May 7, 2024

Uniting Business and IT Through Agile Team Dynamics in Digital Transformation

Previously, in this series, looking at some of the common themes emerging from the Technology & Innovation Forum, we addressed the topic of education and identified a dependency on company culture. This article will consider the critical role of Agile Teams in bringing IT and business together to effect digital transformation and positively impact business culture.

The Computer Says "No!"

When asked to define business requirements for technology, there can be a tendency amongst users to describe what they need in terms of what they currently do, rather than take the opportunity to change or improve processes, especially from a customer perspective.

This can result in the oversight of the standard capabilities of the product being deployed, possibly due to a lack of involvement in the selection process. Consequently, there may be a perception that the technology choice is solely an IT decision rather than a business one. If unaddressed, a blame culture could develop between business and IT, whereas it might be more accurately described as an example of the business abdicating responsibility to IT for a business process issue.

Principles of Agile

A fundamental principle when establishing Agile Teams is to enable a cross-functional, collaborative environment, that brings together business and IT. Each team is built around a product, defined as a technology package, and is often given responsibility for a single product determined by a clearly defined scope and scale, such as back-office/contract management, accounting, or CRM.

With the growing use of microservices and smaller, “point” solutions, a team may be responsible for multiple products that typically align within a common business function.

Empowering Teams to Drive Priorities

The key feature is that the team decides the product's (or products') functional priorities. These priorities are co-determined through a deepened, shared understanding of both the business purpose and the technically optimal solution.

While there will be a learning curve for all participants and occasional compromises, another important principle is allowing the team to self-organise and operate with some autonomy. The trust required for that autonomy must be earned by the team through regular meetings, frequent communication of objectives and activities, and of course, tangible results.

Transparent Communication Builds Trust

Transparent communication fosters confidence and trust in the team. The limited scope of the product focus enables small, incremental changes to be achieved regularly, demonstrating the value of that trust. In fact, constant, incremental change is less risky and disruptive than a big-bang go-live after years of hidden work.

For the company and its leadership, these activities and changes occurring across different business areas make it easier to identify and demonstrate progress, improvement, and positive business impact.

Vendor Engagement Does Not Have to Be Costly

Engaging teams on a product level also benefits supplier relationships or, in a worst-case scenario, identifies supplier weaknesses and incompatibilities. However, it doesn't necessarily mean increased spending. Whether dealing with a large-scale product offering configuration options or a small-scale product enabling agile development via short-term sprints, the cadence of communication allows for faster issue identification and resolution.

We've likely all encountered cases where a user community complains about "poor vendor support" while the vendor's helpdesk is frustrated by users calling with issues they could resolve themselves, such as through configurability within their control.

Too often, the users are unaware or lack the know-how, and the vendor's support team is oblivious to the users' knowledge gap. An agile team dedicated to the product in question would quickly turn this around through engagement with the provider, potentially at minimal cost, such as through improved product training and knowledge sharing.

Agile Transformation Goes Beyond Projects

Treating digital transformation as a project risks missing the point of an agile approach. "Business" means the whole business, not just specific or limited functional areas, meaning it goes to the heart of the business culture.

While business representatives for different products will be drawn from various functions, there is hardly any functional area where an agile team would be inappropriate. Limiting the application of agile methodology would restrict the spread of business understanding within the technology function and curtail the potential benefits to the wider business.

Success breeds success, and if one function sees another deriving demonstrable benefit and advantage through regular, transparent communication of objectives and outcomes, they will naturally want a piece of the action.

Not Every Project Is Agile

That said, not every project is an agile project. The individual project approach is largely determined by the product team. When a tech deployment is concern-wide or has a broader organisational impact than the team itself, a waterfall project can still be the optimal implementation approach. Examples might include an HR system, an accounting system, or a system with wide functional reach, such as a back-office/contract management system, where the product itself doesn't lend itself to agile development and the delivery of multiple, short sprints, or where a large-scale migration is required.

Agile is About Business Culture, Not Just Technology

Central to the removal of boundaries between business and IT, and of obstacles to business dynamism and success, is a willingness to communicate openly. Transparency and honesty build trust, trust enables empowerment, and empowerment delivers results. Business leadership can focus on overall strategy and objectives, and the position of the business relative to its market, confident that the operational problems are dealt with within the teams and that the problem-solving structure exists to deal flexibly and quickly with any unexpected turn of events. And the constant communication in all directions can help avoid any unwelcome surprises.

Next time, we will look in more detail at communication and the essential role of data in providing the evidence to support communication, build confidence and foster trust.

Finally, for readers with a senior technology role in an asset, automotive or invoice finance business and wanting to know more, please look out for the next Technology & Innovation Forum. This will be held on 11th June in Birmingham. Get in touch with me for more information.

For further information, contact:

Simon Harris, Consulting Director, Finativ

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