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The path to Agile: Successes and slip-ups

Byron Connolly | June 22, 2015
"I think we are a long way off being great at it," says News Corp's Alisa Bowen.


Businesses are under more pressure than ever to adopt more agile ways of working in an environment where customers demand products and services be delivered almost immediately.

At this week's Agile Australia conference in Sydney, three digital and IT executives on a panel discussed their journey to an Agile environment and why in many ways it's still very much a work in progress.

In software development, Agile methodologies enable developers to constantly assess if a project is on track through the entire development cycle. It also allows users to respond to features and review products for changes on an ongoing basis.

Alisa Bowen, NewsCorp's group director, digital and product development, admitted that the media company is still in the very early stages of trying becoming more agile.

"Almost all companies would of course say that they aspire to be more nimble and able to learn more quickly -- but it's incredibly hard to do," said Bowen.

"That's my first confession -- I think we are a long way off being great at it. For most other companies this is a style of working and an approach that really started in our technology organisation, and frankly, it failed," she said.

But once it was picked up by NewsCorp's product planning and engineering teams, benefits started to materialise. It is now spreading into the company's enterprise technology and sales and marketing organisations, she said.

"And now it's spreading into our enterprise tech group and sales organisation and our marketing organisation," she said.

"Bit by bit the functions that work with the technology and product organisation are seeing the benefits and enjoying the way of working -- getting competent using the language, the tools and techniques."

Agile has been a big success at the Commonwealth Bank but it hasn't been without its speed-bumps, said CBA's retail and wealth CIO, Pete Steel.

Four years ago, Agile was IT-led in pockets of the large bank but since then divisions such as Comsec and MyWealth have taken the lead and, combined with technology staff, have got the movement growing, he said.

"There were some speed-bumps -- a lot of people who were struggling with the way you work, the rhythm, the accountability, the disempowerment of senior leaders in head office who think they know best in making decisions [which are] really best done on the floor in the scrum," he said.

CBA currently has around 1000 people working on 144 Agile projects and another 1000 who are "influenced by it every day", said Steel.

Bank executives are now starting to adopt Agile practices after seeing them used in software development.

"It's really refreshing to see Agile creeping out through the organisation beyond software development projects," Steel said.


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