Adaptive IT - building blocks of an agile organisation

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Agile Work, CIO Advisory, IT & Management Consulting, IT Strategy, Modern Work, Preparing the Organization, noventum

Recognising change - welcoming change - shaping change

The demands on a "modern" IT organisation have changed fundamentally; in addition to the classic characteristics such as operational stability and provision of current technologies with high cost efficiency, there are additional wishes and expectations driven by the specialist departments and business partners - the immediate implementation of new business ideas in digital products before competitors are faster and secure market shares.

Digitalisation thus places new demands on corporate IT. In addition to its traditional function, it must now play a central role as an enabler of innovative business models.

 

Time and solution pressure tempts to shadow IT

The entrepreneurial need for fast, unconventional and cost-effective digital solutions is difficult to satisfy in grown IT organisations.

There, formal processes, responsibilities based on division of labour, slow committees and complex decision-making processes often dominate. These were brought into IT organisations by frameworks such as ITIL and for a long time were considered a sign of high maturity and maximum operational security.

But the high demand of the business units for fast solutions and implementations, driven by business innovations and fast product cycles, overwhelms these organisations - with the result that shadow IT and proliferating SaaS solutions are purchased directly in the business units.

The solution approach of a "two-speed IT" cannot solve the problem, as old structures are only bypassed selectively, but the actual barriers remain.

The idea of "business IT", i.e. the shifting of value-creating IT services to the specialist departments, can only work for a few, non-company-critical IT solutions. Overarching IT and infrastructure services are thus decoupled and the door is opened for isolated solutions and high complexities that actually belong in one responsible hand - that of IT.

 

Agility in the IT organisation - the first step towards adaptive IT

The solution seems to be the agilisation of the IT organisation. The basic idea is that small, agile units are given a high degree of autonomy and responsibility, interfaces are reduced and the respective business solution is always in the foreground. It is not the process that determines the duration, but the business necessity and priority. IT thus becomes Adaptive IT: an agile organisation that constantly adapts to new requirements.
The building blocks of Adaptive IT are briefly presented here:

Solution Teams

Interdisciplinary solution teams take responsibility for complex IT tasks, from requirements to development and ongoing operation, acting in a self-organised manner and with a high level of decision-making authority. Solution teams are comparable to SCRUM teams. Through a multidisciplinary team, they should be equipped with all the knowledge and skills needed to develop the product or service in question. They turn these products into small, immediately useful solutions (MVP).

MVP

is an abbreviation for "Minimum Viable Product", literally translated as "minimum viable product". This refers to the smallest solution of a product idea that is functional in its own right and can generate benefits.

But cross-sectional tasks can also be handled by solution teams, e.g. for the provision of a standardised IT infrastructure based on scalable technologies such as Hyperscaler, container solutions such as Docker or Kubernetes, or as a software-defined data centre (SDDC).

 

Agile strategy and governance

Such an IT organisation does not come into being by itself. Above all, it needs a common IT strategy and a framework. The self-image of an IT organisation, its own aspirations and long-term goals can best be summarised and integrated into the organisation in the form of an agile mission statement, strategic IT goals derived from the corporate strategy and a strategic collaboration model.

In doing so, it is important to develop the IT organisation's own credible raison d'être that goes beyond a role as an internal IT service provider. To this end, all rules, values and instruments that are helpful and useful in implementing the IT strategy must be anchored in guidelines and fields of action.

An agile strategy should contain the following elements:

Implementing the strategy also means introducing a strategic collaboration model and governance that ensures compliance with the IT guidelines. Despite the agile approach, the responsibilities between the teams and the "sovereign" tasks of the organisation must be clearly defined.

Agile governance provides the framework for managing the agile organisation. It helps implement and support the agile principles and practices and ensures that the organisation achieves its goals. It consists of three main components:

  • Strategic roadmap: Governance operationalises the goals of the agile organisation and the way it intends to achieve these goals.
  • Structure: The structure describes the way the agile organisation is organised.
  • Processes: The processes describe the way the agile organisation works.

