Kent J. McDonald, Content Curator at Agile Alliance lifts the lid on Agile software development and the delivery of digital services
Agile software development is an umbrella term for a set of frameworks and practices based on the values and principles expressed in the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and the 12 Principles behind it. Those values and principles emphasise delivering value to your customers, responding to change, and collaboration.
Agile frameworks and practices are particularly helpful if you work in complex or uncertain environments where you know you have a problem to solve, but you’re not exactly sure what that problem is and you certainly don’t know what the solution is.
Agile frameworks encourage short feedback cycles in the form of frequent deliveries followed by feedback and adjustment. These short feedback cycles help you to validate assumptions, discover the true problem, and identify a proper solution.
When you work on digital services, you interact with people outside your organisation, such as customers, constituents, or suppliers. Those interactions happen on your organisation’s website, mobile app, or through software that allows people outside your organisation to self-serve and engage directly with one or more of your processes.
The minute you interact with people outside your organisation, you inherently enter an uncertain and complex domain. You have no control over whether they use your new digital services, so you have to look at those digital services as you would a product. You have to figure out what will encourage the use of the services. You have to figure out how those services can add meaningful value to your customers, constituents and suppliers.
You need to learn what customers, constituents, or suppliers find valuable. You need to learn how to apply the values and principles expressed in the Agile Manifesto to provide them with that value. You can do this most effectively by delivering a small piece of your solution and getting feedback. You need to operate in an Agile fashion.
Digital services add value in the private and public sectors
Many organisations view digital transformation as a way to bring efficiency and cost savings to their organisation and its processes. After all, why employ staff to interact with your customers when you can set things up to allow them to self-serve?
This is a short-sighted view that may do harm to those organisations in the long run. Anyone who has fallen into an endless phone tree loop or been lost in a poorly designed online request form can attest to the damage a poorly designed digital service can do to an organisation’s reputation in the eyes of its customers.
If you want to adopt digital services your primary focus should be on providing value to your customers. How can you make getting services from your organisation simpler? How can you make your customers want to do business with you? Design those services right, and they will often add an additional way to interact with your organisation rather than replace an existing means. Design those services right, and you will add value for your customer and generate benefits for your organisation at the same time.
The same applies to organisations in the public sector. Replace customers with constituents, and the above still holds true, but perhaps even more so. When you create a digital service that is easy for citizens to use and allows them to accomplish what they set out to do, your services are more likely to accomplish the outcomes they were established to provide, and your citizens will have more confidence in your organisation.
Becoming an Agile organisation requires change
In order to deliver digital services that truly add value to your constituents, you have to approach delivering those services in an iterative, incremental fashion. You have to be willing to form hypotheses about your constituents and their needs and prove or disprove those ideas with safe-to-fail experiments.
That type of approach will not happen if the only part of the organisation that changes are the people responsible for developing software. Your entire organisation needs to think about how to work in a way that delivers value to your constituents, responds to change, and encourages collaboration. This means that bureaucracy, self-serving actions, and empire building cannot have a place in your organisation.
You have to ask on a regular basis: “How might we structure and operate our organisation in a way that allows us to create and respond to change and deal with uncertainty?” You need to follow up on the answers you come up with.
The change is not easy. The change is not quick. But if you’re serious about it, the benefits for your constituents and your organisation are well worth it.
Kent J. McDonald
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