A Week in the Life of Agile IT

OK, listen up, my Agility Corps friends. Here's the situation. Your company acquired a new operating unit and needs to provide systems for it to meet its business objectives. Headquarters sent out a bunch of analysts, but things got too complex. The fog closed in. It's past 90 days now, and all that's been produced are half-baked program code that crashes unexpectedly and loose-leaf binders full of incoherent specifications. Your company needs to turn things around fast. Are you ready?

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The Agility Corps:

What Michael Hugos calls IT-business operations experts who successfully apply combinations of six core techniques to deliver quick, 80% solutions to business problems (see “The Future Belongs to the Agile,” March 13).

Here's what we're going to do. We're going to send in a four-person agility team. Those four people need to be competent in all six core techniques and masters of some of them. The team leader has to be a master of joint application design (JAD) and process mapping. One team member needs to be a master of data modeling, and another a master of system prototyping.

We'll start bright and early on Monday. People at the operating unit have been told to expect you. They're angry and demoralized, so you need to get things in hand quickly. Upon arrival, the team will convene a JAD session. They need to calm people down and then agree on a one-week schedule to produce the conceptual designs, project plans and budgets for Version 1.0 of the systems they need.

Start by using process mapping to cut through the fog (see my last column, "Factoring Complexity," April 10). By the end of the first day, you will have a working set of process maps and have gotten started on the data model. In JAD sessions on Tuesday, the team will review and revise the proc-ess maps as needed and finish the data model. On Wednesday, the team will work on its own to create conceptual designs for the needed systems.

You already know which company systems you can use. Identify those available at the new operating unit and create conceptual system designs to leverage what's already there. Add new packages or custom code only when necessary. Sketch out screen sequences to illustrate the user interfaces of these systems. Then draw the high-level technical architecture diagrams.

On Thursday, review these designs with people at the operating unit and adjust them as needed. The team leader is going to need real mastery of JAD technique to keep folks focused on the most important requirements. There is going to be serious pressure to expand scope. The fog will start to creep back in. Use the process maps, the data model and the conceptual designs to get and keep agreement on the most important systems functionality.

On Friday, put together a set of initial plans and budgets that shows how the first versions of these systems get built. Design systems that can be delivered within three months. We're looking for elegant simplicity. Identify and automate just the routine tasks and empower people, not computers, to handle the rest.

These will be long days. There will be moments when complexity threatens to overwhelm you. The agility team is going to get more done in a week than a bunch of plodding analysts got done in three months. But if you know your core techniques and stay calm, it's doable. Everyone who wants onto this team, step forward.

Michael H. Hugos is a CIO at large, author and speaker. He is also a member of the 2006 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders class. His books include Essentials of Supply Chain Management, 2nd Edition and Building the Real-Time Enterprise: An Executive Briefing (both published by John Wiley & Sons). He can be reached at mhugos@yahoo.com.

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