IT must go agile now – this is no time for waterfall projects

Profile picture for user Natalie Kouzeleas By Natalie Kouzeleas April 20, 2020
This is no time for waterfall projects - IT must go agile to drive rapid innovation. Neptune Software's Natalie Kouzeleas explains how.

Agile kayak jumps waterfall, Sangay National Park, Ecuador © Ammit Jack - shutterstock
(© Ammit Jack - shutterstock)

Organizations today are looking to their IT function to deliver rapid solutions. Now more than ever, continuous innovation is essential – but for many CIOs, this means making significant changes in the way innovation is realized.

In a recent Forrester Research survey of IT leaders at more than 3,700 companies, respondents estimated that they spend an average 72% of the money in their budgets on such keep-the-lights-on functions as replacing or expanding capacity and supporting ongoing operations and maintenance, while only 28% of the money goes toward new projects.

When embarking on new projects, many organizations are locked in a cycle of heavy reliance on third parties with limited resources, who remain focused on old 'waterfall'; practices both culturally and technically. In the context of these large-scale, multi-month projects, experimentation is seen as high risk and costly. Requirements are written, and fixed scope RFPs sent out with fingers crossed that the outcome actually meets the customer's needs. Whirlpool's IT Director Daniel de Rooij sums up what's really going on:

In IT we still do a lot of pretend. We pretend that the business knows exactly what they want, and we pretend that they can write this down and then IT pretends that we know how much it will take and then we all pretend that this is the plan and we don't think it will be changed.

This leads to long delivery cycles and endless change requests after a new solution is released – the complete opposite of what businesses need to survive and thrive in today's unpredictable global economy.

Embedding a culture of innovation and creating an organization that can deliver innovation is of strategic importance to the enterprise. To be consistently innovative, organizations need to become agile. They also need to undergo a key mind shift – not avoiding change, but embracing it for continuous improvement. This requires a huge culture shift and impacts not only IT but the whole organization.

RAD for rapid impact

A shift to agile – and away from waterfall methodologies – is essential to drive the ability to rapidly innovate. The right foundational technologies are important:

  • Cloud is fundamental to the ability to start small and scale fast

  • API centricity and micro-services architectures support the ability to industrialize innovation

  • Automated testing tools make it feasible to deliver zero defect testing in a two-week scrum

Bringing these technologies together in a simple platform that can be learned quickly by a small team can provide significant value to the IT team and their ability to deliver fast.

The easiest way to standardize this effort is through a single and modern rapid application development solution, which greatly streamlines and simplifies the entire software development effort. A single developer with one skill set can design a process, integrate with systems, design their user interface and test and deploy at speed.

With this capability it becomes feasible for even the smallest tech teams to truly own their transformation rather than be reliant on third parties.

Shared tools for agile teams

Another core principle of agile development calls for a focus on face-to-face interaction. Agile teams are meant to be small and sit close to each other. In today's changed circumstances, that means encouraging teams to keep in close contact virtually, using online messaging and video conferencing tools.

These teams are structured differently from the best-of-breed silos and niche specialisms of traditional waterfall projects. Developers should be able to do testing, testers should be able to do development, and everyone in the agile team should be able to help each other with the one goal of completing a sprint to deliver working software on time. This means the simpler the supporting tools are to learn – and the more breadth, rather than depth, in functionality – the better.

That's where an end-to-end platform such as Neptune DXP shows its real value, supporting small teams of a few individuals who can manage an agile development process in a single virtual workspace. Experimentation becomes the new normal, greatly accelerating your ability to fail fast, learn, and drive better results.

Unlock data from legacy

A CIO who is committed to driving digital innovation by developing new capabilities as set out here can help unlock the huge legacy asset base their organization already has, without having to pull it all out and replace with new software solutions.

Specifically, unlocking the data held in these legacy systems and integrating them in new ways with innovative technologies can drive huge value for the enterprise. As the Innovation Lead at one of our major healthcare clients once told me, ‘Use data – it's the longest pole in your tent.’

An action plan to go agile

Delivering continuous innovation means embracing the reality of continuous development, rapid design, development and deployment with limited resources, all inside an agile methodology. Here are 5 steps you can take to build your digital transformation strategy based on living agile:

  1. Build internal capability. The best path to success is to own your digital transformation journey rather than subcontracting it.

  2. Adopt tools that simplify development, foster integration, and leverage assets you have today.

  3. Build the right teams. Strive for connected, cross-functional teams that interact with the business every day.

  4. Embrace change. Approach each effort by allowing for its potential to change – and be ready to adapt quickly.

  5. Challenge yourself to constantly explore new technologies and see how they can deliver value to your business.

CIOs who are prepared to drive business transformation in this way will find a new path to delivering continuous innovation and incremental change that allows their organizations to both survive current challenges and look forward to thriving in the future.

Read more about the three pillars of agile business in Neptune Software's white paper Agile or die: Why continuous innovation is critical to survival.