The Trials and Tribulations of an Agile Consulting Company

Written by: Monte Montoya, cPrime VP of Services With the recent release of Harvard Business Review’s article, Agile Practice: The Competitive Advantage for a Digital Age, we thought we would share our experiences about what makes Agile Transformations successful. The benefits are clear, as we see in the article, but what most don’t see are the adoption struggles that we run into while transitioning. Here is what you can expect and what it will take to truly become agile:  

Our Agile Experience

Over the past 5 years at cPrime, we have been helping companies adopt, transform and scale their business with Agile Development methodologies. A critical part of this journey thrusts us dead center into political battles between business units debating the long running issue of cost vs. value. Through all the pain and suffering, there have been a few common themes that have emerged as clear standouts that lead to transformation success or failure. Here are the common themes we see shaping culture, challenging process and changing the technology.

Aligning Business and Delivery

There is a massive gap that exists today between the business and its delivery arm. Executive leadership drives strategic initiatives commonly force-feeding plans straight to the engineering backlog complicating the order, pace and focus of work in process. More often than not, items from management have no defined process, cadence of prioritization and established ceremonies to keep the organizations running on a healthy throughput. As a result, the program management layer is chartered with the task of decentralizing a large initiative into manageable delivery. As you can imagine, sorting it out while the clock is ticking is an almost futile endeavor. More often than not, this tends to completely overwhelm people, constrain the process and pollute the technology vision. We are commonly called in at this stage to help sort it out.

Value vs. Cost Focused

An underlying personality profile exits in every organization and over the course of past 5 years, I’ve been able to boil it down to just two identities. You are either risk-averse or innovative. This personality profile is ingrained in the fabric of your organization, the decisions it makes and the governance structure that will drive strategy, process and technology. Look in the mirror and accept who you are then plan around that. You can’t be one with aspirations to be the other. Your strategy will fail or you will try to tackle challenges that you aren’t equipped to deal with and when they emerge you don’t want to have to go through an identity crisis. I’ve seen companies want to be innovative and value focused but spend most of their time focused on cost. What is the ultimate goal here anyway? Who do you want to be when you grow up?

Agile Lifecycle Management Software

As companies scale their effort across the globe, geographic dispersed teams are a reality in the global economy. A cheaper cost structure exists outside the U.S. and in order to gain the competitive advantage, many organizations aspire to augment their development operations offshore. Finding a way to reduce your portfolio costs while keeping your development weight in check is a popular theme. This is why we see many companies looking at ALM technology vendors to help manage their lifecycle. From planning and implementation to automated testing and deployment, a software tool is something you need at some point if you want to scale your efforts, ceremonies, process, and structure. We like the good folks at Atlassian and they have built an Agile platform with a robust ecosystem that supports all the various parts of the business.

Time to Market

Speed is what companies want as they adopt Agile. Traditional plan-driven methodologies like Waterfall make a lot of up front annual assumptions and leave no flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of the customer. The one consistent variable I’ve seen over the past few years across every company is change. The tenants of Agile cater to change much better than plan-driven methodologies and it’s no shock that with smaller increments, you get higher productivity, lower cost and employee satisfaction. Quality is an interdependent variable here. Speed without quality derails Agile adoption and the need to build fast trumps building something of value fast. Over the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a lot of teams build shitty stuff really fast. I have also been a victim of building fast and dealing with the challenges of rework later. Focus on quality!

Defining Agile Recipes up the Value Chain

Yes, we are talking to you management! In team level Agile, the concepts of scrum have many solid principles that keep a team balanced. There are clear roles defined, there are ceremonies they repetitively do over and over, they measure progress with metrics that give them good enough data to make decisions and they have an agile definition of success that is clearly defined. However, as you move up the value chain to the middle management and senior executive levels, these principles tend to disappear completely and the structure is commonly comprised of nebulous meetings and a loose cadence of what they call planning. I’ve seen a steady diet of hierarchy and politics drive the strategy and change cultures. With this lack of governance, structure, process, whatever you want to call it, I see struggles on how people decide what to build, defining why they should build something let alone being able to plan how they will execute it. Large-scale initiatives should be managed from the executive layer and they should have clear roles defined, ceremonies they repetitively do over and over. They should measure progress with metrics that give them good enough data to make decisions. Sound familiar? Every level in your organization should have these guiding principles in hopes to ease the burden plaguing program management levels today. This also has shown me the next frontier of where Agile is heading.

People, Process, Technology = Culture

One of the most critical but often avoided pillars of Agile happens to be the people. In looking back on every process or technology transformation, the people have been the common piece that are expected to adapt but struggle to understand how. There are countless transformation strategies dictating how organizations should move to Agile but many neglect the impact on culture. In looking at several transformations over the past few years, much of the work implemented has to do with changing the process and marrying up the technology. However, the big underlying and avoided challenge is the fact that this effort displaces people and changes culture. Values should be redefined and some leadership effort to evangelize the transformation should be a priority. More often than not, this effort is neglected and the people are left to guess what it all means.

Learn more about the impacts of Agile beyond the cPrime perspective by reading Harvard Business Review’s article, Agile Practice: The competitive Advantage for the Digital Age, where our CEO, Zubin Irani, is quoted sharing his experience and insights. This is available to download free of charge on our site