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How to get up to speed on enterprise agile

Mike Perrow Technology Evangelist, Vertica
Climbing a mountain

In the 15 years since the Agile Manifesto was published, agile software development practices have influenced nearly every organization that provisions software for internal business operations, customers, or both. Compared to “big design up front” and waterfall methods, agile allows teams to build and release software much faster. But it's one thing to practice agile in small teams and quite another to do it at enterprise scale.

The growing adoption of agile has given rise to continuous delivery, continuous integration, and DevOps practices, which are dramatically expanding the capabilities of dev and test teams and heightening the expectations of customers. 

Now, many organizations that have successfully implemented agile at the team level are going big: They are applying the same principles to multi-team, multi-project business needs. This has led to the emergence of “the agile enterprise.” But how do you get there?

Introducing TechBeacon Learn

The first question you should ask is, What does agile development look like at the enterprise level? Can you actually coordinate multiple projects at once? And what, exactly, is the value in doing that?

TechBeacon Learn, TechBeacon's new learning site for IT professionals, answers those questions. Our track on Enterprise Agile guides you through topics ranging from the basic principles of agile development all the way up to large-scale frameworks designed for software dev practices at enterprise scale. 

The articles and tutorials are written by experts in the field, including agile consultant Yvette Francino; agile transformation specialist Anthony CrainMark J. Balbes, vice president of architecture at WWT Asynchrony Labs; and many others.

What follows are a few key takeaways from these experts. Think of this highlights piece as your cheat sheet and guide to the content in TechBeacon Learn Enterprise Agile track. For more detail, follow the links below to go to the complete learning unit.

Agile basics: Scrums, sprints, user stories, and more

Anyone interested in enterprise-scale agility needs to be grounded in essential agile concepts first. Whether that effort is your introduction to agile or simply a review, it’s a good idea to read the Agile Manifesto, first published in 2001. It focuses on delivering software, but in the years following its signing, agile has expanded to consider the question of delivering business value (which leads naturally to the idea of the agile enterprise).

Based on principles in the Agile Manifesto, daily standups, prioritized backlogs, and other basic agile techniques keep software projects on track without over-reliance on planning and documentation. One of the biggest advantages of using an agile approach to software development is that the requirements aren't set in stone, but are expected to change as development teams receive constant feedback from stakeholders and the business. Agile methods replace traditional, lengthy requirements documents with a prioritized product backlog made up of concise user stories, the details of which emerge closer to the time of implementation.

A thorough grounding in agile methods includes knowing how to split user stories into the proper granularity, so the development team can write code quickly and keep to its agile release cadence.

Agile practitioners also need to know how to build performance into their user stories, which means knowing basic operating parameters of the eventual system, such as:

  • How many concurrent users will you have?
  • What types of devices will they be using?
  • What are the network conditions, and in what distributed world geographies?

Now you’re ready to think about the agile enterprise

The best reason to consider enterprise agile is that you have tried team-level agile, saw value from it, and want more. Agility, enterprise or otherwise, starts with teams as the foundation for success.

But taking agile principles and methods up a notch to company-wide software development plans requires additional planning and coordination, to say the least. Those who are grounded in agile methods may wonder: “More planning? The whole point of agile is to reduce requirements gathering and managing and get on with the production of working code!”

Good point. That’s why large-scale agile frameworks were invented, so that higher-level managers can coordinate with business analysts and C-suite executives, while leaving skilled agile practitioners to do what they do best: write code using their favorite agile techniques.

Some organizations may not be ready for enterprise agile practices. If you are not well versed in core agile, then SAFe, LeSS, Scrum of Scrums, and Disciplined Agile will not help your larger organization succeed in its software development and delivery mission. If you’re not sure whether your agile teams are ready to work together to achieve enterprise-level agility, here's a self-assessment you can take to help you decide.

On to program-level backlog management

Beyond the individual project level, enterprises seeking better efficiency in software development and the benefits achieving that need to consider program management: the coordination of multiple dev projects aimed at a unified business goal. This is the essence of a project portfolio when it comes to enterprise-scale software plans.

Done right, portfolio management allows an organization to maximize return on investment by allocating human resources to the most valuable projects. And according to agile dev expert and coach Anthony Crain, it also has a surprising side effect: “It allows developers to stop being harassed about time and cost.” Instead, “teams learn and commit to reporting their 'velocity,' which has to represent value delivered, not tasks or components completed, as many teams today are doing.”

A smart approach to delivering value among agile teams involves a technique called “weighted shortest job first” (WSJF), which helps you determine which things have the highest value. WSJF helps you prioritize projects according to relative value, which is equal to the pure value divided by the size of the job.

Next steps: Drill down with the Enterprise Agile track

If you are someone who has been part of an agile team for a while who is wondering how to deliver your technical skills and instincts at higher levels in your organization and who needs to know more than just the highlights presented here, drop into the TechBeacon Learn Enterprise Agile track. And if you’re a manager looking for new ways to think about program management for better project coordination and value across your growing business, you’ll find plenty of techniques and ideas to consider as you explore becoming an agile enterprise.

Keep learning

Read more articles about: App Dev & TestingAgile