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3 May 2012

Being agile; not so important after all



Being agile is not always important.

The interwebs have a thing going on in recent months about the difference between doing agile and being agile.

There are a bunch of agile things that correlate with positive business outcomes, but they aren’t universal are they?

I work at a university. What we do in the IT Department is important but it is barely core business.  Core business for universities comes in three forms; Innovation borne out of research,  student experience, and subordinate but critical to that; teach experience.

A side note on that topic: Research and student speak for themselves. That’s where the money comes from, either directly or through government grants.  Teacher experience is worth noting because most teachers in universities are working at below their market value.  For example, all of the teaching staff related to ITC that I have met at Swinburne are smart, pragmatic and well informed in our industry. They could all be earning much more as consultants and industry practitioners. But they sacrifice earning more money in order to be able to participate in the shaping of the industry both through research and through teaching students.  There is clearly consideration in that.

Back to being agile.  What can the IT Department do to affect these three aspects of the business? Yes there is a place to play in making commodity systems (mostly procured, not built) work.  And yes, if they don’t work it can be a big deal.  So you need to be capable at managing commodity services.

Where does being agile play into that?  Where is the need for responsiveness to market conditions? How does an effective IT department affect enrolments or staff engagement?

It doesn’t really does it?

Yes, it will. When traditional education starts to feel the effects of the current and next waves of industry disruption technology will matter.  But it probably won’t come from the OT Department. Instead the fancy innovations will be business led, often with IT partners outside the organization.

IT will still be important, but it will become a hygiene factor rather than something that gets discussed at the University Council.

And so, while being competent matters, being agile doesn’t.  

So why pursue agile practices?

Perhaps because they might become table stakes for being competent.  Perhaps because IT will partner with the business in innovation and industry disruption (They are probably as good if not better than many IT partners universities work with.) Perhaps because, as a developer led movement the agile values and ways of working are imbued with respect for the workers.

Perhaps because, once you understand it, you realise that working in more traditional command and control modes is fundamentally stupid. Enabling people to do their best is a much more savvy way t do business than managing to the lowest common denominator, or trying to manage away all risks through mandated methods.