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Agility and IT Excellence

Many small and medium size organisations whether they be directly in the software development business or engaged in other corporate activities are experiencing similar problems when it comes to their IT Strategy.

For the software vendor it is a question of how do I excite the market with new innovations while ensuring what I have delivered to my current customers is and continues to meet their needs. For the enterprise IT organisation it is a need to deliver new innovative solutions to the business while ensuring a high level quality of service for those solutions already deployed. In this way the problems are similar and are superbly illustrated by the work of Jack Calhoun in his quadrant view of the organisation.

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One goal is customer experience excellence, while the other is operational excellence but it is not possible to achieve these in tandem and therefore one needs to pick a route.

However, while one is able to aspire to these heights and indeed in some cases achieve them it is all too often that this happens as a “point in time” achievement. The real question is once you get here (or better, as you plan the journey), how do you continue to improve or at least maintain this status rather than fall back down? For this is often what happens and in many cases the finger points back to the technology and that where IT once drove growth it now impedes change.

The missing ingredient here is that these goals are set without a view of sustainability and this is where IT has a trump card to play and by doing so not only can IT enable organisations to achieve customer experience and operational excellence, it maintain this status into the future. So what is this ingredient? Quite simply it is AGILITY!

One of the key things software development have learnt over the years is the cost of innovation and dramatic cost of rapid innovation. As they argue successfully in their “implementing lean software development” book, Mary and Tom Poppendieck, state that “the cost of complexity is not linear, it’s exponential”. Wise software developers, they say “place a top priority on keeping their code base simple, clean and small”.

By developing agile software development practices that are light touch, expect and embrace change and are focused on delivering value it has allowed developers to invest much more wisely in response to challenges set by the business. However, although the successes have been widespread and repeatable so far the true notion of agility has not managed to move out much past the world of Software development itself.

Many argue wrongly that agile practices only works at small scale, that it is not rigorous or works at the expense of architecture and quality. These are wholly incorrect but do much to limit the values of agility from being expressed more widely across IT.

In the meantime, for those that have managed to harness the power of agility at scale, the successes are multi-fold enabling IT to build a much more focused business model in delivering services to their customers and in so doing ensuring a growth in operational and customer experience excellence, aka quality of service.

References

Jack Calhoun et al, The Next Revolution in Productivity

Mary and John Poppendieck “Implementing Lean Software Development” http://www.poppendieck.com/

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