Can Jira Align help bridge the agile gap between business and IT?
Atlassian's Jira Align has topped the Leader Square in Gartner’s respected Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Planning Tools 2020.
Clearly Align has impressed Gartner, but how do seasoned agile practitioners view it?
We sat down with three of Adaptavist’s most experienced agilists to get their take on the tool’s role in enterprise-scale agile practice, and learn some tips for Jira Align implementation success.
A time of importance for enterprise agility
The current moment is one of relevance. The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought agility and speed of execution into acute focus for large organisations. With supply chains disrupted, working life moving largely online, and consumer behaviour altered en masse, businesses in all sectors are being forced to pivot fast.
Now more than ever, enterprises need to be ready to adapt, and be equipped to respond to an ever-changing environment. Achieving agile-at-scale can no longer be a lofty aspiration, it’s business-critical.
Phill Fox, Principal Customer Success Advocate, Riz Hasan, SPC-Certified Agile Consultant, and Jon Kern, Agile Consultant and co-author of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, share their thoughts below.
Why do most enterprises still struggle to embrace agile at scale?
Jon Kern: At a team level, implementing agile is pretty straightforward. The real challenge comes when you try to scale your efforts across multiple people, teams, departments, and locations. Getting buy-in and ensuring everyone is on board with the mindset shift needed is a huge undertaking.
Phill Fox: Scale really does matter when it comes to embracing agility. Large enterprises are often slow on the uptake as a strong dose of politics, process, and bureaucracy are often at play.
Changing a tool or set of processes can be pretty tough, but changing mindsets, well, that’s a whole other ballgame. Agility is about being able to adapt to different demands, it’s not just about a set of processes, or a specific tool. It's actually about how your organisation operates as a whole.
Can a tool like Jira Align really accelerate agility across an enterprise?
Phill: As we see the use of Atlassian tools expand beyond its traditional developer base, Jira Align can be a bridge to connect the often siloed worlds of business and IT—bringing agility to your enterprise as a whole, not just your IT department.
Prioritising business value and outcomes
Phill: With Jira Align you have powerful knowledge at your fingertips on how your teams are structured and delivering against the wider enterprise objectives. This means you can ensure alignment between work done with business value streams, and alongside this deliver real-time improvements to process, culture, and tools. With Jira Align you can tap into the collective efforts of all agile teams and deliver business outcomes which clearly align with the wider goals of your enterprise.
Jon: It’s a very attractive prospect for enterprises to be able to tie, in theory, the work of developers all the way up to business level initiatives, themes, and vision.
I always challenge customers to think of the business value they are delivering. There’s no sense just spinning up a technical demo at the end of your sprint—instead, share the business problem you solved through your work. That’s why Jira Align resonates with me, because it enables alignment of development teams with business value and takes reporting visibility to the next level.
Looking for sound advice on Jira Align and agile at scale?
Talk to the Adaptavist team.
More visibility, better decisions
Jon: Jira Align provides answers to fundamental questions for businesses like: where in our software products portfolio should we invest our money? How do we know that we're achieving our goals?
To have the big picture view with the ability to understand the value your teams deliver, and how it all ties up to the wider goals of the business . . . most leaders are starving for this level of information.
With Jira Align, you can make the bigger decisions without having to wade through all the granular level detail - all in full sight of potential risks. Having that kind of information at your fingertips ensures risk-informed, lightning-fast decision making.
Phill: In a large-scale enterprise, there are so many moving parts to consider and coordinate. The many checks and balances required to reach consensus can slow agile progress down dramatically.
With Jira Align you can shine a light on available capacity and capability across your enterprise. Giving you a complete view of where demand is greatest. So, you can easily spot inefficiencies and process bottlenecks to keep things moving.
Jon: Speed and the ability to pivot fast is certainly the name of the game for today’s enterprises, and some are better at it than others. Being able to leverage tools like Jira Align to keep up the pace and momentum as well as understand where enterprises should focus efforts and resources is invaluable.
Is Jira Align only effective in the hands of experts?
Phill: There will be an amount of configuration and customisation you will need to make during implementation of Jira Align. You may decide to dedicate a team to manage it. In an enterprise this could be your Project Management Office.
Alternatively, you could work with an Atlassian solution partner like Adaptavist to configure Jira Align to suit your needs. But most importantly of all, treat the tool as just another part of your agile approach and think continuously about what you can change to make things work better.
Plan - Do - Check - Act!
Phill: The more thought you put into Jira Align, and not just at the outset, the more benefit you will reap.
