Adopting Agile Principles Outside Software Domain

 by Robert Smith, Agile Sr. Consultant

What Pitfalls to Avoid

The success of Agile Framework adoptions in the software development communities over the past few decades has initiated a wave of interest for companies to leverage the Principles of Agile outside of the traditional software development domain to other business units, such as Finance, Marketing, and Human Resources.

Recently, companies have started to apply or adapt Agile principles in other areas of the organization, such as Marketing, Customer Services, and Human Resources. These cross-departmental adaptations of the Agile principles are likely to continue at a rapid pace as agile, and its adaptable value-based benefits become more apparent to businesses. This article focuses on the potential pitfalls that organizations should be aware of as they make the journey.

However, many companies will pay a high price as they struggle to adapt Agile principles, despite the existence of the Agile Manifesto for the past 18 plus years, and numerous successful adoptions by many companies. “Imitation Agility” is the price that many companies will pay when trying to implement Agile principles within non-software development business domains.

“Imitation Agility” is operating under the notion that they have fully integrated and adopted applicable agile principles within business domain processes, all to find that they have fallen short when trying to extend their business processes across or into other business domains. These Artificial adoptions result in failures because, during the implementation of the agile principles, many business units will focus on current process practices (As-Is) versus expected outcomes (To-be). It’s much easier to focus on the refinement of the existing process practices, and not the expected results, because it’s all you know and what you’re most familiar. After all, there are no real consequences to distract you when you’re trying to refine something you already know.

To get the best out of your transformation, it’s critical to adopt an “Outcomes Approach”. That means focusing on the elements of the expected outcomes and not the good, bad or indifferences of the current practices.

The foundation of any agile adoption approach should be to embrace and quickly adapt to change; the best way to embrace change starts with awareness followed by understanding the change, and quickly adapting to the change. Both within and outside of the software development domain, these changes can be in the form of environment, competition, market conditions, customer and resource requirements, and even world events. Just as U.S. Marine Combat Training teaches combat soldiers to assess, cover and move; agile methods advise adopters to “inspect and adapt” to the onset of unknown changes.

Many businesses seeking agility outside of software development are not able to do so mainly due to their adoption or inheritance of practices or rules from the software development domain that are not applicable to the business domain where they seek agility.

Instead of blindly mimicking Scrum cadences and ceremonies from the software development domain, business agility teams should be looking to more experienced agile practitioners with the mental models and experience in handling the abstract concept of inspect and adapt in terms of business process modeling to lead their Agile Transformation. This will enable teams to accelerate their implementation of Agile and avoid the many pitfalls associated with implementing Agile in other than software environments, and better utilize the agile principles and leverage the abstract ideas of the Agile Manifesto.

When leading the implementation of adopting Agile principles in the business domain, companies and the individual business units must remember, Agile is a solution to achieve a desired outcome. Before beginning any Agile transformation, business units must identify what outcome(s) they want to accomplish within their business and use Agile and its adaptable principles to achieve those outcomes.

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” — Pablo Picasso

Organizations can realize actual benefits from business processes that span multiple departments when focusing on outcomes during the journey to Business Agility. These benefits come on the form of; enabling cross-departmental resources to work more cohesively, removal of business and functional silos, faster response to process breakdowns or deficiencies due to unforeseen change, and better overall cross-functional communication and collaboration.

Robert Smith is an accomplished high energy PMO/Agile Transformation leader with more than 20 years of experience in Strategic Program, Project, and Portfolio Management in fast-paced environments. Demonstrated track record of delivering business transformation, agile methodology adoption, software development, and enterprise technology integration projects.