 

Agile control with OKR

What good is the best strategy if it is not implemented? Nothing. Therefore, it is essential to transfer the top-level goals into an agile implementation and steering structure. Agile here means that there can always be different ways to achieve goals, that goals can change or new priorities can arise. For the implementation of higher-level goals, the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) method has proven itself, as all levels of an organisation can get involved here and it is immediately clear which measures contribute to which goals and what effect each individual measure has.

  • OKRs help companies to clearly define their goals and strategies. This can lead to better alignment and collaboration within the company.
  • OKRs are measurable so that companies can track their progress and ensure they are on track to achieve their goals.
  • OKRs help companies to focus on the most important goals. This can lead to an increase in productivity and efficiency.
  • OKRs are visible to everyone in the company. This can lead to improved communication and collaboration.
  • OKRs can motivate employees because they know that their work contributes to the company's goals.

In addition, key indicators are collected that allow a statement on the vitality and progress of the continuous improvement process, so-called health metrics.

 

Agile requirements management

Requirements management has a key function in an agile (IT) organisation. Since all solution teams are oriented towards the respective specialist departments (and these usually also provide the product owners), transparency must be created about the sensible use of money and capacities. Agile requirements management is an approach to managing requirements based on agile software development principles. Agile requirements management takes into account the fact that requirements can change over time and that it is important to be flexible and adaptable.

Released product ideas are broken down into the aforementioned MVPs at an early stage and a product roadmap is drawn up. Necessary preliminary studies and analysis projects are identified and commissioned here.

Agile practices such as design thinking with user stories, personas and customer journey maps can be used for requirements analysis.

A fast, agile approach does not mean that every absurd idea has to be implemented! Rather, the goal, effort and benefit must be clearly described with the inclusion of all necessary competences - in order to then decide on the implementation.

 

Agile Project Portfolio Management

The product ideas that have been prioritised and released for implementation can now be implemented by the solution teams. But how does an agile organisation deal with a multitude of requirements, how are resource conflicts resolved and changing priorities managed? Agile project portfolio management ensures that the urgent and important are implemented with the appropriate priority and attention.

With the principle of Work in Progress (WiP) limitation, synchronous sprints are planned by regularly assessing all projects and measures in the Project Portfolio Meeting, resolving conflicts and making (if necessary tough) decisions on which MVPs make it into the implementation of the next sprint.

In addition, agile project portfolio management controls the synchronisation of the results of different solution teams, the product increments. After all, many tasks are so complex that they have to be worked on by different teams and the results are planned in a certain sequence, the so-called release trains.

 

Agile practices

The work in the Solution Teams and the cooperation with the cross-cutting functions is determined by agile practices.

Based on agile practices such as SCRUM and KANBAN and embedded in scalable frameworks such as SAFe and Nexus, methods and techniques are used to develop solutions in small, manageable iterations. Agile practices are based on the principles of agility, flexibility, collaboration and customer centricity.

Some of the most common agile practices are:

  • Sprints: Sprints are short, manageable iterations of product development that usually last two to four weeks.
  • Daily Stand-ups: Daily Stand-ups are short meetings that take place every day during a Sprint. In daily stand-ups, team members report on their progress and discuss any obstacles.
  • Backlog redefinition: Backlog redefinition is a process where the team revises the product backlog and ensures that the requirements are clear, understandable and prioritised.
  • Sprint Reviews: Sprint reviews are meetings that take place at the end of a sprint. In Sprint Reviews, the team presents the finished product to the customer or other stakeholders.

Sprint Retrospectives: Sprint Retrospectives are meetings that take place at the end of a Sprint. In Sprint Retrospectives, the team reflects on its process and identifies opportunities for improvement.

 

Agile organisation

Solution teams are task-centred constructs that determine everyday work, but do not represent the structural organisation. On the contrary, it is detrimental if managers in their departments counteract the agile principles by preventing self-direction and exercising leadership via a line function. Therefore, agile organisations often split the functions of line management and technical cooperation. The SPOTIFY model for agile scaling distinguishes here, for example, between SQUADS (which corresponds to the solution teams described here), CHAPTER, GUILDS and TRIBES.

