Roald Kruit on March 30, 2016
Digital innovation happens at the intersection of a business person with an idea and someone with the technical aptitude to bring it to life. To ensure these ideas take flight and the resulting applications are delivered first time right, with better user acceptance, IT must actively collaborate with the business throughout the entire application delivery lifecycle.
Yet, according to Gartner’s 2016 CIO Agenda Report, culture/organizational structure and lack of IT-business alignment rank among the top five barriers to CIO success. These challenges stem, in large part, from traditional development projects, where long upfront requirements gathering and minimal business involvement during development were the norm.
A Mode 2 team implementing an agile methodology and rapid application development platform must turn that process on its head. This blog will provide best practices for changing the culture of IT and effectively engaging the business in rapid, iterative and feedback-driven development cycles. Focusing on four key project meetings, I will share why and how to address the following elements:
The purpose of the intake workshop is to define the project business goal—not what you want to build but what you want to achieve. The meeting should include the Mode 2 sponsor, who can articulate the strategic value of the new approach; the business owner, who can describe the problem the application should address; and one or more power users.
While the business owner plays a crucial role, it’s important not to overlook the value of including power users. They have firsthand knowledge of the organization’s challenges and needs. Actively solicit their feedback, with the goal of identifying quick wins for making their lives easier as well as a “wow” feature for the application—something unexpected and high impact that you can celebrate later.
This type of interaction will help create a different attitude towards IT and set the stage with the rest of the organization. While this workshop alone won’t reverse years of distrust, getting the business to think “this just might work” is a victory that you can build upon.
The kickoff workshop should cover several topics, including project roles and responsibilities, a high-level delivery plan, agile awareness and a lean-and-mean mode 2 governance approach. In terms of business engagement, start by sharing the strategic business goals and application goals, as defined in the intake workshop. Then show how you’re going to make the project a success by defining clear rules of engagement, with particular emphasis that you ARE NOT going to do the following:
Once you’ve defined the new rules of engagement, work out the first 10-20 user stories as a team. Go through the exercise of having one person write a user story and someone else interpret it. This helps to create a shared vocabulary and understanding, including a definition of “ready” that indicates when the team collectively feels a user story is ready for development. As a last step, prioritize the user stories for the first development sprint.
In each sprint review meeting, but particularly the first, it’s absolutely critical to show a good working demo. It’s better to have fewer features properly demoed than the other way around. If there is nothing to show, that’s a red flag, as the team may be too focused on a generic technical level instead of building functionality that supports the business goal.
Here are a few tips and tricks for the demo (for more, check out the book Great Demo!):
In your sprints, you should allocate enough time (~30%) to making user-driven enhancements, versus strictly delivering new features. The business is used to not being listened to in development projects. You want to set the tone that they’re being heard and that you’re able to incorporate their feedback remarkably quick. For the first time, they’ll feel they can truly make an impact on the project.
Lastly, the retrospective should look back on the project, including successes and lessons learned. Did the project achieve its business goal? Did you have the right people on the team? How well was the business engaged in the process?
It’s important to embrace all feedback, whether it’s perception or reality. Again, let the business know they have a voice and that their input is vital to improving future projects. Seek their advice on how to you develop a more structured Mode 2 approach that further enhances engagement and collaboration with other business units.
One of the most important questions you can ask business stakeholders in the retrospective is “how would you tell your friends/colleagues about this project to make them enthusiastic?” This elevator pitch is great fodder for internal feedback and celebrating success, with the goal of implementing this approach more broadly across the organization.
Remember: digital innovation happens at the intersection of a business person with an idea and someone with the technical aptitude to bring it to life. Therefore, it’s absolutely crucial to actively involve the business throughout the project lifecycle.
To effectively engage the business, though, you may have to reverse years of perception. The key is constant communication and proof. Once business users see that you’ve done what you said would do—and that they can have a significant impact on the project—they’ll quickly embrace this new approach.
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