Whenever I discuss the term “Enterprise Agile” with someone, the conversation forms into three short questions; “How do you increase value throughout the organization in its ability to execute well and deliver?” “How do you improve the flow of ideas and work throughout an entire business process?” and “How do you advance the quality of both the process and the outcomes?”

The term “Enterprise Agile” has been elusive for some time. It is one of those phrases whose definition relies largely on the person defining it. It is not a textbook definition but most people get the basic idea behind it. Let’s take a good example of the principles behind it in action.

If you’ve used the FastPass service at Walt Disney World on any of the rides then you’ve already experienced a program that is underpinned with agile thinking.

The FastPass service is one key element that contributes to an enterprise (end-to-end) process designed to help people prioritize their day and do what’s most valuable for them. It also keeps people moving by improving the flow of traffic and helping to manage queues, and ultimately helps Disney World provide a high quality customer experience.

The reason all this is true is because this thinking has been applied throughout all the parks and not just one park or one ride. It is part of the business model and it is, shall we say, an enterprise wide approach.

I’m fairly certain that this was the original idea when people began using the term Enterprise Agile; the idea that agile practices and thinking needed to go beyond application development and IT. It was the idea that agile could be applied across an enterprise and become part of the fabric of how businesses run.

It was the idea that agile is more than a buzzword or silver bullet but rather an approach with real techniques that could help address the way we improve areas of our business such as:

  • Business Process and IT (SDLC) Flow
  • Change Management
  • Organization and Talent Management
  • Enterprise Enablement (optimizing the way the organization performs)
  • Vendor and Partner Management
  • Procurement and Sourcing (agile contracts)
  • Technology, Performance and Delivery Management

What does Enterprise Agile look like in an organization?

The list of bullets above is a tall order and sometimes we’re guilty of throwing out big phrases to make it appear like introducing agile can easily solve them.

Let me just say that “Enterprise Agile” must first begin as a mindset and not an off-the-shelf solution that someone sells you. The mindset approach helps you take a step back and a deep breath to assess why you want to adopt agile thinking, where it will add the most value and how much you want to take on to get started.

The best thing about it is that it offers multiple entry points to get started. It can begin, as it usually does, with introducing agile techniques into an existing IT project. From there you can begin to build a pull model vs. a push model.

When applied correctly, agile can help you navigate the complexities of existing IT process, i.e. heavy SDLC models. PMO organizations use agile practices to improve their existing enterprise SDLC in order to shorten cycle time, reduce cost and waste and provide better measurement of results across projects. Global PMOs also use agile as an enabler for project staffing and resource management.

From there you can begin to quantify the need for how agile practices can significantly improve your organization through a series of quick, incremental wins that can be leveraged across the enterprise.

Many of the same practices and principles found in the most successful IT programs are fully applicable to the business as well. The emphasis on “what great looks like” allows you to identify and prioritize your company’s initiatives in a manner that results in an alignment with IT that is well beyond traditional methods.

More often, we’re seeing executive and management teams using agile practices to build greater levels of transparency and accountability with the organization and each other. These groups are introducing techniques such as:

  • Visual Stream Mapping of ideas and flows
  • Kanban Boards that provide specific views and actions beyond traditional, cumbersome project management tools
  • Collaboration and Communication practices that improve decision making

From here, this same thinking is encouraged in the business teams and then aligned with the supporting IT teams. In principle, when this is happening, you have the making of an Enterprise Agile approach.

Portfolio planning and management teams are applying agile practices to incorporate improved vetting and prioritization of ideas to reduce waste upfront and work only on the ideas that matter most for the business.

Sourcing & Procurement organizations use agile practices to significantly reduce RFI/RFP lifecycle, enable value-based pricing and relationships from vendors and partners, shape contract policies to be measured on outputs/outcomes vs. price.

This article’s intent was to offer a broad view of how agile is being used in several areas of an organization and encourage those looking to adopt agile to take a practical approach that can help them see fast results.

Enterprise Agile is both a philosophy and a strategy. It will look different for everyone but all can adapt an approach that will work effectively.

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