Agile at scale? Never without the business lines.

The dual necessity to speed up delivery of value to customers and do so with equal, or even fewer resources has encouraged many companies to initiate digital transformation programmes. The consequences of the current health crisis have only amplified the importance of optimising both time-to-market and production costs.

Agility, and Agile@Scale in particular, are often rightly chosen as a means to enable this vital transformation. However, the full range of benefits promised by agility at scale can only be attained by effectively bringing business teams on board right from the outset, with a partnership-based approach, to ensure that everybody is moving in the same direction.  

Full involvement of business lines is a must 

To successfully deploy agility at scale, business teams must be brought on board. They are a precious resource to define requirements and adjust deliverables, thereby achieving the desired value while avoiding costly latencies. This is no easy thing to do, however. In many cases, they remain distant internal clients.?  Very often, agility at scale is first targeted by IT departments as a means to meet their transformation challenges. In the case of companies where business teams tend to see the IT department as an internal service provider, rather than as a value-creation partner, it can be difficult to ask them to adopt this approach, which not only requires them to change their working habits, but also to be engaged throughout the process.

If business teams are not convinced by the benefits that this change will bring them, they will naturally maintain the status quo and will leave IT teams with no better solution than to nominate representatives from within their own ranks to champion business needs. However, these representatives generally do not have any real decision-making power, nor the perspective needed to effectively prioritise. This is bound to lead to additional back-and-forths with the business teams and will introduce inflexibility and latency, which are a hindrance to the structural efficiency of an agility-at-scale approach that draws heavily on Lean thinking in order to do away with such wastage and optimise value creation.

Such companies will therefore lose right from the get-go some of the benefits sought by this approach.   This was the case with the transformation of a programme at a major luxury goods company, where the programme management team did not think it was possible to directly involve business teams in agile-at-scale sessions (planning, solution review, etc.) Business needs had to be represented by the programme’s product team (mainly product owners), whose members had no authority to make decisions and thus had to organise additional consultations and parallel sessions, which reduced the speed of action, immediacy of feedback and overall efficiency. 

Identify ambassadors? 

In order to convince all business teams to come fully on board, adopt an ambassador approach.?Identify the business teams who are the most curious and willing to get involved.?  Next, invite these early adopters to take part in an agile scoping session.

This type of collaborative workshop, lasting several days, brings together business representatives and development teams, allowing them to experience the interactive efficiency of agility, while structuring their needs in a way well suited to rapid implementation within the agile-at-scale programme. Encouraged by this first positive experience, they will be inclined to remain engaged and will be able to promote the benefits and positive effects to their colleagues. Word of mouth is still powerful and this storytelling approach will enable you to gradually convince the other business teams

At a major French bank, where transformation was being driven by the IT department, this approach made it possible to bring on board the credit risk business line, which, after taking part in an agile scoping workshop alongside IT team members, was won over by the efficiency of the approach, asked to apply it to other initiatives and touted its benefits to colleagues. 

The need for executive management to be involved? 

This key approach of using ambassadors to encourage the initial involvement of business teams needs to be accompanied by endorsement from executive managers, in order to keep the level of involvement up over time. Executive managers in business and IT departments are generally accountable for their ability to meet the company's strategic challenges, while demonstrating a high level of financial efficiency. 

To bring them on board, you need to set out an argument combining business KPIs (the production cost of an initiative, how well the solution meets the requirements, and the solution's quality and maintainability) and change management (number of people assisted, level of agile maturity), and clearly present the difference in results between a conventional and an agile approach.

Here again, agile scoping can prove to be an initial unifying force: a comparative quantitative analysis between conventional and agile scoping will clearly bring out the advantages of the latter, whether it is in terms of cost, lead time or satisfaction. Next, the same type of analysis extended to the agile-at-scale programme will win them over completely. 

Once convinced, each business line’s executive management team will be more inclined to take the necessary measures to ensure continuous availability of their operational staff to fully take part in the agile-at-scale programme, and, like the ambassadors within their teamsthey will become your spokespeople and endorsers among their executive counterparts in other business lines, so that everybody moves in the same direction at the same time.