Jim Stevenson (CEO Bletchley Group) talks agile transformation at La Fosse Digital Roundtable.

​​Jim founded Bletchley Group in 2000 to help businesses to develop and implement transformation projects that will impact on their overall growth, performance and revenue. In February, Jim joined La Fosse Associates to chair a Digital Roundtable focussed on the adoption and implementation of agile processes. Twelve leaders of technology and digital businesses shared their experiences on the benefits and challenges of agile development.

La Fosse Associates run round table events on a regular basis to help share expert insight and help our clients and candidates grow their network. We believe passionately that strong relationships are built not just on outstanding delivery, but also by trying to add value on a day to day basis.

Following the event Jim shares his own experiences on how agile transformation can help businesses grow.

Agile is a culture, not a project

The difficulty for many businesses today is as they grow and scale certain processes and structures need to be implemented to support this growth. For high growth businesses this is a necessary construct however it can become a hindrance where their ability to adapt quickly is restricted by their internal structures, processes and culture. Successful transformation has to be a collaborative effort by the whole company; from the board of operational staff and everyone in between. It can’t just be a communicative project where staff are told what they need to do to adapt, but they have to be involved all the way through; this will make the transition much easier, and the overall impact on the business will be less negative. Having everyone involved to a certain degree; communicating the benefits on an individual level, as well as on a commercial level, will allow for a much more supportive and streamlined transition. The board need to lead by actions not just words. It also helps to remove subjectivity from the decision making process. This will help to show real and tangible benefits to the transformation process.

Constant focus really works

Agile transformation helps to change the organisation structure, processes and culture to allow an interactive cycle of development aligned with the best of lean and a product structure. This allows organisations to be customer focused, quick to market, cost effective, data driven, test and learn, and to fail fast.

Before starting to implement an agile transformation project, it is important to understand what your business wants to achieve; understanding what success looks like and then clear milestones that can translate into achievable, quantifiable results. The question you have to ask yourself is; what does success look like? By answering this you will understand when you’ve implemented what is going to have the most impact on the business. It’s easy to get distracted when implementing a transformation project which is a huge commitment to any business, so setting a clear roadmap is key.

Why should anyone be led by you?

For an agile transformation project to be successful, individuals need to be given empowerment by managers. Creating the right culture across an organisation is hugely important. Responsibility within a large-scale project is a huge area of the culture challenge. Effective leadership and delegation to provide teams with ownership of particular elements of an implementation project will ensure success and a feeling of cooperation during the process will help the journey of everyone involved keep motivated. The concept of culture really depends on the business, as well as the internal structure.

“Customers” is the answer. Now what was the question?

A focus on the customer is the most important element of any successful business. Customers should be at the heart of any product development, innovation or transformation. In Jeff Bezos’ letter to shareholders straight after the Amazon IPO, he says he is going to have a, “relentless focus on customers.” Whilst you cannot predict your customers’ needs and desires, businesses should be constantly striving to challenge and delight their customers and heighten their expectation. In order to do this, it is important to have a process that allows you to experiment with your customers and understand how they respond. This constant learning is what will allow you to constantly meet your customers’ needs and in return allow your customers to continue to purchase from you.

That is one of the main problems I see when working with businesses is that they’re too focused on the day to day delivery of tasks internally and don’t see the bigger picture, or the bigger impact they can have. Understand your customers, what they want, and how they behave, and set up your business to respond to these demands as effectively as possible. This is where I find I help the most.

You learn a lot more from your mistakes than your successes

When organisations are looking to develop their product portfolio or drive their business forward through creating a more dynamic and agile business, effort needs to be made to prioritise the work which will have the biggest impact on revenue.

A key part of this is learning to fail. When focusing on the consumer needs and testing these sometimes organisations fail. The important thing is to learn so that we don’t make the same failures again and ultimately create products which customers like and are willing to pay for.

What’s all the fuss about?

Agile transformation should be seen as an activity that will add value to your business opposed to it being looked at as a cost. Whilst you can’t demonstrate the value of agile when comparing an agile project with a traditional project, agile will show real benefits when looking at the ROI delivered.​