How to unblock Azure with an Agile Mindset

It is April 2020, and we are already a few months into the new decade. A decade where organizations ought to evolve to address changing business landscapes. Against this backdrop, business leaders and stakeholders require IT to be focused on value, outcomes and innovation to support the business. Consequently, IT spending is ideally driven by the necessity to meet business requirements.. Does this sound familiar to you? Even if I bet so, this is not yet the case in many organizations, although digital transformation is on everyone’s agenda.

Need for transformation

Did you know that in 1955 the lifecycle of a Fortune 500 firm was around 75 years? Today, it is less than 15 years and declining. What can we do about it? The CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, said once:

Every company is a software company. You have to start thinking and operating like a digital company

Digital transformation can be defined as the acceleration of business activities, processes, competencies and models to fully leverage the changes and opportunities of digital technologies and their impact in a strategic and prioritized way. Hence, digital transformation represents a fundamental change in how organizations operate. It means creating a company with technology at its core — one that uses the power of today’s technologies to create new forms of business and customer value. An organization also must get more creative in regards to the channels they are using to enable the new, quicker ways of working and the speedier mind-set and behavior changes that a digital transformation requires.

However, according to McKinsey only a small number of organizations successfully went through this transformation:

Only 16 percent of respondents say their organizations’ digital transformations have successfully improved performance and also equipped them to sustain changes in the long term.

Where to Start?

Transformation does not occur bottom-up. Transformation demands a vision to map out a digital strategy, give business units the ability to measure progress and make real-time adjustments to improve. It is important to have the support from senior management who can articulate and communicate the compelling future digital vision. Sound likes a lot work, huh? Well, luckily a day has 24 hours, and we still have the night to make up some time.

Let us do not give up here. Even if the full digital transformation  requires some more time, there are already some enablement options, which can be explored today. At its core, the question is: How can IT react faster to requests from the business units and create more value? The answer to this is Agile. This sounds like yet another buzz word, and it might be, but its value is unchallenged, especially in the context of cloud adoption. Agile provides a methodology that enables rapid iterations based on feedback. It forms the basis that allows organizations to release products in smaller iterations, but at a much faster pace. Adapting feedback quickly is a core component of this framework.

Adapting Agile is accompanied by a broader cultural shift within an organization. Amongst others, you will find a major change in how people and teams work together as an Agile-related cultural shift is emphasizing empowerment, transparency and accountability. I will not go into more details on Agile or Scrum (the most famous Agile framework), but there is one book I highly recommend reading: The Phoenix Project, about Bill who is an IT manager at Parts Unlimited.

How Does Agile Help Me with Azure?

Agile and Azure have one thing in common: Both constitute a lever for your organization’s digital transformation.

Leveraging Agile is not only about supporting your organization’s digital transformation, it also helps to adopt the cloud. Agile cloud capabilities are a lever for your company’s digital transformation. Microsoft Azure as well as other cloud operators are evolving on almost a daily basis. In this context, traditional methodologies, like Waterfall, hit their limits very soon. To put it bluntly, there might be even a new service released before you are able to deploy and publish your final product. Also, in these highly competitive times, your business units might have to adapt to new market trends as quick as possible.

Using Agile in combination with an MVP approach to implement a minimal viable platform and expand according to feedback and prioritized requests is a powerful way to show impact in a regular cadence.

Agile Workflow for Azure Landing Zone

How to start with your first Agile project? There are of course multiple ways, and as shared above transformation is a process which takes time. The following links contain information about how we deal with Agile at Microsoft.

If you have access to LinkedIn Learning, there are two very good trainings I would recommend starting with:

Be aware, moving to an Agile mindset does not eliminate the need to document design decisions. You still want to create your design documentation for your deployment. You might want explore some more fancy ways, like markdown in the Azure DevOps Wiki, but it is still more about the content vs. the format/styling.

A Final Thought

Not everyone is there yet and moving from Waterfall to Agile takes some time. However, you can still combine and leverage the best out of both worlds to get started. Host daily stand-ups, enable transparent communication, apply a strict use of a central backlog, just to name a few examples establishing Agile practices. Just bear in mind: Agile is a mindset, and if you truly mean it and want to excel, you will need to move beyond just Agile practices at some point in time. Water-Scrum-Fall constitutes just a lever for a smooth transition from the traditional to the new Agile way of working.

Water-Scrum-Fall

The concept of Water-Scrum-Fall is very handy and something we use with our customers to prepare them for other Agile projects, such as Cloud Center of Excellence (CCOE). But let us save CCOE as a topic for another blog post.

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