Agility is the Vital Issue

17 February 2015

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Be-IT in Conversation with Scott Seivwright: Agility is the Vital Issue

Scott Seivwright has been leading in IT and business transformation for over 20 years, chiefly in Digital Delivery Programmes delivering ICT, technology redesign and business transformation. He is currently working as a Scrum Master and Agile Coach at Tesco Bank. His work has included major civil technology implementations such as the NHS Transformation and the adoption of Agile by Concur, the global Software as a Service company, in the UK.  He works in new areas of software delivery and organisational redesign. His passion is leading people to improve organisations by using Agile ideas. 

Be-IT had a conversation with Scott about trends in Agile and the industry.

Be-IT:  What are the biggest barriers to deploying Agile in organisations?

SS:  The biggest barriers to employing Agile in organisations are fear of change and the belief that what you have at the moment is of more value than what you could get by changing. Agile techniques allow organisations to deliver things very quickly. Companies like Skyscanner or Spotify have applied them, and this helps them deliver features very quickly. In the future, organisations will either innovate or go the way of Woolworth, Marconi or floppy disks.

Be-IT: What is the impact of IT and Transformation in the economy?

SS:  Exponential growth in the use of mobile and apps, and the use of new connected technologies are really changing the game. There are now 3.6bn users of the Internet. Think of companies like Amazon. They offer great service, their delivery mechanism works, and it’s all about the customer, all about the features.  That is disrupting bricks and mortar companies, such as high street shops and even some service companies.

Realistically, technology has lowered the barriers for entry in many markets. Two guys working in a garage could write an app that could disrupt an industry and put thousands of people out of work.  It might not be them single-handedly changing the world. If you think of it, competing companies allowed them to take over, because they had poor systems.

I made the prediction that banking and finance are as vulnerable to disruption as the high street was. If that doesn’t scare you, Facebook just got a banking license. Imagine what amazing services Amazon Bank, Google Bank and Facebook Bank could deliver to your customers over their phones. [But it’s Okay, Facebook say they are not going to extend or use their banking license… for now].

Be-IT: What is the biggest problem in organisations now?

SS:  Many organisations are being led by people who have no idea where technology is heading, and yet technology is having a major disruptive impact on their balance sheet. This is like a ship captain not knowing a thing about sailing; or like the owner of the White Star Line insisting they go faster into the iceberg field.

In many boardrooms, you find directors who don’t care about functional areas outside their domain. Whilst it is not necessary for everyone to be a technology expert, directors should not be encouraged to work in silos with their fingers in their ears. What we need is a value-focused portfolio.  This is why we need to start doing Agile Portfolio Management that is obsessed with getting new services and products launched to create more wealth more quickly.

Be-IT:  Are organisations prepared to adopt Agile in functions other than IT?

SS: In my opinion, too many times agile is just applied to software development.  Agile only works in organisations when it is applied to the culture. What we need to do is look at Agile portfolio, Agile governance, Agility in general. I think this is the vital issue. We really need to get back to people and conversations, and stop hiding behind process. Deming said that over 95% of problems are process and 5% are people, so roll back your process, empower your people.

Be-IT: In the wider context, but especially in IT, what do you think are the trends in employment?

SS: On-shoring. For too long, what we’ve done is we’ve outsourced and off-shored employment in IT to cut costs. Coders in India and testers in Prague are cheaper. We dismissed the rework needed when things don’t work the first time, and also the lack of flexibility tying us to these off-shore options.  Both rework and lack of flexibility come at a cost, and hurt the capacity to innovate. You need excellent staff that understands your products to be able to innovate.  Also, organisations need to become as flat as possible, as flexible as possible, and be able to deliver more, quicker. Organising this way is defensive action; it isn’t offensive. If you don’t do this, someone else will do it and your customers will walk. 

Be-IT: What are the biggest barriers to Agile in organisations?

SS: Education. What we need to do is take senior managers and boards through an education programme so they can understand Agile, and be in a better position to make decisions.

Another thing that needs to be re-thought is commercial contracting. An Agile contract should express the company’s needs, instead of focusing on detailed requirements and SLA’s, and obsessing about cost control.  When you approach contracts in these usual terms, what you get is systems that aren’t fit for purpose and need to be shoehorned into business processes.  Or you might end up throwing a lot of money into deliver functionality that you never knew would be necessary when you drafted the contract.  A contract drafted with Agile in mind would focus on the needs on the business.  The relationship with the contractor would then focus on getting the developers working closely with the business, and allowing experimentation to be able to get value quicker.  That is Agile at its best. 

Be-IT: What is the next big thing in Agile?

SS: Agile is pretty mature in many organisations, particularly in the private sector.  What we need to think about is how we move Agile into those places where it isn’t in use: typically, the Public Sector or industries with heavily outsourced services. Implementing Agile principles into these organisations would go a long way.  Take Kanban and the control of WIP:  organisations are often frustrated and working inefficiently because they have ninety top priorities. So starting at board level by controlling work in progress to limit the number of things you are trying to do would make a huge positive impact on delivery.

Be-IT: What is next for your career?

SS: My focus is on working with clients to help them deliver value. The key for me is to take Agile, Kanban and Lean out of IT and moving them into the boardroom. Now is the time that boards really need to pick this stuff up.  

If you would like to continue this conversation with Scott, you can reach him via Twitter @ScottDio

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