How to successfully Scale Agile and DevOps

Mr.Meshach Samuel – Global Operations Director, Digital & Analytics, HCL Technologies

I began my journey into Scaled digital and DevOps transformation nearly a decade ago. My first encounter with Agile at Scale was at one of the world’s largest global aircraft manufacturers. On day one, the task before us looked impossible to achieve, however the results of following the Agile way allowed us to deliver on-time. It was in that moment that I knew that the world of the future was going to run on Agile models.

And my belief has been validated because today, over 97% of organizations practice agile development methods in some manner or another, while the number of people working in DevOps teams has risen from 16% in 2014 to 27% in 2017. Agile DevOps have truly become mainstream. However, in the last couple of years we’ve also seen many organizations struggle to scale up operations with these methods.

With that context, I invite you to join me on this blog series as I share my experiences and learnings on addressing the challenges of scaling agile and DevOps in this series on “Scaled Digital”.

Challenges in Scaling

About three years ago, I served as a subject matter expert and advisor on agile development for one of the world’s largest banks. The client had built a state-of-the-art, business critical trade settlement platform with a small co-located, team. The client CIO had mandated them to make this a global platform and sunset regional specific platforms for the purpose of cost optimization and to harness cross-selling opportunities. To achieve this mandate, the client needed to accomplish a number of goals – to scale their team, to distribute them across the globe, and to maintain the speed and quality with which the development pipeline was already running. The client had tried this with their own captive in India, as well as with many other vendors, however, they could not manage to on-board even a single agile development squad successfully.

It was a grim situation. They relied on this platform as a critical revenue generator since it managed high volume transactions for their investors. As a business-critical tool, uptime and stability was integral, considering that gaps of milliseconds could leads to millions in potential losses. The client had already spent over two years on failed ventures with other technology partners before they approached HCL. Our team spent some time on their problem and came to understand this as a “people problem” issue and within six weeks, we had managed to on-board a team that satisfied the customer’s expectation.

This experience was a seminal one for me. In the next 3 months, I got into many such conversations where customers were struggling to scale their digital journey. It highlighted what would soon become established fact – agile and DevOps solutions faced unique challenges when they were scaled up. These challenges in scaling, as it turns out, are far too many and as varied as the organizations implementing them. However, the common truth among all was that while agile DevOps methodologies improved outcomes within teams and projects, they failed when aggregated across the enterprise at scale.

Unsurprisingly, the problem areas were usually the same – from a discordance in organizational culture to issues with different agile development models adopted to geographically distributed teams utilizing varied delivery methodologies to monolithic architecture in legacy technologies which are rigid to change to sourcing models which hampered collaboration resulting in disjointed performance management systems, I’ve seen them all in my career. And having worked on solving such problems for companies around the globe, time and time again, it has become clear to me that the issue in the industry is not about ‘adopting’ Agile or DevOps, it is about ‘scaling’ digital, both Agile and DevOps methodology included, and getting the entire enterprise to run at speed.

Enacting Change Across Dimensions

The simple fact is that agile and DevOps methods can’t work in isolation. Organizations cannot hope to reap any benefits unless they take a holistic view of their businesses. Sure, it’s certainly easier for specific divisions and projects to leverage these methods for themselves. But the positive outcomes will be diluted if the rest of the overall organization remains rigid and resistant to change and cannot run at the speed of the digital corner.

I firmly believe that this scale digital problem has to be driven in parallel across the three dimensions of People, Process and Technology enabled by a strong Organization Change Management (OCM) drive. OCM needs to be able to engage and transform all levels of the organization both top-down and bottom-up.

The top-down approach is about mandates and strategy definition and leading by example. I have been through examples where CIOs have run their townhalls in sprints, contracting was done in Agile sprints with autonomous and empowered contracting squads, and KPI definition across partners in a customer enterprise was done leveraging SCRUM. It begins with creating focus groups who are mandated to drive this change. Focus groups need to have representation from all parts of the organization where this change needs to be done, especially representation from business, as Agile done in silo within IT would not yield the value that we would expect from its adoption. Marketing and communication management is equally important especially from senior management whose communication is essential in order to drive the journey faster. This change journey needs to be directed by both Agile and DevOps coaches who are also part of the focus groups.

In the bottom-up approach, People, Process, and Technology – each of these three dimensions play an integral role in ensuring a successful, ground up, and sustainable transformation for any organization. If you want to get your teams to be Agile, have the ability to deploy code into production daily, follow lean budgeting and have a squad with zero scrum masters and zero testers, and have an enterprise with zero support, then hang-on for the next set of blogs where we will get in to the really exciting part of this series.

In the next blog post, I will focus on the People dimension to detail out how to evaluate, identify and train people with the appropriate technical and behavioral competencies to drive Digital at scale.

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