In a world being rapidly changed by digital technology, “going agile” has become a popular phrase in business circles, just as “blue sky thinking” and “thinking out of the box” were in previous generations.

But what does “going agile” really mean?

In today’s Business 4.0 era, where cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and the Internet of Things transform how organisations operate, going agile means challenging assumptions and established practices.

This is because it is not enough to simply invest in software and hardware: organisations need to change the way they are run to make the most of technology.

Steve Denning, author of The Age Of Agile, says this means: focusing on delivering value for customers; working in small teams in short cycles; and developing more networked organisational arrangements rather than top-down bureaucracy and silos.

While this may be what going agile looks like in theory, academics from Sydney University point out that, in practice, “agile now covers a broad range of methods, each varying according to their guiding principles and work rules”.

Going agile presents itself in different ways at different companies, depending on the challenges they face and where they currently are on their digital transformation journey.

Learning faster

For mobile phone services provider Ericsson, achieving its goal of developing a new network manager to support 5G rollout meant adopting a culture of learning and instant feedback.

Speaking at TCS Summit Europe 2018 in Budapest, Ericsson OSS Head of Strategy & Implementation Eoin Conneely explained how successfully developing network management software to support 5G rollout meant adopting a new approach to dealing with challenges and problems in the development process.

“If we look at our agile manifesto and how we have evolved it, the key theme for us is we want to learn faster than the rest,” said Conneely.

“Your ability to learn and change is a massive differential in those looking to succeed in an agile machine-first world.”

Eoin Conneely, ADP Program Lead at Ericsson, addressing delegates at TCS Summit Europe 2018.

Rapid feedback

Instead of simply ripping up work when problems occurred, or adding more engineers, Ericsson invested in feedback and continuous delivery solutions, so the Software Development teams could be more effective and learn faster.

“When you are building a complex system in any enterprise, context switching is your enemy,” said Conneely.

“You want to give developers and engineers feedback on their team in minutes. If you have difficulty remembering what you had for breakfast this morning, going back two weeks ago is not an optimum way to work.”

Alongside investing in systems that provided near-instant feedback on developers’ work, Ericsson also sped up its learning process by employing automation and machine learning to improve system feedback. This freed up engineers to work on solving more complex problems and engage more with customers and users.