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What is Agile – The Wild, Wild West Meaning

Agile IT is not the wild west

“IT can’t be nimble and responsive if it has to be consistent, repeatable, and reliable.”

Have you heard that?  Have you thought that?

The fact is that being consistent, repeatable, and reliable are the keys to IT being nimble and responsive.

However, the problem with many IT organizations is they’ve essentially become (or are perceived to be) ‘Rube Goldberg’ machines.  A Rube Goldberg machine is a device that has been needlessly over-engineered to perform simple tasks in a complicated fashion.[1]    These IT shops didn’t necessarily intend to over-engineer their processes and controls; they were only responding to what was viewed as requirements to ensure consistency and reliability.

But business has evolved. The digital economy is taking shape.  And due to a perception that IT is needlessly over-engineered, pockets of ‘shadow IT’ have appeared.  Make no mistake – just the fact that ‘shadow IT’ exists doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ‘bad’.   But it may mean that IT has become too difficult to do business with. Or that the processes and controls in use are not allowing IT to keep up with demand.

The irony of ‘shadow IT’ often is that in the rush to be nimble and responsive, the result is often inconsistent and unreliable systems that did not consider governance, standards, and good practices.  Consistency, repeatability, and reliability – all attributes of an IT organization that businesses rely upon.

So “nimble and responsive” cannot mean running IT like the “wild, wild west” with lax controls.  But controls that may have seemed appropriate just a few years ago have now become outdated or ineffective.  The pipeline that facilitated work so well just a few years ago has now become the bottleneck

To be nimble and responsive, IT must be consistent, repeatable and reliable

What are the critical factors for being a nimble and responsive IT organization?  Amazingly, it’s the same critical factors for being a consistent, reliable, and repeatable IT organization.  A clearly defined vision.  A well-defined plan.  Appropriate governance.  Strong leadership. Clear and frequent communication.  High levels of collaboration.  Well-designed and measurable processes.  Establishing and driving the right culture.

How can IT be nimble and responsive while at the same time, be consistent, reliable, and repeatable?  IT Service Management.  But not the often-overengineered-IT-operations-only ITSM implementations that seem to be so prevalent, but ITSM that is integrated within the business.   What can IT do to get there?

We’ve had the answers all along

Standardization – Standardization eliminates constant reinvention with every new opportunity presented to IT.  Standardization improves service quality while reducing costs associated with development and testing.  By standardizing, business and IT are able to quickly deploy services using existing know-how and expertise.

Invest in test environments – Having said the above, business and IT need a place to experiment with and learn from new technologies and potential business models.  To be nimble and responsive requires investments in robust test environments.

“Right first time” – A core Lean concept, doing it right the first time is must more nimble and responsive than the rework that comes with poor performance and sloppy effort.

“Enablement” governance – An often-overlooked (ignored?) area, governance (or the lack thereof) often prevents IT from being nimble and responsive.  In many cases, governance has been implemented using a “restriction” mindset.  Improve responsiveness and nimbleness by implementing governance following an “enablement” approach.  Rather than define policies in terms of what cannot be done, define policies that encourage what should be done.

Automate the obvious –  I’m still amazed at the number of IT organizations that have not automated basic routine activities, such as password resets and server builds.  The technology for automating these routine activities have been available for years. Frankly, there are better things that can be done with the human resources currently performing these tasks.

Right-sized processes – Don’t implement process for process sake.  Define the needed value and outcomes that must result from the execution of a process.  Borrow a page from Agile and define the minimal viable process that delivers those outcomes and values.

Delegate authority – The delegation of authority is a natural and positive outcome of governance implemented using an enablement mentality.  Provide the people who are closest to the work being done with the authority to get the work done.

Invite IT to the business strategy table –  IT must become a leader in how businesses can leverage technology to exploit new opportunities.  Most IT organizations work hard to learn the business of the business, maintain its technical skills, and stay abreast of emerging technical trends.   But if IT isn’t at the strategy table, IT cannot participate in those strategic discussions and respond in a timely fashion to emerging business drivers.

[1] “Rube Goldberg Machine”, Wikipedia, retrieved 10/22/2016

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