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SMAC It with Agile

How Scrum is driving technology transformation

15 January 2016

Krishna Sagar B V

Technology has transformed the way enterprises conduct business today. It has brought them closer to their customers, with minimal cost and a great impact. At the heart of this technology transformation is SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud), which many call the fifth generation of IT. The convergence of these technologies is breaking stereotypes by creating new and exciting business models. From the advent of the past decade, enterprises that have successfully leveraged these trends in technology and have optimized and automated their process efficiencies have achieved mind-boggling growth and profits.

Let us for a moment analyze why the amalgamation of these technologies is creating this impact. Social media offers innovative ways for enterprises to reach their potential and existing customers. Mobility makes social media even more powerful by enabling enterprises to reach customers at any place and at any time. Mobility has changed the way people work, shop, or communicate with one another. It has broken significant barriers. Combine that with analytics, which feeds the companies data on customer behavior, communication patterns, and how they consume services. To support all of this, the cloud offers raw computing power, access to technology, and data storage capability, which is then used by enterprises to analyze and swiftly respond to their business problems and market conditions. Look at the top five technology companies in the world today: Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft. These companies each successfully specialize in at least one of the SMAC technologies.

While companies see the value and are finding ways to embrace these technology trends, they also need to adopt new ways of implementation that enable them to get off the ground faster, realize business results earlier, go to market quicker, and respond to change. Borrowing from a Forbes article: "The luxury of long technology evaluation cycles, introspective analysis of systems, and long deployment timeframes are giving way to rapid deployments and systems designed for accuracy and speed." While the unique selling points (USP) of these technology trends are quick feedback loops, just in time replenishment, and adapting to change, then why not adapt a method that has all of these at its core. Agility is the key.

The Agile (Scrum) method fits the bill perfectly; it enables enterprises to not only meet fast-changing customer needs but also innovate faster. Scrum helps with rapid and frequent deployment cycles that accommodate fast-changing requirements and course correction. The continuous feedback loop in Agile drives its "fail fast" motto and can significantly reduce the risk of developing services that don't work well together.

How the top five enterprises leverage Agile methods

Facebook operates at a tremendous speed and at a massive scale. They do deployments with worldwide impact. They have engineers who own their code from development to testing to deployment, and they do this daily. They have a process that enables them to pick and choose what they ship. On average, they deploy close to 100 small features a day. They ship early, ship often, and ship daily. They do dogfooding (internal testing) and feature flighting. To make this work seamlessly, they have developed and adopted tools and an Agile culture.

Amazon as a company has traditionally been receptive to Scrum and Agile practices; they are one of the very early adopters. They have empowered teams to solve their own problems, and no one directs them in what to do. The focus at Amazon has always been to deliver good-quality software with the use of process, only as much as is required. Scrum adoption was not mandated; it was picked up gradually by the teams when they saw other teams within the organization successfully and efficiently deliver projects using Scrum. Adoption has reached tremendous heights now, as these numbers reveal: close to 9,000 releases a day (which translates to one release every 10 seconds, and 2.5 million releases a year). Staggering! The USP of Amazon Web Services is continuous integration (CI), delivery, and deployment. They practice what they preach, and they achieved all this with an Agile mindset.

Whenever we talk about Agile, we find Apple to be conspicuously absent from those discussions. One wonders, is Apple really Agile? We often tend to bind Agile and Waterfall to software development, but these are methods that have been successfully applied to product development as well. It is an unspoken fact at Apple that Steve Jobs was the ultimate product owner. All products were designed to delight Steve — the user. They work in small teams with no hierarchy, have clear roles and responsibilities, and manufacture in short iterative cycles. The essence of the Agile Manifesto and principles is not about process, it is about values and behaviors that drive competition, innovation, and customer satisfaction. Without agility, they would not be able to release a new version of iPhone by the time we get familiar with the current version.

In 2001, when Rosing served as vice president of engineering at Google, he removed all managers, and the people were made their own boss. That led to a cultural shift that made Google's employees self-managed and self-organized. For the AdWords Project (their cash cow) at Google, Scrum adoption was very organic in nature; it started with an unprioritized backlog, release burn-downs and daily stand-ups — then they failed! They improvised by creating clear and visible user stories, prioritizing their backlog, enforcing work-in-progress limits as sprints, tracking sprint burn-downs along with release burn-downs. This approach was showing positive results. They got better by doing test-driven development, CI, pair programming, and continuous customer involvement in their short sprint cycles.

The user stories were broken into small, manageable pieces of work that were estimated for size, not duration, in weekly planning meetings. The sprint cycles were planned based on their velocity. Not only did they implement Scrum at the team level, they also tried scaling this up by practicing meta-Scrums and then Scrum of Scrums. They have taken transparency, one of the pillars of Scrum, to the next level by abolishing performance evaluations and having everyone maintain a Web page, which outlines what they have been doing. Anyone can see what everyone else is doing through a simple Google search! In a nutshell, they are decidedly on the left side of the Agile Manifesto.

Microsoft (MS) had always been a very process- and plan-driven company, and to transform an organization of that size and to change its culture takes a huge, concerted effort. Again, the initiation of this Agile transformation at MS was bottom up, but it found vociferous support from the leadership that resulted in an organization-wide permeation of culture change. The transformation had commercial necessity driving it, whereby the release of out-of–the-box products every two to three years was being replaced by online software delivery as weekly updates. Today, it releases minor versions of Windows 10 every month — a huge transformation. A set of guiding principles was applied to align roles, the organization, teams, and their release cadence, and to provide complete autonomy to teams regarding how they can plan and practice Agile.

What better way to illustrate the success of Microsoft's adoption of Scrum than to have it build one of the most popular and widely used Scrum tools in the world — the Team Foundation Server (TFS). The TFS team uses Scrum to build it. Obviously, they can't do this if they don't understand and practice it well enough. They have taken it to the next level by practicing distributed Scrum by leveraging their own tools such as Lync (Skype) and innovative ways to demo by creating end-of-sprint videos. They have also scaled it to a level where hundreds of teams of 10 to 12 members each work in three-week sprints in the developer division. There, they develop products like Visual Studio, Visual Studio Online, TFS, etc.

To conclude, as enterprises explore and implement SMAC solutions, Agile implementation lends itself really well to the emerging technological innovations. The SMAC strategy will help them achieve their goals more quickly. Agile (Scrum) can act as a springboard to meet objectives and overcome challenges created by a complex and dynamic technology landscape, if done correctly.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.2 (6 ratings)


Senthil kumar Ponnusamy, CSM, 1/19/2016 12:14:31 AM
great one. Thank you. i think we can call robot also next emergent transformation.

and the below statement from article conclude the good part of agile. thanks for that.

"creating clear and visible user stories, prioritizing their backlog, enforcing work-in-progress limits as sprints, tracking sprint burn-downs along with release burn-downs.
This approach was showing positive results. They got better by doing test-driven development, CI, pair programming, and continuous customer involvement in their short sprint cycles."

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