What is agile IT?

Technology teams today deliver real business value — fast. Gone are the days of massive, monolithic system updates, software rollouts, and infrastructure projects once or twice per year. Today, you refine and release technology solutions frequently in order to keep pace with the needs of your customers. Many IT teams have embraced agile methodologies to manage projects with more flexibility and speed.

Agile focuses on iteration and collaboration. The goal is to respond quickly to your customers and deliver incremental value. Originally introduced to software development teams via the Agile Manifesto, agile principles soon resonated with IT teams as well.

This was largely fueled by the IT department's growing importance as a business driver. Once development sped up, the pressure was on your team to do the same — without sacrificing quality or reliability. Agile and then DevOps ushered in significant cultural changes. Technology teams became collectively focused on improving communication and meeting customer needs.

But agile is not prescriptive. IT teams interpret and implement agile in different ways to meet customer and organizational needs. Let's look at some of the common practices and techniques that help agile teams use to work more efficiently:

Agile metrics

Agile metrics are used alongside business metrics to analyze and improve delivery and workflows. Common agile metrics include:

  • Delivery speed: How long it takes to complete a type of work (e.g. new feature or bug fix)

  • Release frequency: How often the team delivers completed work at the end of a sprint

  • Sprint burndown: How the team is progressing towards completion of planned work during a sprint

  • Velocity: The amount of work (in story points or hours) that can be completed within a sprint

Capacity planning

Before taking on new projects, you need to understand how much work needs to get done and the availability of your team. Trying to tackle too much can cloud your priorities, strain the team, and diminish productivity.

Capacity planning involves creating time-based estimates using people, hours, or cost to evaluate what it will take to deliver against business objectives and IT projects. This allows you to schedule work across people and identify resourcing challenges.

DevOp practices

DevOps practices are characterized by automation, a shortened systems development life cycle (SDLC), and deep collaboration between development (dev) and operations (ops). Increasingly, dev and ops are partnering to work closely throughout the entire release management cycle. DevOps practices include automated configuration management, continuous "everything" (development, testing, deployment, and monitoring), and infrastructure as code.

Kanban boards

You cannot fix what you cannot see. Many IT teams use kanban boards to make work visible and optimize workflows. Kanban boards display work by status (e.g., "not started," "in progress," "completed") in order to identify current and upcoming work, blockers, and any delays. As team capacity allows, work is pulled from the backlog and added to in-progress work on the board.

Lean thinking

Lean thinking is characterized by the belief that teams should focus on improvement and eliminate waste. Lean IT teams automate and optimize workflows, deliver fast, share knowledge freely, and build quality in from the start. To eliminate waste, you invest in efficient resourcing, positive communication, and purpose-built workflow tools, such as Aha! Roadmaps.

Scrum teams and sprints

In a traditional waterfall methodology, teams complete and review tasks from one phase of work before moving onto the next. By contrast, agile cycles are nimble and iterative. Teams can be working across many phases of work at once — cycling through fixes and improvements in small increments.

Scrum teams work together in time-boxed sprints of two to four weeks to deliver incremental value. Teams adopt various scrum practices — including sprint planning, daily standups, sprint reviews, and sprint retrospectives — in order to effectively collaborate on the given work.

Scorecards for prioritization

Not every project, task, or request from internal customers carries the same importance or urgency. Many agile teams use prioritization frameworks or scorecards to bring clarity to what to prioritize next. The MoSCow model and Kano model are popular agile prioritization frameworks.

WiP limits

Agile approaches rely on smaller batch sizes, limiting "work in process” (WiP), and keeping slack in the system to reduce the wait time for new work. All of these concepts can help to improve delivery times and time to value.

Why IT needs an agile roadmap

Achieving agile IT goes beyond embracing agile principles and methodologies. It requires deeply understanding what your internal customers want and rethinking the strategy, processes, and technology you rely on to deliver solutions. You have to consider the "why" alongside the "how." These encapsulate the ultimate goal of what you want to achieve for your department and customers as well as the changes you will make to get there.

That is why many IT teams lean on roadmaps to plan an agile transformation. An agile roadmap visualizes your strategic direction. It displays high-level goals, the work you will do to achieve them, and a timeline for implementation. Agile teams move fast and dates change, so an agile roadmap must be flexible. Purpose-built roadmapping software like Aha! Roadmaps accommodates for changes while still helping you commit to delivering meaningful work. You can share your roadmaps and plans with internal teams and track the progress of work in real time. Any changes you make to schedules or priorities are automatically reflected in your roadmap.

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