Delivering business value is often seen as the holy grail for agile teams or agile organisations. Although true in itself but if the price for fixation on business value is that prioritisation for Life Cycle Management pays the price for that, you are putting your organisation at risk. This article illustrates that a balanced set of strategic priorities is a necessity. A good implementation of an enterprise agile way of working with scaling and alignment processes will deliver this.
Life Cycle Management is essential in a digitalized world
As of January 14, 2020 Microsoft announced that it will no longer support Windows 7.
This cannot come as a surprise for the professional world. Nevertheless the figures are astonishing. Of all Microsoft Windows users worldwide, 27% is still running Windows 7. In The Netherlands this figure is lower, 15%, but still much too high if you realize that this is not only about the personal usage of computers. Amongst the 15 to 27% are also commercial and non-profit organisations who put themselves at risk, their employees and their customers. Take for example the situation in The Netherlands of a few weeks back where a university was hit by ransomware. It took weeks in order to restore the full operational situation and it even seems that the university choose to pay the ransom.
As many organisations are on a journey towards digitalization, they can profit from a lot of benefits. But it also brings some extra challenges, like vulnerability of IT services. As Ralph Hamers, CEO of ING, expressed it in his interview at Money 20/20 EU in June 2019, you have to master your non-financial risk too. So how come that despite every IT professional will immediately admit that keeping your software within supported levels by continuously installing updates is important, still so many organisations are too vulnerable on that?
My observation is that in a lot of cases, the priority for new or enhanced products and figures is always put higher than the priority to maintain a secure and reliable situation.
In such cases the major part of the IT capacity is put on the topics that the business part of the organisation is asking for. And you can’t blame them for that as it is their role to constantly translate customer needs into new products and features. Business more or less assumes that the IT discipline will take care of all technical aspects regarding security and liability. But IT was often not heard in their plea to also assign enough IT capacity on that. This situation can be permanently improved if you apply the characteristics of an agile delivery organisation
The balancing act of constantly setting your priorities right
A lot of the bigger organisations have switched or are switching towards agile ways of working in their delivery process. There are numerous methodologies that you could apply for that.
A common denominator for the bigger organisations is the need for a scaled situation.
This is a situation where all the benefits of multi-disciplined, autonomous teams are reached while at the same time all teams contribute to the corporate strategy.
Easier said than done, how can you do that in practice?
In order to get there, you need to adhere to a couple of important principles:
- Every team has a purpose
- Every cluster of teams has a purpose up to the full organization
- Every organisation has a strategy in place for the longer term (‘dot on the horizon’)
- Every organisation is able to derive the short term (3-6 months) priorities from the longer term strategic dots on the horizon
- Every team and cluster of teams has to understand the strategy and the strategic priorities in order to contribute to that within the team’s purpose
The first two principles can be easily translated by the fact that the organisation admits that there is no other team or cluster of teams that is better equipped to decide on the HOW within their purpose. The third and fourth principle indicates that every organisation has a vision and strategy. This strategy is not set in stone but it should indicate to the whole organisation towards what dot on the horizon the organisation is heading. This is one of the major responsibilities of senior leadership, in every organisation so also in an agile organisation.
Adjacent to this responsibility is the need to direct the implementation of the strategy in smaller steps. Not by instructing on the HOW, as this is the role of the teams and cluster of teams. But by choosing the right set of strategic priorities. This balanced set of priorities should be the guidance for everybody; It outlines what will deliver the best business value, meaning the best value for the customers and employees. And that is where the solution lies for mastering your non-financial risks combined with giving enough value by new products and features.
Business value also includes security and safety
The definition of business value should not only cater for the obvious things like new products and product features. It is also beneficial for customers to deliver products that are secure and safe. A customer buying a product of an organisation may rely on the fact that the service is provided in the safest way. A breach on that is a serious breach that at least damages the company’s reputation but can be much more devastating.
If this is not only a theoretical truth but also put in practice, it should be part of the companies set of strategic priorities. Not as a kind of generic statement that people will not take seriously, but as a priority that gives room for the teams and cluster of teams to decide on the best way to contribute to that. A best practice for this is the use of an ‘Aligned Autonomy Process’ in combination with the so called Obeya concept*.
In the Aligned Autonomy Process (AAP), also sometimes referred to as Quarterly Business Review (QBR), the strategic priorities are defined, explained and refined between the senior leadership in the organisation and the clusters of teams. This will help the teams to define their contribution to those set of priorities. As the need for safe and secure services is most likely one of those, each team will determine how that materializes within their purpose. As those teams are best equipped to decide for the IT assets they are responsible for, they will choose the best moment and way to keep the IT services secure and safe. You could compare it with the maintenance of the public space. If the street has to be opened in order to renew the pipes for sewerage, it is efficient to also perform some maintenance on the underground electrical cables.
This only works if the teams and cluster of teams are really empowered to take the best decisions on the HOW of the assets they are responsible for. Derived from the strategic priorities they are familiar with the mid-term plans of their assets. This gives them the best opportunity to also cater for the assurance that all measures will be taken to keep the services safe and secure.
The teams will deliver their contributions in a more short-cycled rhythm, in sprints of two to three weeks. All this, the strategic priorities as well as the derived change portfolios for the teams and clusters of teams are made visible in an Obeya wall.
* Read the article on Aligned Autonomy to find out more about the combination of AAP/QBR and Obeya.
If large organisations use a scaling mechanism like AAP/QBR combined with Obeya, it becomes transparent for the whole organisation that safe and secure services are prioritized by the organisation. It also becomes transparent in what way the teams and clusters of teams will contribute to that. It should prevent situations where organisations are vulnerable in their IT landscape because of a backlog in system updates.
In the current situation of more and more digitalized services, this should be a situation where the customers can truly rely on their suppliers.