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Ripple Effects of Agile at Scale-5 Potential Impacts to Your Business


{#/pub/images/RippleEffectsofAgileatScale5PotentialImpactstoYourBusiness.jpg}As organizations get started with agile, the impacts are small – similar to dropping a pebble in a swimming pool.  The effects are noticeable to the teams that are beginning to work on agile pilot projects, but imperceptible to the rest of the organization.  As an organization attempts to scale agile to an enterprise level, the impacts are similar to tossing a boulder into the swimming pool.  The ripples can be quite substantial and far-reaching.  These ripples are strongest close to the project teams who are using the agile approach, but they also impact those who are not directly involved.  For an organization preparing for large-scale agile transformation, these ripples must be understood and addressed.  Following is an overview of the more common impacts of these ripples.


5 Potential Impacts to Your Business


1) Impact on Project Budgeting and Financing 


I.T. projects consume large sums of money, and those who are responsible for funding projects are accustomed to at least a perception of predictability.  By the final quarter of a fiscal year, they expect to see the predicted cash flow for each project planned out for the subsequent 12 months.  In an agile world, projects are less predictable.  A product owner may decide the deliverables are good enough to end the project 6 months early.  An unforeseen opportunity may arise that may necessitate redeploying project resources to a new project in the middle of the year. An agile project portfolio requires a different frame of reference for project financing.  It will be necessary to educate the project finance group on the agile framework and negotiate changes to project budgeting processes so that projects can be properly funded.


2) Impact on Organizational Design


The roles of product owner and scrum master are new to most organizations but are relatively simple to understand.  What is less simple is the impact on roles and responsibilities of other positions. How will the scrum master role align with the role of project manager or other “lead” roles?  As product owners become heavily involved with project teams, who will fill their day-to-day duties and where will the funding come from?  If the organization truly becomes agile, it will transition to a flatter organization structure with fewer management positions.  This will impact the career plans of those employees who are considered to be “high potential.”  Will they leave the organization?  Or can they be convinced that they can grow their careers without climbing an organizational ladder?


3) Impact on Release Management Processes


One of the agile principles (www.agilemanifesto.org) is, “Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.” Organizations that embrace this principle will need to radically streamline their old release management processes which were designed for infrequent changes scheduled months in advance, and executed only after weeks of testing and approvals. As you analyze the process, look for non-value-added activities such as redundant approval processes, excessive queuing of changes, manual movement of objects and unneeded documentation. The improved release management process must provide for frequent, efficient changes while preventing “bugs” from entering the production environment.


4) Impact on System Architecture


Another agile principle is “The best architectures, requirements, and designs
emerge from self-organizing teams.”  As the number of agile teams increase, the ripple effect on system architecture will increase accordingly.  Agile project teams must be confident that “the runway is built before the plane comes in for a landing.”  To ensure this confidence, system architecture must be budgeted, planned and implemented in an organized manner.  The Scaled Agile Framework provides significant guidance on managing system architecture within the agile framework.


5) Impact on Quality Assurance 


Software QA in agile is significantly different than in the traditional “waterfall” approach. Rather than positioning testing as the final step in the process, testing in an agile world happens constantly.  For more details on these differences, please see my previous article: Testing Within The Agile Framework-Learn What’s Different.


As agile makes an initial splash, it will require automated testing and imbedding QA specialists within the project team.  However, one of the “ripples” may be re-evaluation of current QA theories, protocols and processes.  These ripples could also result in eliminating separate QA departments.



Taking it from here... 


An increasing number of organizations are scaling agile from a few teams to the enterprise level, creating ripples (and sometimes waves) that have significant impacts to their organizations.  The impacts described above are commonly cited by these organizations as they share their “lessons learned.”  These impacts manifest themselves as impediments at the team level but require resolution at a higher level.  An agile leader who anticipates and deals with these impacts can remove the impediments before they delay progress by the teams.  




Written by Ron Montgomery, Management Consultant & Owner, OnPoint, LLC Ron is certified as a Project Management Professional, Agile Certified Practitioner and Certified ScrumMaster with over 35 years of hands-on experience in business planning, software development, process improvement & deployment of software solutions.  By partnering with clients to drive business value from technology projects, Ron assists clients with business planning, IT strategy, project and program management, vendor selection and team training/mentoring.


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