Agile: the next big IT buzzword?

The term 'agile' is at risk of losing its meaning as companies both big and small rush to coin themselves as agile entities.

Much like ‘Big Data’ and the ‘Cloud’, the term ‘Agile’ is at risk of becoming just another enterprise IT buzzword. The software development method, typically known for its flashcards and stand-up meetings, seems to be losing its meaning as companies both big and small rush to coin themselves as ‘agile’ entities. 

Last year at the Agile Australia Conference companies like Telstra, IBM and NBN Co were all openly preaching their aptitude for agility. While there’s nothing to say that they aren’t experts in the agile work method, they may not be considered the nimblest of companies.

What this illustrates is the fine line between defining ‘agile’ as methodology or a specified workplace culture, one that can’t be attained by every company.

So how do companies see the debate? Here’s the view from both sides of the fence.

We can’t all be agile

Sitting firmly on the workplace culture side of the debate is REA Group’s CIO Nigel Dalton.

Dalton, is what you could call an ‘agile fanatic’. When he was appointed to his role last May, he spent the majority of his first year adapting the majority of REA’s 400-strong Richmond office workforce onto an agile-based system.

Now, the colour-coded, emoticon-ridden agile walls are the key distinguishing feature of REA’s Richmond workspace. It’s one of the few places where the trend has extended beyond the confines of IT and has found a home in marketing, HR and even REA’s legal team.

However, the transformation had its challenges. Dalton says that it took time to convince staff, used to keeping their workload to themselves, to put it all onto flashcards and put it up onto a wall.

“The reason we’ve been successful is because we’ve been able to express why we’re doing this,” Dalton says.

“Everybody has got to understand, there’s a reason we’re putting out work on the walls now. That gives them the motivation to give it a try.”

So while REA has found success in working as an ‘agile’ company, Dalton says that it’s something that others simply can’t emulate. For REA, being agile is all about instilling a culture rather than a method.

“There are a lot of people who are doing agile, but they are not being agile,” he says, weighing in on the debate.

“They buy into the physical pieces, the boards and the cards, but all they are doing is the old way of working, with bosses telling them what to do.”

“The spirit of agile and being agile is about the customer telling us what to do, what to prioritise, how to work. It’s not until you connect your work all the way to the customer... that you’re being agile.”

Or is it all about what works best?

It’s also worth considering that in today’s age adopting an agile method and improving overall business agility isn’t as much a question of choice as it is of necessity. Companies simply need to move faster if they hope to keep up with consumer expectations and cut costs.

That’s Tatts Group’s CIO, Matthew Maw’s argument when it comes to talking about why he’s made his company’s IT team “agilesque”. He knows it’s not the tried and true method of the process, but it’s as close as his company can get to it.

“We embrace agile as much as we can to meet the needs of the business,” he says. As a gaming company, Tatts Group sits within a web of various laws that can make change difficult.

“The challenge with that is to be agile within the government regulations and the other processes and procedures, to make sure we meet the requirements of the business.”

“Being agile is important, and if you can develop your solutions accordingly then that what’s important rather than any particular methodology.”

Cisco’s vice president of IT, V.C Gopalratnam agrees.

“There are different versions and flavours of agile, and frankly a lot of people subscribe to the view that their methodology is better than everybody else’s.”

“There’s no standard way of doing it... you’ve got to do what works for your organisation, your culture and your people,” he says.  

And as to whether even global entities like Cisco can be agile, Gopalratnam says it’s “not beyond the realm of possibility”.

“It all comes down to how quickly one wants to embrace change and there are large companies who move at lightning speeds,” Gopalratnam says.

“I don’t think the size of the company directly correlates to how agile it can be, it all comes down to adaptability, and in some companies, change management mandates work.”

So how agile is your workplace? Is there a one ‘true’ definition of agile? Let us know in the comments below.

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