Agile for the Rest of the Organization

Agile beyond product development

I have recently had another wonderful discussion with John Cutler on agile beyond the actual product development work of the organization.  This may seem trivial on the surface, but the reality is the company or organizations is only as fast as the slowest element.  Imagine the finances for the endeavor are not secured in a timely manner, delaying the start of the development work, as a small example.

Some company’s separate the qualifying of the technology away from the development group using a group that may be referred to as Advanced Technology, at least that is my experience in some larger automotive companies.  This group will work with the technology, understanding it and helping to bring it maturity including the broad strokes of how the technology will be employed.  This time to understand the technology reduces the risk to subsequent product development work.  However, this approach does bring other risks to the organization.  For example, the knowledge acquired by this advanced team must somehow be quickly and effectively transferred to that part of the organization that will be responsible for bringing the technology to the customer as a marketable and sell able product.

That addresses how some companies manage the upfront work of qualifying the technology.  This approach is not especially a lean or agile approach, but there is no reason why this work cannot be handled using a lean or agile approach, though experience suggests that not to be the case.

What about the marketing portion of the company?  Our agile development work will need good (accurate, actionable, and quick) product backlog information.  The quicker we can get this information, the quicker the product development team can respond.  Since this input directly represents the customer (or it should anyway) this will have an impact on what the customer receives.

What about securing money for the product (sprints)?

We are in a similar boat as input from our marketing team, that is without timely review of the investment needs and allocation and releasing of the funds, the product development team may not be able to act.  Experience with larger companies especially, suggests this budgeting and organizational governance can consume considerable time as the organizations compares the variety of possible projects to determine which are the best candidates for success. After this business case scrutiny, the money may be allocated either the entire estimated amount or sufficient to start and accomplish the first objective(s) of the project.

What about material or hardware?

With quick prototyping approaches there really is little reason to take the long lead time approach for the hardware if it is not the best solution for your company. Gone are the days when weeks would pass by with a design iteration without physical parts. With 3D printing, or rapid prototype printed circuit boards (been around for a long time actually) an iteration of the product can be quickly generated facilitating quick learning from and about the product.

The need for speed!

To maximize the benefit of being agile, the entire stream of the work should be considered for this quick adapting and productive approach. In fact, in the book co-authored with Kim H Pries, Scrum Project Management, we demonstrate the use of agile for many more things beyond software.  Besides being adaptive, we have seen increase in through-put and from the agile teams we have led, we have seen a sense of team that seldom happens in conventional projects.  Agile should not be relegated to one part of the company just because that part of the company is not product development oriented.  The speed of the organization is the sum of all of the activities required to deliver. Fast product development is only part of the equation, to be able to deliver the organization must have effective operations units that support the product development efforts.

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