Importance of Agile Leadership

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In my whitepaper entitled “Agile Estimating,” I talk about the importance of the business owning the prioritization of the backlog. I sum it up by saying, “If there is no prioritized backlog, there is no Agile project.”  I think this is worth repeating and worth a closer look.

When you look at the historic reasons *why* software projects fail, one of the primary classes of software project failure modes is the lack of appropriate involvement by business leadership.  This can be manifested by a lack of a backlog prioritized by business value, a lack of baselining of what constitutes high business value, or simple apathy on the part of the business.

While Agile is often sold as a ‘new IT method,’ I often say that the problem with Agile is that it doesn’t stay cleanly in IT, even though some organizations want to keep it there in a bubble, not affecting the rest of the organization.

In non-technology based Fortune 500 IT departments, I see this a lot.  An example is the industrial equipment manufacturer that has made lots of progress on the manufacturing and design side as far as rapid design and lean (demand-pull) manufacturing techniques but still uses the same predictive planning up front IT processes.

IT can and *should* be a competitive advantage for any organization and it should act as a value multiplier for the core business.  With that said, the core business needs to heavily involve itself in any IT project that will have a non-insignificant impact on operations.  ERP, CRM, PLM, and large custom-developed software all fall into this category.

One of the common problems with a lack of business ownership and commitment to a project is as follows:  An IT organization (whether it be internal or a consulting firm) is asked to implement an ERP system in order to streamline operations across the business.  There is much efficiency to be gained by having an enterprise system, but if there are no enterprise process owners of the enterprise processes that the system is implemented to support, you get a mishmash of incongruent processes and a myriad of bolted-on customizations to support the whims of various departments.  This demolishes the value proposition of the ERP system because the cost of maintain, supporting and upgrading the system becomes MORE expensive over time.

Senior leadership needs to make a visible and ongoing commitment to these types of projects.  They should be underpinned by a solid, well understood, and effectively socialized business case.  The governance structure should allow for quick decision making if there is bickering between divisions.  Last, but not least, there should be a robust organizational change management and communication strategy underlying the complete project.

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