Wavestone US
Wavestone US

Managing a company’s information system requires constantly adapting to ever-changing customer needs and to new technology. IT departments help to advance their organizational methods, seeking to streamline certain activities by breaking out of the silo mentality or revising working models in conjunction with department heads. As part of this endeavor, many IT departments of all sizes have experimented by implementing Agility, sometimes for one or more one-time projects, or by applying this organizational method more widely.

This has led to the emergence new challenges: How can the Agility culture be applied throughout the IT department? How can all departments work together within an Agile model? How do we manage activity and performance within these new organizational methods? Scaled-up Agile organizational models have actually been devised in response to these questions: SAFe, Scrum of Scrums, LeSS, and more.

The pioneers in the application of these startup-born methods are CAC 40 companies: but does that mean these transformations are reserved for larger companies? Are these new organizational methods accessible and relevant to medium-sized IT departments? Is there a minimum size required for enjoying the benefits of these models? In this article, we will shed some light on the subject to help guide medium-sized companies.

The promise of Agile at scale

The aim of Agile at scale is to apply its promises on a wider scale, not only to a product but to reorient all of the IT department’s activity toward an Agile method of operation: placing business fields at the heart of product management, promoting multidisciplinary and independent teamwork, implementing a new management culture, and more.

Feedback from our clients, including Société Générale and Allianz, has already demonstrated the benefits of these methods for large companies. What about medium-sized companies?

What are the prerequisites that allow an IT department to consider moving to an Agile at scale system for a small structure?

According to our feedback, there are three key prerequisites that act as a guideline on whether a company is able to undergo this transformation:

  • The existence of an IT team is a prerequisite for implementing an Agile at scale system. If this is not the case, it likely means that the IT department is entirely external and therefore that the organization is relying, and entirely dependent, upon one or more suppliers. This “client — supplier” context would then be a major impediment to implementing Agile at scale and would be based more so on Agile sourcing.
  • Controlling at least one aspect of development. It’s possible to switch over to Agile methods thanks to external developments, but this method of organization means appropriate supplier management, such as having an external developer participating in the internal Agile team on a full-time basis, for example, or by making the Agile development team completely external. The Service Center organizational methods will nevertheless be much more complex to transform and will probably require serious adjustments to the model (using a service center to make certain roles available on a regular basis, such as Agility testers, for example).
  • Having already successfully experimented with Agilefor one or more products. The Agile culture requires time and internal feedback to become properly embedded into the IT department and corporate culture. Initial feedback will be a teaching tool, both regarding the application delivery model and changes to the management model.

The question of a company’s size is therefore incidental, with every team meeting these criteria being able to call upon Agile at scale methodologies to spread Agility; however, the more complex the organization is, the greater the gains will be.

Furthermore, scaled-up development can include teams working according to a traditional method for one-time projects or those involving a reduced workload, which don’t require the creation of a dedicated team.

Why consider moving to a scaled-up Agility model?

During the initial steps on widespread implementation of Agility, it’s necessary to reflect on the challenges associated with this desire to scale up. The purpose of this is to ensure that the appropriate organization, skills, and tools are defined and implemented. Among our clients, we’ve observed three primary needs that lead them to embark on a scaling-up project:

  • It becomes necessary to coordinate the work of various teams (Agile or not), especially those involving compatibility. Agile management therefore helps ensure that activities are prioritized correctly, along with fostering coordination and facilitating the scalability of the workload.
  • There is value in transforming the remainder of the IT department in order to facilitate the work of the Agile teams and, above all, in involving the production teams: automation, securing start-up periods and tests are key in reducing the time to market and turning teams into truly multidisciplinary entities. By aligning “dev” and “ops” objectives within Product-centered teams, the IT department guarantees that urbanization is considered alongside the functional scopes of the teams, all while bolstering their autonomy.
  • The efficiency and value provided by strong cooperation between business fields and IT during previous Agile projects acts as a campaigner for applying the transformation on a wider scale and avoiding a return to traditional methods.  The transformation must therefore extend beyond the IT department, involve other business fields, and be championed at the highest levels of the organization.

What is the scope of the transformation?

  • The transformation of the corporate culture, which allows for a shift from a “client / supplier” relationship to one of close collaboration.
  • The transformation of management methods, which requires rethinking the place of middle management within the organization in a context of autonomous, empowered teams.
  • The transformation of working methods and tools, which helps companies reap the operational benefits of the Agile organization: for medium-sized companies whose culture and management style prioritize proximity and flexibility, the use of Agile at scale working methods and tools may nevertheless result in significant increases in efficiency.

What levers allow companies to benefit from the advantages promised by Agile at scale?

