In our daily life as consultants, we have observed quite some momentum within IT departments of large corporations to move towards agile software development methods like Scrum. Very often, this seems to be driven by IT staff who want to break out of the prison imposed by rigid development and project management processes. While this is understandable from the point of view of an engineer, it is certainly not enough to motivate such a change. This made me reflect about the potential benefits of agile methods for large corporations.

As a matter of fact, the more you think about it, the bigger the potential for agile methods gets. Large corporations suffer from inertia in general. Over time, their IT project management processes have become very heavyweight and are stuffed with overhead that does not at all contribute to running software that serves a business purpose.

During the outsourcing and offshoring hype, some companies invested themselves intensively in reaching outsourcing readiness. This has inflated process overheads even more and created a big obstacle in getting business requirements mapped into software within the requested time frame and budget.

Thus, for the business side, the internal IT appears to be very slow but expensive. Customers have to wait a long time for project deliveries that quite often still don’t meet the expectations. As a result, business managers often try to turn to suppliers of software solutions directly to implement software without going through internal IT project hell. But of course, such an approach gets them into trouble in many organizations.

Overall, this leads to a situation, where a lot of money is being spent, outcomes are unsatisfactory and both the business and the IT side are left frustrated.

Wouldn’t it be great to have shorter reaction times, quicker deliveries, higher quality, and even a better coverage of the business side’s needs?

As a matter of fact, this is exactly what agile methods like Scrum promise to achieve. Since a potentially shippable product increment is the goal of every iteration, deployment to production can be anticipated much earlier than for traditional waterfall projects. Therefore, the probability for successful project delivery is improved dramatically. An agile project can react much quicker to changing needs and requirements because prioritization is an essential part of planning every iteration. And such a prioritization approach also helps to reduce risks in an early stage of the project. In addition, since quality assurance is an integral part of development from day one, these solutions also feature a higher quality when they are shipped to acceptance testing.

Maybe the biggest benefit however is built into the role of the Product Owner. The Scrum method enables the business side to take the driver seat and actively influence the project direction in a very close collaboration with the IT team. This collaboration between the Product Owner and the Scrum team is much closer, more direct, and intensive than for a traditional business project manager.

Sounds all good? Well, it is. But of course there are some obstacles along the way:

  • Skepticism regarding the feasibility of agile methods might be abundant especially in large corporations. Because the method has not proven itself internally yet, management might be reluctant to apply agile methods to the real risky projects which, as a matter of fact, could benefit most.

  • Large corporations often promote various specialist roles. This is contradictory to small agile teams where generalists are key and specialists are only consulted selectively.

  • Enterprise processes (e.g. for reaching the required milestone approvals) are somewhat conflicting with the iterative model of agile methods.

  • HR approaches and reward structures focus on the individual rather than on teams

  • The role of the Product Owner is difficult to staff.

  • Budgeting processes usually demand a finalized project plan and a well specified delivery in advance.

  • Regulatory requirements often assume a conventional project method with distinct phases and milestones.

To overcome these obstacles, a smooth transformation process is required. Along the way, it is important to keep the balance between the new, agile approach and adherence to existing enterprise processes and rules. Otherwise, the endeavor risks to be stopped by upper management prematurely.

We will address a possible approach for introducing agile methods into large corporations in one of our next Acrea blogs.