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Expanding Agile IT Departments into Agile Organizations

These tips will help you advocate Agile principles beyond your IT department to help forge a full-fledged Agile organization.


So, you now have an Agile IT organization. Your teams are good craftsmen, and software delivery is consistent. But the rest of your organization does not seem to mesh with what is happening in the IT department. While your software development group is delivering features at a quick pace with great quality, they sometimes wonder if they are delivering the right features.

While Agile started out as a software disciplines and methodology, it has since infected other parts of the business. Now IT can truly have a place at the table with other business departments, like marketing, finance, etc. For those of you brave enough to pursue making your entire organization agile, you are not alone. Luckily, a new breed of entrepreneur uses Agile techniques to run startups (the Lean Startup methods), and we can utilize their experiences to help your organization.

The Qualities of an Agile IT Organization

Agile IT in the context of this article means a mature Agile software development shop. In other words, your teams use good engineering practices like TDD, continuous integration, team rooms, and pair programming. These kinds of teams are high performing, and they deliver features at a quick pace with high quality. In addition, this team has established practices that could pass a CMMI 3 certification.

If the organization uses Scrum, this means that planning your projects has a steady cadence. The IT team has defined the appropriate roles, like Scrum Master, Team and Product Owner. The organization members who fill those roles are comfortable with their roles and do not need coaching to fulfill them.

If the organization uses another method, say Kanban, the process has been well defined on the Kanban board. Again, the roles assigned to each queue on your board are well defined.

The Pain of Not Delivering Value

For those IT organizations that are Agile and meet the above criteria, there is pain when a team delivers software that customers do not use. That is a problem for anyone delivering software, but for Agile teams it is particularly acute. Agile proscribes tight feedback loops and constant collaboration with our customers. In the beginning, Agilists thought that would allow the team to consistently deliver value.

For many teams the collaboration is with someone in their business representing the customer (a product owner, for instance). Depending on the product owner's data-gathering methods, the team may deliver what the product owner wants, but not what the market wants. If that happens, the team can rationalize who is to blame for this problem, but most team members would like to have a hit on their hands, not a dud.

The Lean Startup movement is a business movement that aligns with Agile principles. Let's look at the lessons of the Lean Startup movement and see if it can provide insight into how all organizations can be agile!

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