The basis of these concepts is the separation of functions between line managers (people leads), who focus on the development and leadership of employees, and functional roles such as Agile Coach, Product Owner and, above a certain size, Tribe and Chapter Lead.

 

Agile mindset

The least tangible, but essential to the success of an agile organisation, is the attitude and mindset towards agile collaboration. An agile mindset is one that is focused on flexibility, collaboration and learning. People and organisations with an agile mindset are able to respond quickly to change, accept challenges, reflect on their actions and continuously learn from successes and mistakes through reflection and learning. There are a number of exciting exercises and challenges for teams to develop a high level of ownership, criticality and willingness to self-reflect. Especially when transforming into an agile organisation, the accompaniment of an agile change management makes sense or is even necessary. Agile change management takes into account the fact that changes can happen over time and that it is important to be flexible and adaptable.

 

Ressource & Knowledge Management

But how does an organisation provide the knowledge and capacity needed to develop and operate solutions in agile teams? Resource planning plays an important role, regardless of the operating model you use. The key here lies in planning preparation and continuous work on resource planning and proactive implementation.

Agile resource management processes can help to use resources more efficiently by ensuring that they are allocated to the right tasks and activities. They are transparent, flexible and adaptable, allowing for adaptation to changing requirements. Agile resource management processes encourage collaboration between different stakeholders, which can lead to better understanding and use of resources.

A key task is the definition of adequate capacity planning, which is derived from the expected task and project volume and is proactively queried by requirements management from internal customers and departments. It is helpful here that planning is based on the implementation of sprints, i.e. on the amount of capacity to be planned per time unit. The capacities are set for a longer period of time, e.g. for the next business year.

Then the requirements and projects are distributed among the sprints and capacities, depending on priority and business requirements. In the process, the priority must be reconfirmed or adjusted again and again in Sprint Planning so that the capacities are only used for the really relevant topics.

Another important building block is knowledge management, with which the individually available knowledge is collected, processed and made available to other teams. In addition to a suitable knowledge database, this requires the intrinsic willingness of all knowledge workers to share their personal knowledge treasures with others and to have the necessary time available for this. In this context, it has proven useful to integrate the safeguarding of results into sprint planning so that it is firmly considered in capacity planning.

Agile Knowledge Management (KM) is an approach to managing knowledge based on agile methods and principles. Agile KM takes into account the fact that knowledge changes over time and that it is important to keep up-to-date knowledge available at all times.

Agile KM processes usually include the following steps:

  • Identification of knowledge: In this step, the knowledge that is important for the organisation is identified.
  • Capture knowledge: In this step, knowledge is captured, including the knowledge of employees, customers and partners.
  • Organisation of knowledge: In this step, knowledge is organised so that it can be easily found and used.
  • Dissemination of knowledge: In this step, knowledge is disseminated so that it is accessible to all employees.
  • Knowledge utilisation: In this step, knowledge is used to make better decisions, develop more innovative products and improve customer satisfaction.

 

Zusammenfassung

Agile IT organisations offer a number of advantages over traditional IT organisations. They are able to innovate faster, understand their customers better, reduce costs and increase employee satisfaction:

  • Agile IT organisations can develop new products and services faster than traditional IT organisations. This is because they are able to work in shorter cycles and translate feedback from customers directly into IT deliverables.
  • Agile IT helps to be flexible and adaptable. This enables the company to adapt more quickly to changes and achieve its goals.
  • Agile IT organisations are able to improve communication and collaboration. This enables the company to work more effectively and achieve its goals.
  • Agile IT helps to improve decision-making. This enables the company to make faster and more effective decisions and prioritise its goals.
  • An agile IT organisation helps the company improve customer satisfaction, better understand its customers' needs and achieve its goals.
  • Agile IT organisations can increase employee satisfaction by giving them more autonomy and responsibility and involving them in the decision-making process.

 

Overall, an agile IT organisation is an important tool for the successful achievement of the company's goals. It offers a number of benefits, such as improved flexibility and adaptability, enhanced communication and collaboration, improved decision-making and improved customer satisfaction.

Holger Bredenkötter
Director

noventum consulting GmbH

Münsterstraße 111

48155 Münster

+49 2506 93020

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