Jan 022011

I recently gotten into a bit of hot water with one of my clients – a leading online service in a certain category – when I commented that the kind of things they do in software development and IT is really no different from what various clients of mine do in other industries. In so saying, I seem to have unintentionally pushed the “but it is really different here” button. I should have known better…

Feeling a little uncomfortable with the body language in the room, I pulled out the holidays discount coupons a client of mine in the apparel business was kind enough to give me the day before. “But what is the difference?” I asked. “Yesterday I got holiday coupons with which I can buy shoes, shirts or a jacket. You guys have for the past 30 minutes been discussing how to implement a novel discount scheme for the holidays. Why is buying your merchandise over the network or in one of your outlets any different from buying shoes?”

A lively discussion ensued. I don’t know that we fully agreed on everything we discussed, but we seem to have reached a consensus on the following points:

  • Any Agile engagement has two aspects to it: the nuts and bolts at the team level and the transformative effect with respect to the product life cycle and the concomitant business design.
  • No essential (as distinct from implementation) difference exists across most companies at the nuts and bolts level – it is ultimately about proficiency in software development.
  • At the transormative level, it is all about agility as a competitive advantage. With all due respect to other important aspects of agile software methods, the ultimate objective is to enable continuous value delivery.
  • To be truly meaningful, continuous value delivery must be guided by ‘real time’ feedback.
  • The business design of the company – be it customer selection, value recapture, go-to-market mechanism or other aspects of the business – must be harmonized to take advantage of continuous delivery and real time feedback.
  • Such harmonization has an end-to-end operational aspect to it as illustrated in Figure 1. Flows across departments must be rebalanced.

Figure 1: Operational Aspects of End-to-End Agility

More important perhaps than the operational implications, the harmonization that follows a successful enterprise level Agile roll-out forces a key question with respect to the nature of the company. Should a company be structured by its product type or by its destination markets? True Agility¬†enables a company to target embryonic markets as they evolve. Hence, the nature of the company usually tilts from “these are our products” to “these are the markets we serve.”

The implications for Cutter clients are far reaching. Hiring or contracting a coach to get versed in the nuts and bolts of Agile is certainly a good thing to do. More importantly, you need to put your hands around the strategic implications: once your teams are truly agile, how are you going to exploit this agility?! For example, what markets that were not accessible to your company in the past will open for you through continuous delivery and real time feedback?

To put it in other words: Agility is not about doing one thing or another a little faster. It is about exploiting the hyper-segmentation of today’s and tomorrow’s markets.


Israel Gat

Israel Gat served as Cutter Fellow and the Director of the Agile Product Management & Software Engineering Excellence practice from 2008 until 2015.


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