Prof. Jan Bosch, 25 August 2020
Some decades after the term “Agile” was introduced in software development, one would expect that – assuming it was a good idea (which it is) – the concept should have been fully embedded in industry and we’re busy with other things. Still, and this never fails to surprise me, everyone is talking about “beyond Agile.” The notion seems to be something along the lines of “we’re still busy here implementing Agile, but perhaps we can start to think about what we can or should focus on next.” If you haven’t adopted Agile, then, for Pete’s sake, get a move on.
Business agility and all its enablers, such as agile software development, are critical for long-term business success. Because of this, going beyond Agile is, of course, the only reasonable thing to do, but one can interpret the “beyond” in a variety of ways. Here, I’ll share five “beyond Agile” concepts that I’ve been working on during the last years.
First, the traditional discussion around Agile was concerned with software and software development only. Especially for companies selling products, including mechanics and electronics, as well as software, the main question was how to combine the waterfall process associated with atoms with the Agile process associated with bits. Taking Agile beyond the realms of software and have it include the other technologies making up the product is a critical step in achieving business agility and allows for new and different business models.
The second concept is concerned with going beyond requirements. Traditional Agile, for all its discussion about customer involvement, sprint planning and retrospectives, is still concerned with building towards a specification. Especially SaaS companies have shifted towards outcomes, meaning that teams focus on improving measurable outcome metrics, such as conversion. This requires a fundamentally different approach to development as it’s now the team that has to brainstorm approaches to “move the needle,” build the alternatives to test, measure their impact and then decide on which versions to keep and which ones to drop.
Third, traditional Agile assumed that development takes place in sprints and that there’s a shippable version of the system at the end of every sprint. However, it doesn’t assume that the release of the system actually follows the sprint process. As many companies focusing on continuous deployment and DevOps have figured out, including the release process in the Agile sprint model is a natural way to increase the frequency of value delivery to customers, on top of offering real, tangible data from the field at a much higher frequency. This is a big topic and if you’re interested, you can read more here, here and here.
Over the years, software has been joined by other digital technologies, specifically data and AI. These technologies benefit from the same principles as those that underlie Agile in software and this has led to the definition of DataOps and MLOps to reflect this. The fourth aspect is concerned with adopting Agile principles for all digital technologies. Of course, there’s a lot to read, including on my blog, but you can also watch this video to learn more about my view.
'The holy grail is business agility'
The fifth and final concept is concerned with business agility. Traditional Agile, as I mentioned, is mostly concerned with software but, for sure, is confined to product development. However, the holy grail is business agility, ie the ability of a company to rapidly respond to changes in its environment, the market, customers and strategy.
Concluding, the simple words “beyond Agile” can refer to a variety of concepts. I’ve discussed five of the primary ones, including applying agile to entire systems and not just software, shifting focus from specifications to outcomes, adopting continuous deployment (DevOps), adopting Agile for data and AI and, finally, reaching full business agility. Next time someone brings up the idea of going beyond Agile, make sure you know what they’re talking about (or rather, make sure that they know what they’re talking about). It’s easy for things to get lost in translation!