The Benefits of Agile can Scale to Enterprise IT Operations. Here’s How

Posted by on October 13, 2016


When you think of something being agile, you don’t often think of something large. Agile brings to mind images of things that are small, nimble, and fast. A sports car might be described as agile. A big, lumbering 18-wheeler? Not so much.

The evolution of Agile methodologies was driven by a need to make software development nimble and fast. It was driven by a need to break out of the linear, restrictive mold of the Waterfall methodology. Though Agile was originally intended for software development, we now understand the benefits of Agile — lightening the stifling burden of bureaucracy, for example — were just as applicable to IT.

But, what about large organizations? Can enterprise IT organizations enjoy the benefits of Agile, too? Or, is it necessary that an organization be small and agile to benefit from Agile?

Tweet this: Can enterprise IT organizations enjoy the benefits of adopting an agile strategy? 

The Agile Conundrum

Let me be clear: IT organizations of all sizes can benefit from Agile. But, bigger IT departments must be strategic. Larger organizations, particularly, are susceptible to falling into a bit of a trap as they try to implement Agile because there is a temptation to deploy an Agile process that's highly formalized and regimented. This approach runs counter to the spirit of Agile.

And that Agile conundrum has led to a new industry trend: Deploying Agile as more of a mindset, and less as a rigid, structured process. Instead of an inflexible, this-is-the-way-you-have-to-do-it approach, I see many IT organizations now taking a more relaxed approach to implementing Agile. Many organizations are even mixing their own philosophical cocktail. They're cherry-picking concepts and practices from Agile and other methodologies, and stirring (not shaking!) them into a customized mix that perfectly suits their own unique needs. This approach can work particularly well for IT departments, where teams are more likely to vary in size, and tend to be larger and more homogenous than a traditional software development Scrum team. This approach can also be effective where the sheer size of larger IT teams can make adherence to pure Agile principles more difficult.

Avoid the Mean by Going Lean

Enterprise IT organizations can also benefit by borrowing a bit of philosophy from modern manufacturing: Lean Manufacturing. Put simply, Lean Manufacturing was designed to increase speed of production while reducing or eliminating waste. Lean Manufacturing is rooted in Toyota's revolutionary Toyota Production System — an approach to manufacturing that helped launch Toyota into a position of global dominance in the automobile industry.

A key tenet of Lean Manufacturing is that you adjust your production to your market. You don't build 10,000 washing machines just because you can, and then store them until you can sell them. Instead, you build to order, adjusting your manufacturing process so that it's in sync with your market. Many of the principles of Lean Manufacturing are quite applicable to Agile. Going Lean means eliminating everything that detracts from efficiency of production. Implementing Agile with a 'lean' approach helps to avoid replacing the rigidity of the Waterfall with just another set of rigid, restrictive principles.

Tweet this: Why having flexible ITSM tools is crucial to implementing an agile methodology within enterprise IT organizations 

Your Tools Should Offer Flexibility

The tools your IT organization relies upon can be just as restrictive as methodologies. And, some industries are particularly rigid and formalized: government, finance, education, and healthcare rank among the more regimented cultures. The more rigid your institutional bureaucracy, the more important it is that your Agile tools offer flexibility. Your IT and IT service management tools should promote the spirit of what it truly means to be Agile; they should be fast, flexible, and nimble. Look for tools that enable rapid and easy customization. And, you should absolutely ensure that customization won’t be lost in the next upgrade.

When I talk about customization, I’m referring to configuring a tool to meet your organization’s actual needs. True flexibility goes far beyond the simple ability to add a field here, or change the look of a screen there. True flexibility gives you the ability to bring in entirely different workflows from Agile and other paradigms, blending them in such a way that they appear seamless to your user base. Your tools should offer the ability to make these large changes quickly and easily.

It's About Being Agile in Spirit

Going Agile isn't about simply tossing away one rule book and replacing it with another. It's about adopting a mindset that focuses upon the spirit of Agile. That's the key to realizing the benefits of Agile while scaling to IT operations of any size.

And successfully adopting an Agile mindset just isn't going to happen without having the right tools in place. After all, whether you're an enterprise IT operation or an auto manufacturer, efficiency of production cannot be maximized while using old, obsolete tools.

The right tool for the right job: You can call it Lean; you can call it Agile. But it's really just common sense.