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  • Writer's pictureSaahil Panikar

Creating Great Products with Enterprise Business Agility

Special thanks to McKinzie Garrison and Alyssa Hamilton for editing


Agile is disciplined; not reckless

There have been many trends throughout the history of software development, and very few constants. One such constant has been the belief that IT is special and needs to be treated differently. And because IT needs to be treated differently, you need a special department that interfaces with IT and makes sure that everything runs smoothly. This has led to IT and Business being managed in separate silos, and collaboration being forced by Program Management Offices (PMOs). If you’re familiar with this dynamic, you may appreciate the quagmire of approvals, gates, and checks that must be navigated to successfully accomplish anything.

The exciting truth is that this dynamic is outdated; there’s a better way. When you dig past all your local leader’s goals and office politics, you’ll find that IT and Business organizations have one thing in common: the desire to build great products. So, let’s cut out all the bureaucracy and red-tape, and create a product-focused organization that has the business discipline and context, as well as the IT skills and competencies required to build great products. In fact, we can even call it a Product Organization.

To put it another way, IT is simply a function (one of many) of a Product Organization. But how do we get there? In order to build and organize around Product, we need to look to another concept: Enterprise Business Agility (EBA). Agile has been around for nearly two decades and what we have seen consistently is that Agile Transformations start and end in IT organizations; nearly everybody forgets about the Business.

Some organizations have IT groups decide to go Agile without letting anyone else know. Others have involved everybody in the decision but decided to just train IT; and some have even “gone Agile” without creating Product Owners and Scrum Masters while saying, “the teams are smart. They can do all that.”

None of these common implementations will achieve the value you’re looking for. You can implement all the practices without ever realizing any of the benefits if you don’t understand where the benefits are supposed to come from. You may have heard the phrase, “Agile done poorly is worse than Agile not done at all.”

Let’s take it one step further and assume you had a successful Agile Transformation in your IT space. That’s worth celebrating! You’ll see a lot of benefits already. However, in order to create a Product Organization that is Agile, the Enterprise around it also needs to be Agile, so we need to extend that Agility beyond IT to the Business, and to functions like HR, Legal/Compliance, Finance, etc.

At its core, Enterprise Business Agility is the idea that you can gain alignment across all your different business functions through a transparent set of processes that are executed consistently with a focus on built-in quality (you may recognize that the core values of SAFe® enable true EBA). Today, the best EBA model has come from Agile Transformation, Inc (ATI), and they have created a strong transformation journey with 7 pillars of Enterprise Business Agility that lead to 5 core transformation centers.

1. Customer Seat at the Table

2. Lean Portfolio Management

3. Org Structure & Design

4. Agile Framework & Mindset

5. Leadership & Culture

6. Make it Stick/Sustain

7. Technology Agility

With these 5 major areas of focus on your transformation journey you have the blueprint of a successful EBA implementation. It’s important to note that EBA is not meant to replace or supplant your Agile or SAFe® implementation; EBA is designed to support and enhance it. The whole point is to extend your Agility to the Enterprise with Agile, SAFe®, and EBA all working in concert together. Another key takeaway of the journey pictured above is that it is not meant to be read left to right. You do not create team agility, then team of teams agility, then organizational agility, etc. You will need to focus your transformation on all 5 areas at once, as each area of focus contributes to the success of the other areas. This may seem intimidating, but you’ll see that once the dominoes start falling, the momentum of transformation is really easy to maintain.

Once you’ve created an environment where all your different business functions are aligned, and operating on the same cadence, you will start to realize the benefits by delivering high quality products to your customers frequently and with the shortest possible sustainable lead-time.

Remember, when we started, our goal was to create a Product Organization. It’s only at this point, with aligned and collaborative IT and Business functions, that you will have the ability to create a true Product Organization. It may not seem necessary, but eventually you must break down the walls and streamline your organization. (Another reason that HR needs to be made Agile through EBA). You will need a Product Organization that exists on paper to ensure everybody is aligned to the same goals and driven by the same future vision.

Product and EBA are two sides of the same coin. When IT is considered a function of a business unit, and everybody has a shared understanding of the future vision, then you’ll have created a sense of collective ownership, and given life to a change in the way we work that will leave you wondering how we ever did it any other way.

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