Accelerating Digital Transformation: The Agile Way
This post first appeared in ETCIO (July 2021)
‘Digital Transformation’ is quite the buzzword these days, and has only gained more traction courtesy of the global pandemic. Even if you were on the fence earlier, chances are, you now agree that Digital offers unmatched cost & efficiency advantages for both organizations & customers, alike.
The adoption of Digital typically happens due to novelty, necessity or natural affinity.
For many, the novelty of “going digital” is itself a goal worth pursuing, although this represents the least sustainable path. Necessity can play a role too, but only as long as favorable circumstances remain. Natural-affinity driven solutions, however, tend to offer the longest-lasting benefits.
Take the case of Financial Services – they have a natural affinity towards Technology, when it comes to the delivery of products and services. Customers can typically choose from a wide variety of offerings (online), establish their identity (digitally), and pay via a variety of (digital) modes of payment. The ecosystem is fast, cost-effective and helps eliminate many of the inconveniences associated with wait-times, intermediaries and physical visits to branches or outlets.
Such advantages not only apply to Banking, Financial Services and Insurance, but to a wide cross-section of industries and customer segments, as long as the solutions on offer are well-suited for online delivery or consumption.
If you have decided to embark on a journey of Digital Transformation, you will find that the adoption of Agile practices can aid significantly in accelerating the timelines involved, and building a sustainable edge. In fact, some would argue that Digital Transformation success depends on adopting an Agile approach to change.
Here’s a quick guide to reimagining processes and systems using Agile tools, that can help accelerate your Digital Transformation journey.
Start with a compelling Digital-First vision for your enterprise. Then, use your Program Management Office (PMO) to establish cross-functional Agile Squads, and provide them the training they need to familiarize themselves with the Agile framework. Once the Squads are up and running, empower them to deal with what comes next.
Prioritize and re-prioritize on a regular basis, based on your assessment of opportunities. Squads should periodically review progress with key stakeholders and regularly seek agreement on upcoming work, to ensure sync. When prioritizing, the focus should always be on elements that add value for the customer.
Once the priorities have been clearly defined, the next step is to create “User Stories” – natural language descriptions of the key functionalities that the team (Squad) will ultimately develop. The advantage of a ‘User Story’ approach over a Business Requirements Document (BRD) is that user stories focus on the Customer Experience – what the person using the product or service should be able to do.
As a rule, smaller user stories are easier to plan for, develop and test. Keep in mind that everyone in the Squad should have a clear understanding of “definition of done” and the acceptance criteria.
An MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is a product with just enough features to gain insight from actual users. One of the key principles of Agile is to test lean products at early stages by involving all the stakeholders. This MVP-approach of Product Development helps drastically cut-down time to market.
Sprints & Scrums
Sprints are at the very heart of the Agile philosophy, and getting it right is a key determinant of success. If you are new to Agile, start with a 2-week Sprint cycle, always starting on the same day of the week (say, every Tuesday), across all Squads.
Sprint Planning sessions and Daily Scrums, when conducted regularly, help Squads update on their progress, discuss & resolve bottlenecks, showcase achievements to stakeholders, and seek feedback to identify improvement opportunities. Rinse and repeat until it becomes the way any project is tackled.
Having an Agile mindset means trying, failing, learning, keeping what works, adapting. So, Squads need to regularly reflect on what they are doing, and how they can improve on it.
Retrospectives should ideally be carried out at the Squad level, but are also encouraged at the Program (PMO) level, especially after the launch of any critical initiative. Multiple Squads collaborating at frequent intervals via a ‘Scrum of Scrum’ is another great tool to help tackle cross-squad dependencies required to deliver on enterprise objectives.
The Agile Manifesto clearly outlines guiding principles that put a premium on individuals and interactions over processes and tools, as well as focus on the ability to respond to change.
In an age where Technology and Digital are practically par for the course, Agile practices allow organizations to remain nimble and respond to ever-changing market situations by building small, collaborating fast, failing early and scaling quickly.
Now, isn’t that an edge worth striving for?