I participated in a discussion last week about business risk and agile. One of the participants said that in order to get the business to buy-in on agile he had to get them to accept more risk in projects. That left me scratching my head.
When it comes to business risk from the adoption of agile, short story: there is none. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. In everything we do, there’s business risk. There’s no way of avoiding it, it can only be mitigated. Agile is an excellent risk mitigator.
The Feedback Cycle
One of the greatest risks in business is the feedback cycle. Work in progress is an opaque mystery. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a marketing campaign, a sales cycle or application development. Not knowing what’s going on increases risk.
How does agile improve the feedback cycle? By working on smaller, shorter-duration pieces of work feedback comes quickly. Instead of executing large pieces of work that take long time periods to complete, agile forces the squads to deal with smaller work products that are delivered quicker.
In this manner the business doesn’t have to wait three months to know if something is working, they can see finished work emerge every two weeks. They’re actively involved in each of those sprints. And every two weeks the result can be assessed, measured and course corrected. That gives the business six opportunities to give feedback over a three month period. Much better than waiting for the “ta-da” moment and being disappointed.
Transparency and frequent feedback minimize business risk.
So, why is the business so nervous about moving to agile? Well, it’s different. It’s scary different. It appears that control is lost and given to squads or teams. It changes who makes decisions.
In reality, there’s no loss of control. In order to do agile correctly, the business has to be actively involved in the work of the squads. If the business isn’t part of the squads then agile is being done wrong. Having business members on the squads prioritizing the backlog keeps the business’ priorities front and center.
How do we get the business comfortable with agile? Well that has nothing to do with agile and everything to do with change management. Has organizational readiness been assessed? Is there a solid plan and resources for training and coaching? What are the measurements and feedback loops for assessing whether things are working? How will you course correct?
That last question is interesting. Because now change management begins to look a whole lot like an agile project. In fact, some of the very principles of agile can be used to help adopt agile. Regardless of how you do it, change management practices help get the business more comfortable making the leap to an agile way of doing work.
Less risk, not more
Don’t let anyone tell you agile is riskier. The change can be risky, but all change is risky. But agile itself, based upon agile principles, is an excellent risk mitigator.