First of all, it’s necessary to set expectations and boundaries for the transformation. Identifying the expectations of the various stakeholders (general management, business fields, IT), the technical and organizational constraints in order to build an ambitious and realistic vision for an objective in the unique context of the company. This step requires an expression of impediments, both real and imaginary, in order to better prepare for the transformation and its various components: organizational, technical, and change management worksites.

Ensuring the greatest level of sponsoring

Companies can occasionally underestimate the importance of choosing the right level to represent the transformation, even though this transformation requires the involvement of all strata of the organization to ensure its success. This means that it’s essential to:

  • Have a sponsor on the best possible level, ideally that of General Management, in order to guarantee that the transformation covers the entire company rather than simply focusing on the IT department.
  • Bring management on-board for the transformation and ensure cross-functional sharing of challenges and model concepts.
  • Spread a culture of being exemplary and considerate to each other, especially during the transition phase.
  • Involve top management throughout the entire transformation, with the help of governance that ensures both operational and managerial transformation

Empowering the teams

Companies can occasionally underestimate the importance of choosing the right level to represent the transformation, even though this transformation requires the involvement of all strata of the organization to ensure its success. This means that it’s essential to:

Redefine the roles, and define and share the new model. The aim of redefining roles in an Agile at scale format is to foster a closer relationship between the business fields and IT within the new organization. This project is an opportunity to highlight the IT department’s job as a whole and thereby strengthen its administrative activities.

  • Understand the impact of the transformation on both the new and old roles: when seeking to ensure overall consistency among the applications and to allow the Agile teams to organize themselves, what do we expect from the architect(s)? Is security well-suited to Agility? Are the contracts with suppliers suitable?
  • Provide specific expectations for each of the roles and define how they interact with each other: this job can only be performed with the operational teams, thanks to use cases, for example, or after several months of a pilot implementation.
  • Assign the roles in a pragmatic fashion to volunteer employees who are committed and then oversee their performance.
  • Do not hesitate to create transitional or specific roles based on the needs that may arise (example: head of Agile integration, prioritization of technical worksites, etc.)
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Rethink the place of management in such a way as to provide the best possible guidance to the empowered teams:

  • Reposition the role of manager to smooth the transition from a manager who makes the decisions and represents authority in a hands-on manner to a servant leader (facilitator), a group leader who fosters the emergence and expression of potential: defining objectives, establishing budgets, evaluating employees, varying strategies, and more. All of these managerial prerogatives must be examined with a fine-tooth comb in order to make them consistent with the new roles.
  • Guide management in taking ownership of and implementing these roles: this guidance can take place via personalized coaching or a co-development group.

Spread the Agile culture and get on board with the transformation

The transformation is only meaningful if it is the responsibility of everyone.

Encourage widespread sharing built around the new model:

  • Share the Agile at scale concepts and methodologies.
  • Verify that employees understand, and involve their operational teams in the definition and implementation of the model.
  • Choose the methodological framework, terms, and principles that will be implemented, together.

Provide step-by-step guidance throughout the transformation by coaching teams to remain aligned with the principles, and rely on internal champions to act as ambassadors for the benefits of the transformation.

Manage the transformation in an Agile manner:

  • Implement a flexible model in order to make it possible to adapt to evolutions in the company’s context.
  • Sharing the first signs of success and spreading best practices is key and helps the teams to adjust and take ownership of the model.
  • Highlight that employees are permitted to make mistakes in order to allow the model to progress without leading the transformation as a whole to fail, particularly in a French cultural context, which historically leaves little room for error!

Finally, this major transformation will require excellent communication among General Management, the Business Fields, and the IT Department in order to make sure that the transformation’s objectives are reached in a way that elicits the greatest benefit.

These levers are also paths for reflection that we offer to our medium-sized clients, allowing them to guide their business toward an agile operational model that is best suited to their sector’s speed and adaptability requirements: Fortuneo and the AMF have already embarked on this adventure.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Agility is becoming accessible to all IT departments, without critical size requirements, but requiring but requiring adapting the organizational model and tools used to the specificities and culture of your organization. The growth of Agility must therefore take place incrementally and in such a way that companies can use the first signs of success to create wider appeal and increase the scope of the transformation in a second phase. Finally, General Management’s sponsoring is a key factor for success that is predominant in your transformation plan’s performance, which could turn out to be a lever that’s easier to access for your medium-sized company than for a large group!

This article is also available on our blog Meetech and in our magazine Innovation & Technologies.

These three components must be developed in a complementary, pragmatic fashion, in accordance with the context of the company and its Agile maturity level.

Wavestone US

Our team is a blend of former C-suite executives and industry leaders, and high-quality talent at all levels who can tackle your most complex issues with a fresh approach. With a globally connected network of 3,000 employees, Wavestone US is designed to help you get results. All our consultants thrive on complex challenges, enjoy blazing new trails, and are committed to your organization’s success.

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