The 5 Elements of Enterprise Agility
Author(s): Smit Gupta, Posted on February 7th, 2017
In this era of continuous innovation, hyper-competition and rapid adoption, timing is everything. A business that cannot tune to the preferences of customers – while maintaining cost efficiencies – will soon be a thing of the past, if it isn’t already. This is why relatively new but digitally-born businesses are leading the markets and challenging the century-old businesses practically in all industries.
One of the foundational reasons why these newly formed digital businesses see such a level of success is because they are designed to be agile from the bottom up. They have the ability to rapidly change and stay in tune with customer preferences and needs. For longstanding businesses to compete, they need increased agility that lets them innovate and respond equally as fast.
Achieving such agility is not a challenge with a single dimension. Organizations need to transform and align multiple factors that span across people, processes, risk management and technology to achieve a truly scalable agile foundation that is not limited to a few projects and systems, but runs across the enterprise.
Organizations looking for enterprise-scale agility must include these five elements in their transformation:
Element 1: Enterprise-Scale Agile Processes
Team-level agility relies on agile methods such as Scrum. Enterprise agility requires adopting and customizing enterprise-scale framework such as the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), which bases its practices on a set of lean, agile principles. SAFe focuses on developing agility at three levels: teams, programs and the portfolio. Most IT agility efforts have focused on team and project agility. Scaling up to the enterprise isn’t an easy endeavor. The guidance from frameworks such as SAFe provides proven mechanisms to solve the key challenges when coordinating between multiple teams. It helps ensure consistent architectures, and verifies that everyone’s work aligns with product goals, the role of leadership and governance policies.
Element 2: Development Automation
Development automation is the second key element. This isn’t DevOps in the sense of continuous integration, but automation throughout the lifecycle, including environment management, release management, problem management and collaboration.
Automation improves quality control by building quality assurance checks into the release process. More important, though, is the collaboration DevOps enables between the development and operations teams. The improved response time and ability to react more agilely makes it possible to use a development strategy of experimentation and fail fast or scale fast – critical to fostering a culture of innovation. This allows teams to focus on incorporating the market’s feedback into the product rapidly and stay in tune with customers.
Element 3: Fluid Architecture
Next is a fluid application architecture that offers flexibility, meaning it can easily be repurposed and also has the ability to scale up or down. Applications that use a service-oriented architecture, microservices and application program interfaces (APIs) can be deployed and connected in new ways to support new business goals. This design again promotes the experimentation and innovation that’s critical to stay competitive and relevant. It also lets value streams drive the work since successes can be scaled up and failures can be scaled down, avoiding cost overruns when the return on investment (ROI) isn’t right.
Element 4: On-Demand Application Platforms
The fourth element that an agile enterprise needs is on-demand application platforms. Think beyond the cloud’s storage and infrastructure abilities to its Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) capabilities. PaaS provides a set of services, like database services, mobile services and development frameworks with pre-built services such as messaging and notification. The combination of such platforms with the right visualization tools enables rapid prototyping and scaling. Again, this supports the culture of rapid innovation with the capability to seize the business moment when the customers rapidly adopt.
Element 5: Mindset Shift
The final necessary element for the agile enterprise is a new mindset. Agility is a cultural shift that means people need to think differently about how they approach their work. Everyone needs to adopt a lean, collaborative approach and become actively engaged in the work process through self-governing teams and a willingness to experiment and to fail. Without this new mindset, the other four elements aren’t sufficient for success. Everyone has to be aligned with the idea of agility and execute their work using it to get the full ROI from the transformation.
Achieving Enterprise Agility
Building these five elements into most enterprises is a big change. To avoid being overwhelmed, don’t try to adopt all the changes at once. Start with a gap analysis and identify where you have the biggest need or are experiencing the most problems. Then define the tactical steps to match your strategic approach.
The rewards for businesses that succeed in making the transformation are substantial. Digital businesses today have greater profitability and growth rates than traditional businesses. Adopting these elements of enterprise agility enables enterprises to accelerate their transformation to that digital way of doing things. It also gets you closer to customers, allowing you to more deeply understand what they want. With the ability to experiment – fail fast and scale fast – you can deliver software and services to the market in shorter cycles and incorporate customers’ feedback rapidly. You achieve continuous innovation that differentiates your product and business in the market.