Back in a September 2010 post, I asked, “How Agile Is Your IT Organization?  How Would You Know?”  The question came about as part of a research project I’m involved in through my affiliation with Formicio.  The aim of the research is to identify the factors that make IT organizations agile and recommend how agility can be developed as a core capability.  (Phase 1 of this research is still open – please feel free to participate by completing a survey here – it should take about 30 minutes, is free, and I believe you will find the questions stimulating!)

What Does ‘Agility’ Mean to an IT Organization?

Wikipedia defines agility as:

The ability to change the body’s position efficiently, and requires the integration of isolated movement skills using a combination of balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, strength, endurance and stamina.  In business, agility means the capability of rapidly and efficiently adapting to changes.”

From the perspective of the research project, we defined IT agility as:

The ability to rapidly and easily incorporate new technologies and methods into the way the IT organization operates, thereby having the capability to effectively sense and respond to changing business conditions in a timely manner.”

Why Does Agility Matter to an IT Organization

Simply stated, most business executives I speak to feel that their IT organizations lack agility! To paraphrase the typical response:

Things take too long to get to the point where they are delivering business results, and the IT organization typically seems to be behind the curve on emerging technologies!”

You may disagree with this statement, but I think most of you will agree that it is the common perception of your business executives.  In a world that seeks instant gratification, that is a value that is not typically embraced by IT organizations – and perhaps it should not be?  In a world where the business and competitive context can change almost overnight, increasing IT organizational agility should become an active goal.

So, What Have We Found?

The data is still coming in, and the numbers being crunched, but a couple of early observations:

  1. Your perspectives on Enablers and Barriers to agility depend upon where you sit.  In a federated IT Operating Model (some centralized, some decentralized), those that sit in the central camp tend to see shared IT capabilities as enablers of agility, whereas those in the decentralized units tend to see shared capabilities as inhibitors to agility, and seek more freedom from the ‘mothership’ in order to increase agility.
  2. Even with the definition of IT organizational agility provided as part of the research, its meaning is very squidgy and Rorschach-like – you read into “IT organizational agility” what you want to see.
  3. Fans of Agile Development equate IT organizational agility to Agile Development – they are essentially one and the same to them.  On the other hand, when you drill into what teams are doing with Agile Development, what you find is all over the map.  To some teams, it is a license to take short cuts, no matter what the consequences!
  4. Governance is desperately misunderstood!  This will be a subject of a separate post (or two!), but what I am seeing as I pour over the research findings indicates some governance perceptions that are way off base.  Again, it depends where you sit, but while some see governance as an agility enabler, others (in the same organization!) see it as a major barrier!
  5. The very different perspectives on what is meant by IT organizational agility and why it is important is quite troubling – if you can’t agree on what it means and why you want it, you are unlikely to increase your IT organizational agility!

Three Ways To Increase IT Organizational Agility

So, given those findings, here are three relatively ‘quick wins’ that will at least get your leadership talking in the same direction (excuse the mixed metaphor!)

1. Get clarity on what IT organizational agility means to you.

Don’t get wrapped up in academic definitions – focus on what it means to your organization.

  • What are your business drivers for IT organizational agility?  If you were more agile, what good things would you be capable of that you aren’t today?
  • Complete the tool in our research survey and use the 6 Domains of IT Agility to drive discussion internally on your enablers and barriers to agility.
  • Get to a consensus on the factors that need to be worked on for increased agility.
  • What do you see as the connections between agility and collaboration?
  • What do you see as the connections between agility and knowledge management?
  • What do you see as the connections between agility and Enterprise Architecture?

2. Identify where Agile Development fits in and how you will exploit that without increasing project risk.

Get clarity on Agile Development – what it is, and what it is not!

  • How do you define Agile Development for your organization?
  • When, where and how should you use Agile Development?
  • How will you define and monitor success?
  • What ‘unintended consequences’ will you look for and how will you mitigate against them?
  • What else is needed to increase IT organizational agility above and beyond Agile Development as you’ve define it?

3. Get to a shared understanding of IT Governance.

Get clarity on how you define IT Governance.  Again, don’t get wrapped up in academic definitions – define what it means to your organization.

  • What are the various aspects of organizational governance in your organization? (Don’t be limited by “formal” structures – consider aspects such as empowerment, decision rights, accountabilities, processes, culture of compliance, consequences for compliance or lack thereof.)
  • What is it about your IT governance that enables agility?
  • What is it about your IT governance that inhibits agility?
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