant from Wikispeed, gained global attention when he presented a breakthrough automobile in the Detroit motor show, stealing the stand neighbours GM and Chevrolet the show. He was able to develop a fully functional prototype in only 3 months. He did this by applying the scrum process to traditional automobile manufacturing. Watch this impressive video to get some more details:

Scrum for Financial Budgeting & Reporting

Traditional companies manage finances starting at the beginning of the fiscal year, creating a budget that supposedly captures everything that’s going to happen throughout the entire year. To be honest, this is really just a best-guess. The Scrum approach to finance would be fundamentally different. First of all, it recognizes the budget estimate as just that: an estimate. Instead, it calls for management to use only the first quarter as an actual target, and therefore allows and encourages them to incorporate learnings from the previous quarter when making each assessment.

Watch this video to get some details on this:

Scrum in News Production

NPR/National Public Radio, the biggest radio network in the US, is using Scrum to develop new radio programs. Read this article to get some insights on this: LINK

Using Scrum in executing training classes

When giving training to people, I often use a Scrumboard to visualize the training agenda (-> the scrum product backlog), link the agenda items with  user stories (why we actually doing it?) and I split it into manageable sprints, which typically last half a training day. I continuously update the status during the training (to do/doing/done). The sprint burndown chart helps me to visualize at any time if we are on schedule.

Scrum to manage enterprise transitions

Delta and Northwest announced their merger in April 2008. They immediately began planning for what turned out to be an 18-month sprint to integrate 1,200 systems across the two airlines — everything from customer loyalty programs to aircraft operations, all without interrupting service. Managers built this master guide to break down when these systems would need to start working together. Each note represents a project that could involve thousands of tasks.

How to merge two airlines. This picture was taken at the delta airlines HQ
How to merge two airlines. This picture was taken at the delta airlines HQ

Agile & Scrum for anything?

So can be Agile (Kanban, Scrum, …) be use d for any kind of project or environment where you seek for improvement? My answer is principally ‘yes’, but in some cases you don’t gain any advantages compared to the traditional approach. Agile frameworks are appropriate whenever you act in an unpredictable or fast changing environment and if there is strong collaboration among team members needed. If you don’t use it end-to-end for projects, one thing you can always do is take a Scrumboard or Kanbanboard to organize your daily work – but don’t forget: That’s only one instrument of the whole agile puzzle (and per se not really about ‘agile’), but in my experience this can already turn  things into the right direction!


1 Kommentar zu «Agile. For the Rest of the Organization.»

  1. Very good post – thank you. My colleagues initially laughed me out when I suggested we offer access to our kanban boards to the financial and marketing teams, and now these teams say themselves that they don’t know how they used to manage kanban – free. Agile is wrongly still associated with software dev. only. I recommend seeing this for how to make it spread wider on top of your post: – I think this is perfectly doable.
    Look forward to reading more from you.

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