Adapt agile to build a better business

Agile methodologies hint at a way to implement business change incrementally -- and thereby establish true business agility

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For example: "Educate users in the new process and software." This will go into the backlog, managed just like every other user story.

So far, so good, except something is missing: how to decide what constitutes a desirable business change in the first place. Without that, figuring out what to work on will be little more than moving from one whim to the next.

Eliminating business bottlenecks

Enter Goldratt. Stripped to its essentials (management-speak for "this is all I know about the subject"), TOC works by establishing a clear goal -- for examples, reduce incremental cost; shorten cycle time; increase process capacity. It then identifies the single biggest barrier to achieving that goal. This is the bottleneck -- the constraint. Get rid of it and you're closer to achieving your goal.

Next, identify the biggest remaining constraint, and get rid of it. I'd say "rinse and repeat," if it hadn't become such a cliché. Sounds pretty agile, doesn't it? It's an iterative approach to business improvement of all kinds.

Look at it this way: Traditional scrum is about creating releasable software builds -- assuming scrum has been around long enough to have traditions. TOC is about defining "releases" of business change. Add TOC to scrum and what you have is a way to organize your releasable software builds and your nonsoftware backlog items into a release plan that culminates in the elimination of a business bottleneck.

And if the business changes direction, thereby changing goals, and with them their constraints? No problemo. Choose new bottlenecks to fix based on the revised set of business goals, redeploy staff based on which release teams are now most important, create new release plans, and away you go.

Sounds like an excellent description of a highly desirable target for most businesses these days -- making them agile enterprises. Because what makes an enterprise agile is the ability to design, plan, and achieve intentional change, rapidly and reliably. All we need now is an acronym, so in hopes of achieving immortality, here's my suggestion:

Business agility = Technology incremental change + theory of constraints

Or: Business agility = TIC TOC.

If that doesn't earn me immortality, could I at least get my 15 minutes out of the deal?

This story, "Adapt agile to build a better business," was originally published at Read more of Bob Lewis' Advice Line blog on For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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