Why And When To Move To Agile – Lessons From The Rain King

Why And When to Move to Agile, by Prabhaker Panditi, www.LeadingAgility.com

“What made me take this trip to Africa?” There is no quick explanation. Things got worse and worse and worse and pretty soon they were too complicated”. Thus begins the story of Eugene Henderson, 55-year-old American millionaire in Saul Bellow’s classic ‘Henderson the Rain King’. During his eventful journey, Henderson meets two tribes and goes through several adventures including devising an explosive to rid their cistern of frogs and instead blowing up both the water and the frogs. Later, in a dramatic incident he manages to move a giant wooden statue and is unwittingly anointed the ‘Rain King’.

Fortunately, companies need not wait for things to get “worse and worse and worse” to start creating greater shareholder wealth, more fulfilled employees and higher customer delight. They need not take a trip to Africa either. They can proactively start with Agile methods, now.

Numbers from the real world

Over the years, organizations which adopted Agile practices produced superlative results and impressive endorsements:

  • “925% improvement in number of changes allowed.”
  • “Teams now produce twice as much work in half the time.” 
  • “We now see 300% improvements in 3 two-week sprints.”
  • “66 percent reduction in cycle time and virtually eliminated schedule slips.”
  • “65% bug reduction and they continue to fall with each release.”

No wonder: some of the biggest names in the corporate world jumped on the Agile bandwagon. Agile approaches are a rage. IBM uses them, GE uses them, Apple uses them. Others include Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Moody’s, Hoovers, S&P…the list goes on.

I want, I want

One of the reasons that prompts our Hero Henderson to go to Africa is his inner voice that keeps crying out “I want, I want, I want”. In a similar vein, an organization’s eco-system sometimes keeps raising its inner voice, crying out for a new approach, a new paradigm, a new life. An organization mindful of its own heartbeat recognizes this call to action. Right now, the signals from the environment are unmistakable:

  1. Not only are the dynamics of business changing quickly, but the pace and quantum of change itself has increased dramatically. Traditional development methods work well in stable environments. Agile methods welcome change.
  2. Other things remaining constant, a moving target makes it riskier for companies to wait longer for investments to be repaid. This is one reason businesses these days demand quick results from IT. In a traditional waterfall approach, users often do not get to see output for weeks or months. Agile methods provide quick incremental results, progressive value realization, and faster time to market.   
  3. A dynamic business environment makes absence of an exit strategy suicidal for organizations to commit investments. Initial phases of a traditional waterfall approach eat up mammoth amounts of management time besides tangible costs. Since value is realized in later parts of the project, cancellation will be costly. Very costly. By progressive delivery of highest priority items, Agile provides a better way out.  Value lost due to cancellations is minimized.

Greater results are possible

After becoming the Rain King, Henderson has a near-death experience. Soon after, he returns with a new sense of self-awareness and greater peace at heart. Companies need not wait till they have a near death experience. They can realize greater fruits and bigger results like those cited earlier. But they need alertness to reality, willingness to adopt new  paradigms and courage to take action.

Road ahead

Moving to agile is not an all or nothing proposition. All your projects or all parts of your organization may not be suitable or ready for agile methods. And despite the benefits, transition has its own risks and may not be a smooth ride. So, what should you do?

Actionable Insight

Based on your vision and current situation, several different approaches may be possible. A specific agile approach may generate better business outcomes.  Get expert advise on alternative paths to move to agile, depending on your situation.  Identify risks involved, devise a transition strategy and step into the future.  

It’s your turn –  share your insights

Do you have a different perspective? Do you want to share more actionable insights? Go ahead and leave a comment.  Your views matter.

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