While a single speed can “spread the wealth” of agile throughout the IT organization—and beat back the challenges that two speeds create—the model won’t work without the support and commitment of senior leaders. They can mobilize the troops and help steer—and, when necessary, push—the initiatives and changes that will ease the move to all-agile. A number of steps, we’ve found, are particularly crucial.
Identify and empower agile champions. Two-speed IT has helped companies get agile up and running in part of their organization. The experience and talent already developed can be harnessed to spread agile concepts—and knowledge—throughout IT. The most enthusiastic and communicative agile team members can serve as mentors to those just getting started—providing insights on what works, what doesn’t work, and how to do things better.
Create the right technical environment. Legacy systems are not a deal breaker for agile. Indeed, agile’s main principles can be translated to work on any project, and industries that still rely heavily on legacy applications and infrastructure—such as banking, insurance, and aerospace—have already started to embrace, and benefit from, agile.
But there are modern technologies and practices that can make the agile approach more effective. A decoupled architecture—in which applications, infrastructure, and data interact with one another through standardized interfaces like APIs and microservices—allows teams to work more independently of one another. Now they’re in control of their own development speed (and if one service breaks, just that service is down—not the whole system). Companies can also increase speed and efficiency—often dramatically—by combining agile with techniques like continuous delivery and continuous deployment of applications. This reduces the manual tasks—and the resources—required. Companies should be taking these steps anyway to improve their responsiveness and accelerate their digital transformation.
Implement agile in an agile way. A large established company is likely to implement agile very differently than a startup will. After all, bigger, older organizations must account for the layers of processes and hierarchy developed over the years. Similarly, agile will take different forms even within a single organization. Whereas one team may find two-week sprints optimal, another may determine that four or six weeks work better. Agile on a legacy mainframe, meanwhile, won’t look the same as agile on a mobile shopping app. And because some projects, like a major enterprise-resource-planning transformation, won’t lend themselves to going live in little pieces, agile may mean releasing code to the testing environment—but not the production environment—every day. Agile is a flexible set of principles, not a rigid doctrine. It should be implemented in that spirit.
Offer incentives to middle management. Agile changes the role of middle managers. Eventually, many of the coordinating tasks that have historically fallen to them will disappear. In agile, managers are much closer to the content and the technologies. While they still have some traditional managerial responsibilities, like recruiting and evaluations, they now work in the teams themselves. And on these teams, they are equal to every other member—serving, for example, as a fellow developer. Instead of instructing others, they work as coaches and advisors.
Given these shifts, it’s easy to understand why middle managers would resist the migration to agile: they can see themselves losing control and power. How to avoid this perception? One way is to start getting these managers closer to the front—in both body and mindset—through education, training, and participation in agile conferences and the agile community. KPIs used in measuring a manager’s performance should be tweaked as well. They should encourage the quick development and deployment of features but also tolerate some failures as long as the overall system stays stable. This is much more in line with how agile works.
Develop a digital culture. Migrations from two-speed to all-agile IT won’t happen overnight. And with the war for talent continuing, it’s important to send a message—to current and prospective employees—that agile and the workplace it creates are the company’s future. Hackathons—marathon sessions where teams compete to develop software and even hardware—have been used to foster a fast-moving “think outside the box” culture. (In fact, Facebook’s ubiquitous “like” button traces back to a company hackathon.) The idea is to take steps that let technology experts know that they can stay—and succeed—as technology experts; that, contrary to the old days and the old ways, they don’t need to take a managerial position to make a career at the company.
Establish joint business and IT teams. One of the hallmarks of agile is the cross-functional team, in which members representing the business and IT work together. Migrating to agile means breaking down organizational barriers and fostering communication and collaboration across once-isolated domains. (See The Power of People in Digital Banking Transformation, BCG Focus, November 2015.) Flexibility is crucial here, too. A key tenet of agile is that someone from the business side serve as the “product owner.” But for IT4IT products and tools, such as telepresence, it will make more sense for this owner to come from IT. Once again, the experience and practices already developed on the agile side of two-speed IT can prove invaluable.