When it comes to Agile Transformation, every organization has to find a way to overcome whatever is blocking the organization’s ability to be Agile. Agile Impediments exist at many levels, but most large scale Transformations now require that technical practices are more sound than ever.
As strategic priorities shift toward a focus on technology, hiring Scrum coaches just isn’t going to suffice to make Agile work. Especially when you’re running up against the complex and seemingly impossible process of untangling monolithic legacy software. What’s necessary now is an end-to-end solution for building an infrastructure around sound technical practices.
The trouble is, there are a whole class of DevOps considerations that no one is talking about that are secretly killing many organizations’ ability to unleash Agile’s potential. In this blog, we’ll look at the five typically overlooked DevOps barriers to Agility in large organizations so you can plan for them and get prepared to overcome them.
Agile Impediment 1: Packaged Software
How will your packaged solutions work in your new environment?
When you’re going through a Transformation, you’re usually trying to get to a point where you’re decreasing your time to release, increase your frequency of releases, and work in shorter increments. The overhead of packaged software solutions and testing those packaged solutions gets in the way of doing those things.Also, all the work you had to do to integrate, migrate data, and customize those solutions when you first installed them has to be retested every time there’s a new version, patch, or release—another time consuming task.
The software package doesn’t sit in isolation. So if you don’t have a testing strategy around your software, between the integrations, updates, and testing, it’s going to be difficult to have frequent deployments or continuous integration pipeline. It can take months to go through manual testing.
Then there are updates. Some organizations find it so difficult to stay up to date with their packaged software releases that they are years behind on versions, so late in fact that the vendor isn’t even supporting those versions anymore. The amount of time it would take to get to the latest version would take the same amount of time it took to basically install it in the first place.
Agile Impediment 2: Staff Skills
Are the goals you’re trying to reach during Transformation within the current skill set of your people?
It’s not possible to wave a magic wand and suddenly ensure everyone in your team or organization has all the new skills you want and need post-Transformation. It can take months or years to change the way people work. But taking months or years to change the way people work unfortunately isn’t usually in alignment with anyone’s Transformation roadmap/schedule. So having staff without the necessary skills to fit the ways your organization is changing can be a major impediment to getting there.
For example, there can be a lot of engineering skill difference in releasing once a quarter vs releasing once a day. You’ll need people who can help you to automate everything currently done manually. You’ll need software engineering skills for Test Driven Development, code reviews, and they need to be able to support the speed of implementation.
There are many ways to handle this, but they all take some extra legwork, some more than others. You can either train and coach your team with the newer skills you need, hire new people who already have those skills and are ready to hit the ground running or can be apprenticed from an early career position, or augment your staff through external vendors.
Agile Impediment 3: External Vendors
Will your vendors support the Transformation initiatives with the right skills?
Many organizations augment their staff via external IT services vendors for variable staffing. But external vendors often don’t offer the control you need as your organization is becoming Agile. When you get people from your vendors and bring them along to help you get better outcomes, get them up to speed, give them new skills they need, and then the vendor rotates the people out, it’s a pretty big waste of time and money. The ideal scenario if you are augmenting your staff via a vendor is to push for vendors to retrain or provide people with skills rather than rotate them out.
Sometimes it’s possible to renegotiate a current contract so the vendor is on the hook to provide what you need in the context of your Transformation. You don’t necessarily have to require them to be Agile, but instead can give them a minimum requirement for how they can enable your Agility while working together.
If your vendor won’t do this, it may be more advantageous to switch vendors so you have one that actually helps you stay on track with your Transformation.
Agile Impediment 4: Career Incentives
Are your people’s career goals aligned with your Transformation?
Similar to skill set impediments, people of course have personal career goals. But the company also has goals to meet. How do you measure people against your organization’s new and changing goals? Typically there’s an agreed upon metric for measuring how your people are working toward their own goals and also those of the organization. But what if those are no longer in alignment when the company begins to change?
For example, a large financial organization was having trouble getting their entire security team on board with the changes they were making during Transformation. The team didn’t want security to be automated, they wanted to own the process manually. Unfortunately that just didn’t match with where the organization was going. The reality was that it came down to the way they were being measured. If the work was automated, it would go against their yearly goals for their own career trajectory within the company.
You’ll need to be aware of this as it is an especially hidden impediment that can easily disguise itself as a problem of another kind. It can be especially common with unionized workers and IT staff who are under written agreements and contracts. Many organizations measure tasks and hours more than results and outcomes. And their people can get caught in between during change. Be prepared to pivot and reestablish new goals and career paths so your people can be realigned to your organization’s Transformation outcomes.
Agile Impediment 5: Lack of Automation
Have you automated everything you can automate?
When your Transformation is aimed toward more frequent releases and shorter increments, anything that’s manual in your processes is going to be an impediment. Anything like manually getting code into production is going to get in the way of that.
At many organizations, things like onboarding developers and getting their environments set up just to get started working often takes weeks. But everything should be measured in minutes—maybe hours at most—but not in weeks. It’s not just testing or deployment that needs to be automated, it’s really everything from onboarding to security tests, setting up environments and the application itself. Being able to get business value out there quickly and with quality becomes impossible to do without automation in all the necessary places.
You will need to approach this with a DevOps mindset where the team is responsible for everything in the end as opposed to having your teams set up to do hand-offs, manual QA, and/or manual testing. Create a backlog of everything that isn’t automated—between developers writing code and the feature being put into production and start to work toward automating every piece. This ties back to the previous hidden impediments as well. Do your people have the right skill sets to support more automation? Can your vendors support your initiatives too?
The bottom line is, you want to automate all the things. And if you need to get outside help to do so, it’s worth it. Consider this change an investment, not an expense. Automation pays back very quickly.
Getting the Most Out of Agile
Even though these impediments are the most typically hidden, they’re all clearly knowable in advance. So now that you know them, and you know you want to get the most out of Agile, what you need is a plan for how to incorporate them into your Transformation. Be honest with yourself about how your people’s goals and skill sets line up with your Agile goals and needs. Make sure your vendors stack up too. And make automation a priority instead of a luxury. Implementing the right practices early on means they can mature with your Agile capabilities.