Tactical Agile AND Strategic Agile

Introduction

I go to a lot of Agile Meetups where we discuss specific aspects of improving agile team performance. Some of the examples include

  • Improving sprint planning
  • Models of team development
  • Coaching the team to share knowledge and work together

It is important to address team performance but one of my concerns is that a lot of Agile education address this tactical level but doesn’t expand learning to include the bigger picture. I worry there is too little emphasis on commercial understanding and explaining how Agile delivery helps an organisation achieve its strategic objectives. After all, a successful agile environment is not just a finely tuned production line of delivery.

Key areas that I think we need to be addressing at the strategic level include:

  • Involvement of the business
  • Understanding business strategy

Involvement of the business

I know that effective Agile teams are keen for business involvement, but I think sometimes that the balance of benefits between the Agile team and the business isn’t right. I want to see involvement of the business in a way that supports their objectives and isn’t just about increasing the delivery from each sprint.

Our colleagues who are responsible for day to day operations find it hard to make the time available to help shape the deliverables. Agile is a one team culture and they are valuable partners for any agile team. But their objectives are greater than shaping the functionality being created by the Agile team. Their objectives are to understand enough about the changes coming their way to develop new processes, standards and responsibilities to make use of this new functionality. This work is just as involved as that of the Agile team, but they have to do it alongside their day job, which explains why they are stressed and don’t always greet new projects with unalloyed joy!

We can help them to achieve their objectives if we ensure their involvement is give as well as take.

  • Give them information and early insight into the functionality being developed.
  • Ask them to share with you how this will impact their day to day working practices:
    • Does it speed things up?
    • Does it make things simpler for them?
    • Does it introduce additional work?
  • Give them training and practice opportunities so they can understand how things will change so they can prepare their colleagues, their customers, suppliers and regulators.

Understanding business strategy

Alignment of the work from Agile teams to the strategic objectives of the organisation is critical if we are to ensure that what is being created is as valuable, useful and relevant as possible.

Agile teams have a responsibility to ensure that they understand the commercial objectives of their organisation so that the outputs from each sprint are not “useful but not essential”. I see lots of Agile teams creating things which have value but which don’t have the most value. Their output can be used by the business but it is not meeting a critical need. Greater understanding of how the project aligns to shifts in the business environment and changes in customer and regulator demand would increase the relevance and usefulness of what is being developed.

Executives are not engaging with these teams. They are not explaining how projects fit into the wider portfolio of initiatives, how they align to the strategy or why the organisation is pursuing certain objectives as a priority. In other words, perhaps the ultimate destination is not as clear as it could be, so when Agile teams taking tactical decisions on how to get where they are going, sometimes they choose the wrong path, because where they think they should be going is different to the assumptions of senior leaders.

Conclusion

The title of this article is tactical AND strategic agile, not tactical versus strategic agile. Both perspectives are essential in creating a successful agile approach. To achieve this there is a lot more work needed to explain the benefits of agile to those who will not work in this way.

Those operational staff and their managers whose focus is ‘business as usual’ are not yet making the connection between Agile teams delivering change and how it helps them get their jobs done on a daily basis. Maybe making the case for how Agile can practically help the business should be the next wave of Agile activity?