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Launching an Agile Program with a Remote By Design Approach

Agile in the Age of Pandemic: Best Practices, Part I

Jitin Agarwal, Ken Gordon
agile
© Shutterstock / Berk Ozel

The Agile methodology began nearly 20 years ago, with the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Since then, Agile become has been adopted by most successful software development organizations, especially those competing on “internet time.” What are the best Agile practices?

Agile: It’s on the move. Agile development methodologies are well known in the software world, which has firmly established its value and benefit in corporate IT organizations. But in the era of COVID-19, all kinds of industries and businesses have chosen to go Agile and more will surely follow suit.

The methodology began nearly 20 years ago, with the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Since then, Agile become has been adopted by most successful software development organizations, especially those competing on “internet time.” This post, the first in a series, will help those new to the topic. We’ll focus on best practices associated with setting up and launching an Agile program with what we call the Remote By Design™ approach. Let’s get you smart about Agile. Fast.

SEE ALSO: Letting change and uncertainty advance your software architecture

Ensure Enterprise Sponsorship

Agile is a bottoms-up approach to code development and management. It’s often introduced into an organization as a grassroots movement in the IT, development or other technical communities. Cross-pollination from one group to another is how Agile expands within and influences organizations.

Agile sometimes lacks the organizational support it needs to flourish. It may fail to take root or be incorrectly utilized and result in organizational rejection. This can lead to additional frustration and even burn out your top tech professionals, the ones pushing hardest for change. To ensure Agile blossoms in your organization, your team will need an executive sponsor. Without a sponsor, you might face a lack of business buy-in or a suffocation of the project through a lack of funding or support.

Paint the Big Picture

As an executive sponsor steps into an Agile leadership role, they need to build a plan with their team. Successful Agile initiatives require an end-to-end plan that articulates shared goals, visions, plans and priorities for the entire team.

Agile consists of multiple short sprints focused towards achievable, identifiable, and readily apparent goals. Without an overall picture guiding these sprints, and the Agile methodology, the Agile team can jump the rails and ride into unexpected and undesired country. If so, this can require significant rework or create technical debt or challenges for future sprints.

Establish the Voice of the Customer

One of the most critical roles in an Agile team is the one representing the Voice of the Customer (VOC). Typically this is called the Product Owner. When it’s rolled up into the aggregate function, organizations often call it the Product Manager. This role must be occupied by someone absolutely dedicated to fulfilling it. This role is so important because of the speed with which Agile teams move fast. Given the rapidity of the sprints, they need constant and continual guidance, to ensure they develop the right solution with the right capabilities for customers. It’s critical that the day-to-day and week-to-week guidance be provided by the VOC of the Product Manager.

What’s needed here is continuous feedback on defining requirements, prioritizing efforts and validating needs. Usually someone from the business side of the organization plays this role. Tech-oriented individuals, to speak in generalities, may lack the necessary customer empathy to succeed, or the ability to get buy-in from the business side, when the solution is built and launched.

Create Self-Governing Teams

Agile operates best with a federated approach, enabling self-forming and dynamic teams to assemble to develop and build products. These teams must be dedicated to the project at hand and can’t be tasked with “competing” initiatives. Given the rapid pace of development, doing so would prevent them from delivering their results on the expected timetables. They must be self-driven and autonomous to work as technologies and needs dictate.

Agile teams should adopt a decentralized decision-making approach across three levels: Team, Value Stream and Portfolio. Team decisions are driven by Product Owners, working with technology leaders, to make quick decisions regarding features and functions. Value Stream decisions are made by the broader product management organization. They focus on the overall release schedule and ensure coordination across all project or feature teams in a stream. Finally, Portfolio decisions are the purview of the management team driving the overall program. It’s about prioritizing projects, resources and capabilities with the appropriate organizational methodologies and necessary approaches.

SEE ALSO: Technology Trends Impacting the Future of Business

Upskill for Agile Success

Your Agile team might have a tremendous amount of passion but an insufficient level of knowledge—so get them additional support, as needed. Teams making the transition from, say, Waterfall to Agile may not be able to just “get it.” They may not know how, or fail to appoint, dedicated internal change agents (Agile coaches, say). The reduced processes for an Agile approach, does not mean there are no processes. The fluid nature of roles and functions does not mean there are nor formal roles needed to ensure success with an Agile approach. Ensure the success of your Agile teams by giving them the necessary and relevant training and education to make sure they are adequately upskilled to develop the right solutions for your organization.

That was an admittedly quick jog through the Agile universe… and there’s still more area to cover. Next time, we’ll run into the complex world of operating in the throes of Agile.

Author
Jitin Agarwal
Jitin (Jit) Agarwal serves as EPAM’s VP of Enterprise Products where he is focused on productizing and monetizing EPAM’s intellectual property and core services. Mr. Agarwal is a serial entrepreneur who has successfully led multiple startups to scale and launched numerous products in his career. Most recently, he created and ran the assetSERV™ Business Unit at Cognizant, where he grew revenues from $100K to $100M+ in TCV over his tenure. Mr. Agarwal has expertise in all aspects of product and venture lifecycles, including ideation, funding, development, sales and marketing as well as post-sales customer success. In addition to working with startups, he has worked at a number of leading technology firms, including Microsoft, Cognizant and Gartner. Mr. Agarwal is an alumnus of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University.

Ken Gordon
Ken makes EPAM Continuum’s work visible to the necessary people. He creates superlative content, works with colleagues to do the same, and employs social networks to share it widely. A card-carrying humanist, Ken co-founded QuickMuse, the improvisational writing website, and JEDLAB, the Jewish education community. He has written for TheAtlantic.com, the New York Times, and many other pubs. Ken has an English degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and an MA in English from the State University of New York at Albany. He framed both diplomas long ago, but can’t seem to find them now—a fact he considers all-too-human.

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