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SA businesses lags with Agile philosophy adoption

Agile is not a silver bullet to solve the problem of slow product delivery, according to the authors of the 2019 State of Agile South Africa report, compiled by IQbusiness.
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While Agile is maturing at IT team level, the methodology is yet to be embraced as a way to achieve enterprise-wise business agility.

Nevertheless, it is still making a significant albeit smaller contribution than had been hoped, according to the 2019 State of Agile South Africa report, compiled and published by independent management consulting firm IQbusiness. 

The report is based on a quantitative survey of 263 individuals working in South African companies of various sizes, more than two-thirds of which are from the financial services and insurance sectors. The majority of the respondents are from IT (79%) and the remaining 21% from business, shared or support services.

In addition, the report’s authors conducted six in-depth interviews with expert industry practitioners from companies of various sizes that have embarked on the Agile journey.

The report notes that Agile Software Development was created for software developers and its authors. They didn’t intend for these values and principles to scale into large corporates. “However, based on both the qualitative and quantitative research, there is massive benefit further along the path towards business agility,” says the report.

Agile’s disappointing performance is particularly marked when measured against the most significant reasons for implementing it in the first place.

The top four reasons provided by survey respondents for adopting Agile were to accelerate product delivery (67%); ability to adapt to change (52%); improve business/IT alignment (35%); and enhance product quality (17%), in essence, to be able to deliver products to market faster in a bid to respond effectively to the changing needs of customers, changing market conditions and the threat of competition.

However, only one-fifth of respondents (20%) reported “great improvement” in faster time to market/product delivery, while 25% stated that there had been no improvement at all.

Biase De Gregorio, Agile Lead at IQbusiness, weighed in on this, saying: “What decision-makers need to realise, though, is that agile as a philosophy is not a silver bullet to solve the problem of slow product delivery. Rather, it’s the ability to respond more effectively and efficiently to customer needs through prioritising the products and features that provide the best customer value, which, in turn, will lead to improved business value.”

The root causes of organisational challenges need to be addressed by leadership. No framework is going to fix these.

Similarly, 26% reported no improvement at all in their goal of achieving enhanced product quality, compared to 24% who reported “great improvement”. Teams also feel they have not been able to reduce risk.

On the other hand, the use of Agile practices was producing benefits in other intended areas such as increasing visibility of work and improving collaboration. For example, 34% of respondents indicated that there had been great improvement in bridging the divide between business and IT, with only 17% reporting “no improvement at all” and 34% claiming “great improvement. In addition, 38% claimed “great improvement” in their ability to adapt to change compared to 6%, who reported “no improvement”.

The good news in the report is that when comparing the results from 2017 to 2019, it was clear that Agile at the IT team level was maturing, with Agile practitioners being more experienced in employing a range of techniques and tools, and more focused on outcomes rather than outputs.

Over the past year, Agile practitioners had also been upskilled through training, particularly on Kanban; up from 32% in 2018 to 43% in 2019. The report speculates that the reason behind this is that those who have been using the Scrum framework have not been achieving the benefits they had hoped for and were therefore looking for alternatives.

Nevertheless, the report’s authors point that “it is important to remember that the root causes of organisational challenges need to be addressed by leadership. No framework is going to fix these.”

They also note that while the weakest or slowest link in the value chain within enterprises used to be the ability for IT departments to deliver, this had changed. Agile teams had matured, with 31% of the respondents claiming that agility at team level was completely successful.

The report therefore concludes that the reason there hadn’t been more substantial business benefits from Agile lay not with IT, but with the failure of business leaders to consider the entire value chain and shift the whole organisation to an Agile way of thinking. 

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