Agile working is becoming a strategic transformation priority

18 November 2019 5 min. read

Agile working is rapidly gaining ground globally. A new study by KPMG among respondents in 17 countries shows that more than eight out of ten mid-sized to large organisations have now initiated or even completed an Agile transformation in the last three years. 

Originally stemming from the world of IT, Agile was born at the turn of the century as a reaction to the slow, bureaucratic and sequential waterfall method of software development. Agile has since formed the basis for a revolution in the way software is developed and how IT programmes are run. 

Building on its success in the technology space, Agile’s values and principles have expanded into other industries and functions, and today the methodology – together with numerous approaches developed in its slipstream including Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, LeSS and the Spotify model – is applied in most of the globe’s larger organisations.Working on an Agile transformationKPMG’s study, which surveyed professionals across Europe, Asia and the Americas, found that 81% of organisations have delivered at least one Agile transformation within the last 3 years. Illustrating the methodology’s momentum, nearly half (46%) have just embarked on their Agile journey, meaning that they launched Agile thinking in the past twelve months. Moreover, a majority of respondents (63%) stated that becoming an Agile organisation is now a strategic priority for both IT and the business.

Agile’s rise to popularity comes on the back of the rapidly growing need for speed and flexibility in today’s fast-paced and competitive landscape, as well as the need to effectively bring technology-driven innovation to the market. Agility further enables a business to cater the changing demands of customers, striving for customer experience while maintaining an efficient internal operation.

The key driver for Agile working is a faster product delivery to better respond to changing customer needs. This resonates with the growing need for organisations to improve customer satisfaction and place customer centricity at the heart of marketing & sales and operations. Ramping up flexibility in processes and governance ranks second, on par with Agile’s capacity to enhance business-IT alignment.

Current position vs. Expectation in 3 YearsSpeaking of the latter benefit, Tim de Koning from KPMG and one of the reports’ authors, said; “The boundaries between IT, technology and business are blurring. There is no longer a business strategy with an IT strategy based on it. Technology should be part of the strategy, truly embracing digital. The Agile way of working allows for those silos between business and IT to be broken down, encouraging a new way of working that is cross-functional, collaborative, human, and technical.” 

Implementing Agile

While embracing Agile in a controlled environment sees relatively high percentages of success, scaling up Agile is found to be more challenging. Organisations struggle with deploying the approach consistently and successfully across all use cases. To this end, 59% of respondents mentioned culture and performance management as their key challenge in their shift towards agility, while 39% pointed at the availability of equipped resources.

Expanding on how the introduction of Agile can be smoothed, De Koning said; “Employee and culture are at the heart of the Agile transformation. There is no doubt that adopting Agile values and principles requires a cultural shift. But, the right fundaments need to be in place as well, including operations and processes, technological foundations and continuous improvement (CI) / continuous delivery (CD). Also, management needs to demonstrate Agile leadership and operate as ambassadors of the transition.”Where do you expect your organization to be in three years?

Only going up…

Looking ahead, Agile will according to the researchers continue to play a key role on strategic agendas. More than 50% of respondents surveyed by the professional services firm said that they have the ambition to advance their Agile maturity, either within certain functions (mostly in back office functions and delivery teams) or across the entire enterprise in the coming three years. 

Ambitions are particularly high in countries such as The Netherlands, Belgium, and the Czech Republic, and Brazil outside of Europe. Interestingly, the survey suggests that Agile enjoys lower confidence in countries such as Germany and Denmark.

Alongside a more mature application of Agile in existing teams, the survey predicts that a growing number of teams/groups will jump on the methodology’s bandwagon. Currently, one third of organisations (32%) adopt Agile working outside of IT – this share is forecasted to grow significantly in the years to come.