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There are plenty of anecdotes about companies which, through exceptional feats of agility, have been able to overcome seemingly impossible hurdles and triumph against steep odds. Some of them are even true.
But Agile development, at least with a capital A, remains a huge challenge for many established companies, especially in creating software. After all, it requires them to relinquish control over key aspects of developers and the development process precisely at a time when the risk of failing to exercise effective control can be a career-stopper. So while agility is respected, at least in principle, its wholehearted implementation is sometimes lacking.
The reasons are easy to understand. The Agile manifesto for software innovation smacks of kumbaya. In a ruthlessly competitive world, it calls for collaboration. In an environment dominated by formal processes and structures, it praises individuals and their interactions. Instead of hardball negotiations, it calls for customer collaboration. And instead of adhering to a set of previously adopted plans, it demands the flexibility to respond to change.
Not only that, Agile companies welcome product requirement changes, even late in the development process. They believe that face-to-face communication involving developers is superior to any sort of e-chatter. And they find that supporting motivated individuals on cross-functional development teams can trump efforts involving larger staff units.
So it's no wonder that for many companies which came of age in a culture of waterfall development, the executive leadership required to transform themselves into truly Agile companies is lacking.
Yet Agile development is not just a feel-good experience; it's a discipline. Staff training in its use is required; without it, advancing product development through an Agile process simply won't work. And without committed leadership from the top, that training won't happen.
But there are credible stories about companies which have made the leap and surprised both themselves and their shareholders with the results. Among them: shorter development cycles, quicker course corrections, faster time to market, and the ability to accommodate changing market conditions. Those are appealing outcomes, but for some, bridging the cultural chasm to becoming Agile remains a daunting task.
Fortunately, though, it doesn't have to happen all at once; it's not an all-or-nothing proposition; there are baby steps that companies or even units of companies can take in the Agile direction to build their confidence, comfort, and capabilities. There are training programs and consultants and software available to support those steps. And there's a growing Agile ecosystem of suppliers, distributors and customers that welcomes new converts.
Presented to senior management in an appropriate fashion, these assets could ease a company's transition into a broader, stronger, and much more Agile economy.