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Making the case for Agile

Tim Mendham | April 17, 2014
Agile methodology is moving out of the software development team and becoming a core part of IT and business collaboration.

It is a given that the corporate landscape is changing dramatically and quickly. Organisations able to respond immediately and effectively to new demands will be the ones to survive and prosper.

It is also a given, at least among non-IT management, that IT moves slowly and cautiously, and even then, may not deliver against the business need. It's not always true, but there has been enough anecdotal evidence to give IT the reputation of failing to react positively to change.

IT is instead considered the department dragging its feet, restricting lines of business such as marketing from maximising benefits and driving new revenue streams.

Enter the concept of Agile project management.

"Understanding business needs is crucial to the success of any IT function," says Patrick Eltridge, Telstra's CIO. "It sounds fundamental, but sometimes these needs are unspecified, unknown and may evolve and/or change over time. For both business units and IT, this can and has been a source of friction in delivery.

"Agile plays a key role in bringing business and IT groups together to continuously identify business needs and realise value. From my experience, Agile creates a workplace of trust with a strong business orientation."

Agile is a methodology based on producing regular updates, and promotes project changes on the fly. As a solution, it's designed to align with client expectations and work in the current environment, even if that environment doesn't look anything like what you began with.

Often, this means delivering an outcome in iterations, rather than as a finished product. Any uncertainty in this model is then offset by the speed at which these iterations are delivered.

In traditional methods, the IT team often 'disappears' for months at a time, says Eltridge, working on project phases in which the business owner may have little involvement.

"In contrast to order-giving or the 'hand-offs' approach typical in traditional workplace cultures, Agile methods draw the business and IT groups together in a more collaborative relationship," he explains. Stephen Wilkinson is a senior ICT project professional who has worked with large organisations in Queensland, and is currently the infrastructure program director with a leading government statutory authority.

He agrees a closely defined business value is vital, but points out the same value can often be achieved with differing solutions and processes. "Ultimately, the question needs to be answered in the context of, 'Is the business better served by the output of this project or not?'" he says.

Reality check

Project management has had a mixed history to date. While there are professional qualifications in the field, many projects are simply given to the 'next in line' and lack coherency and structure.

 

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