Implementing Agile in Non-software World

It is not often that one gets to work on an engagement where there is an opportunity to build a system from the ground-up. Thought I would briefly share the experience.

This fast-growing consulting firm in social sector came to us with a need for greater agility in managing their customer engagements that included transformation advisory, strategy development and program implementation. This was the first time we got the opportunity to transform a non-software organization. We formed a three-member team with plenty of experience in project management and agile transformation.

As in many transformation engagements, we started with discovery but it was structured differently. We had to understand their domain, pilot projects context & deliverable, and the customer engagement model. It was discovery cum agile feasibility study. At the end of which, we decided to go ahead with the pilot projects.

There were many factors that helped us succeed in this engagement. I believe the most influencing factors were these two:

  1. We worked with the sponsor and the initiative owner to determine: (a) Leadership Vision and expected outcomes, and (b) Engagement Objectives for the Pilot and the associated success criteria
  2. We decided to envision and put a system in place right from the beginning. Our transformation road-map was then all about designing and implementing the system for agile delivery. See picture below:

The picture is mostly self-explanatory. One of the challenging areas in this non-software environment was the Agile Values and Principles. Agile manifesto and the associated principles have a software flavor and cannot be adopted as they are. An internal Core Group had to brainstorm and identify a set of meaningful values and principles in line with the organization’s values and aspirations.

To our pleasant surprise, many practices of agile fitted in nicely. Once teams got used to new terminology, they could start practicing almost immediately and realized the value of agile approach quickly. The concept of a meaningfully incremental delivery at the end of each iteration and frequent feedback from the customer were found to be invaluable.

It was not all smooth sailing though. One of the teams found the ideas of ‘Relative Sizing’ and ‘Release Planning’ a little bit hard to practice and another team struggled with constant change in customer priorities and cadence. These obstacles were not intractable though given the flexibility of agile approach.

Interestingly people dimension was no different from a typical software delivery organization. There were some non-believers and some champions and a few felt agile was no different from what they were doing any way.

Another highlight of the engagement was the two dashboards that we had: one for software delivery outcomes and another one for transformation outcomes. It was good to see delivery outcomes coming through as we progressed on the transformation. Overall it was an exhilarating engagement and it was exciting to work with young talent in a growing company that was breaking new ground in their domain.


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