By Vinay Kumar Sharma
In today’s dynamic organizational landscape, Agile has emerged as a preferred ‘way of working.’ Agile principles, initially developed in the software domain, have found universal acceptance across various sectors given their adaptability and effectiveness. Agile includes methodologies like Scrum, Kanban, and Extreme Programming (XP), offering tailored approaches to suit the unique demands of each domain.
While Agile principles have been around for several years, it is only in the last decade or so that organizations have significantly matured and evolved their agile ways of working, developing agile systems and organizational structures that allow them to pivot and work seamlessly across domains. Organizations that have adopted agile on a large scale have understood that is more than doing agile as a methodology, but it is about being agile and living the principles in action. While it has largely been technology organizations that have successfully undergone agile transformations, a similar scale of adoption and success is yet to be seen among business process operation organizations.
However, there is a case to be made for agile to be more widely adopted in business process operation organizations as well, with potential to transform such organizations and their ways of working, through enhancing efficiencies, productivity, and the efficacy of solutions, and an overall excellence in service execution.
Philosophy of agile
At its core, agile emphasizes flexibility, simplification, and customer-centricity. It transforms complex tasks into manageable components, enabling teams to deliver large projects in much quicker timeframes.
Agile operations involve simplifying large projects into smaller tasks that are addressed by smaller teams working in quick timeframes to deliver specific outcomes. Agile allows for flexibility, seamlessness, and speed of delivery, using the principle of continuous improvement through feedback loops from users that are built into the system.
Methods like the scaled agile framework (SAFe), Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), and others help organizations implement agile practices across multiple teams and departments. Agile emphasizes bridging communication gaps, building connect across teams, and developing solutions together towards delivering optimal results. Agile teams regularly reflect on processes and performance, identifying areas for improvement and implementing continuous changes to become more efficient and effective. Agile equips teams to pivot swiftly and respond effectively to dynamic project requirements.
Reasons to opt for agile
Agile in operations has several advantages, including timely project delivery, the ability to quickly adapt through the use of flexible workforce arrangements, and enhanced transparency and prioritization through tools. Agile also allows for client-specific requirements to be accommodated throughout the process.
While doing agile may be viewed as a science, reaching a matured state of “being agile is an art. It is about imbibing the spirit, value, and culture of agile at your core. A culture change demands honesty and truth about who you are as an organization and deciding on what you want to build. While it starts at the top, with the leadership being completely invested in its philosophy and transformative potential, this culture needs to pervade across teams. This is critical to the evolution and maturity of the agile model. A key ingredient is the constant feedback loop that is built in at all levels, top down and bottom up. As an example, from my own organization, this feedback loop has been most effective, internally through our Sprint retrospectives and quarterly Scrum retrospectives, and externally through our annual retrospective with relationship management teams.
Towards tangible outcomes
Agile transformation in an organization when pursued with dedication and commitment to the cause inevitably yields tangible outcomes. This is the same across functions, from technology to operations. Specifically, in the case of the operations world, some of the benefits as borne out of personal experience include alignment of individual squads to specific client requirements, thus ensuring dedicated focus with the agility and ability to ramp up to support addressal of enhanced requirements during the project phase through a strong project management interface.
Agile systems also allow for the efficient use of metrics in a proactive rather than reactive way, to regularly assess consistency and performance across squads. The overall process involves enhanced planning on a quarterly and annual basis, to ensure the best use of capacity across squads, with revisions made from time to time to ensure optimal performance. We also need to ensure that we are able to communicate the right metrics and hence value of our agile processes to our business partners on an ongoing basis. In our case, for example, in addition to the regular metrics like throughput, sprint predictability, and others, we also began publishing metrics such as a reduction in lead time and cycle time, to showcase our ability to respond rapidly to business requirements.
Other tangible benefits include improved quality through the implementation of new technologies and standardized best practices, team expertise on specific client requirements owing to dedicated focus in these areas, and high-volume support brought about through rapid cross-training. Agile operations organizations will inevitably witness an improvement on overall agile delivery metrics, including an enhanced speed to market, more stable predictability, decreasing cycle time, and increasing throughput levels.
I would like to summarize learnings from my own experience, which could benefit operations organizations seeking agile transformation:
- Agile change management requires a plan and communication strategy that is well thought through and clearly defined. Agile is all about how well you plan and how far ahead you can visualize the success of your plan.
- Document your plan in a format that clearly elaborates ways of working, including tools and reporting mechanisms.
- While agile delivery is often considered a science, the art of being agile and embracing it as a culture is far more important when it comes to addressing organizational challenges.
- Don’t rush into an agile transformation. Make it a journey, with its evolution having a constant feedback loop built in.
- You can also incorporate Lean, traditional project management practices and other continuous improvement techniques into your overall agile strategy in a way that works for you.
- Metrics should aid a good plan and aptly communicate value and impact.
Agile transformation is about how well you plan and how far ahead into the future you can see your plan. Once embarked upon, there is no looking back. Being agile is all about living the culture at the team and individual level, driving it through demonstrable results, collaboration, and the acceptance of change.
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(The author is Vinay Kumar Sharma, VP – Health Care Operations, Fidelity Investments India, and the views expressed in this article are his own)