It’s important to take your time with it. It's not an open the box, off you go. It's more to take it out, shake it around, look at it, replay it against what you want to achieve for your enterprise. Then tweak it and adjust it. In fact, it’s all the things that you'd expect of an effective agile solution: Plan - Do - Check - Act, repeat!
For enterprise-wide agility, which comes first, the right tool, culture, or processes?
Phill: Enterprise agility is how your organisation interacts as a whole. So, your toolset is only one small element of this, and sometimes the last thing to consider.
You should actually think about your people first and then your processes. If you don't work with your people to enable them to adopt an agile mindset, no tool or process you ever put in place will ever help to make your enterprise agile.
A people-first approach for agile success
Phill: When you introduce agile into your enterprise, it is highly likely you will face resistance. Some of this resistance will be very obvious but some may not even be conscious actions. For some the changes needed can be an incredibly scary prospect!
It’s crucial to encourage agile adoption from the top of your enterprise to the grassroots level so that people are encouraged to communicate and work in a way that breeds autonomy. Jira Align is a tool that can take the agile vision from your senior stakeholders and cascade it down to all the teams that will actually be implementing it.
Looking for practical advice on how to foster agility in your organisation?
Watch our webinar on developing an agile mindset.
Remember, a tool is not a panacea for your problems
Phill: When agile doesn’t work the way enterprises expect it to, the tool often gets the blame. But in my experience, the fault rarely lies with the tool, rather in the way it has been implemented—or in the organisational mindset. To achieve success, your culture has to fit with an agile mindset.
What’s your top piece of advice for successfully implementing a tool like Jira Align enterprise-wide?
Jon: First and foremost think carefully about what you are hoping to achieve, or what the desired outcome is: “. . . If we implement Jira Align, we will get . . .” It seems like a simple thing but so many enterprises overlook this step. For me, it’s similar to any software implementation. Get going but don’t go too far in any one technological dimension without making sure you're on the right track.
Course-correct your way to success
Jon: My biggest piece of advice is to remain agile even though you're implementing a large tool. Challenge yourself to think smaller, think different. Get feedback as soon as you can, test your hypotheses, seek the outcome.
Don’t wait to the end to figure out what went wrong. Keep course-correcting to make sure you're heading in a positive direction and you’re on track to achieve the outcome you wish. Don't assume that everything will or should be a success. Focus on testing your hypothesis often, and learning fast.
Phill: The really important part of agility is the ability to do something, test it, get feedback, reflect, and verify you’re going in the right direction. When you go agile at the enterprise level, you need to be able to look across multiple teams, departments, and resources. With Jira Align you can connect and make sense of all of this information, and at the same time drive an agile mentality across your enterprise.
Rizwan Hasan: Implementing Jira Align is not without its challenges, though the technical implementation aspect is pretty straightforward. The mechanics of how Jira integrates with Jira Align is simple enough to grasp, which makes it an attractive tool for customers who already have a large Atlassian footprint and rely heavily on Jira.
Implementation challenges vary by organisation and are often revealed during the initial discovery process. This process takes a deep look at your organisation’s ability to organise and deliver on large and complex projects. Jira Align digs into ‘agile hygiene’ and can be a real eye opener for enterprises who believe they are already agile.
It’s not all about stand-ups
Rizwan: If your teams have daily standup meetings, that doesn’t make them agile. The discovery process can be a rude awakening for customers in this respect. It is not uncommon to expose disconnects and large gaps between initiatives and objectives set by the business and the work actually being delivered by IT and engineering.
Friction creates fire and fuels momentum
Rizwan: Jira Align has a wide breadth and depth in terms of feature capability. As a result, active participation from different business units are required for a successful pilot implementation. This means that business and IT teams need to be on the same page and have shared objectives, which can often cause friction.
Friction however, can create fire and build lots of momentum for agile transformation across your enterprise. We’ve seen this first-hand with some of our larger customers, and the positive impact it can bring can be profound.
Champion a culture of change
Rizwan: We’ve seen that the most successful implementations often have a team of internal change-driving champions. Engaging a solution partner can help frame the conversation between the many parties involved, drive best practices, and bridge any technology gaps.
Invest in your success
Rizwan: Ultimately, achieving success requires an investment of time, and a real commitment to realise the benefits of business agility across all levels of your enterprise.
It’s important to build partnerships and alliances between the business and IT parts of the organisation, and agree on common strategic goals and initiatives. Most importantly, those involved must be empathetic toward the people they’re working with.
The world we live in is as unpredictable as ever, and the change we are experiencing is moving at a rapid pace. Embracing an agile mindset and making it part of your culture will help you navigate this reality. Implementing a robust tool like Jira Align will almost certainly help too!
Are you considering Jira Align as part of a plan to increase enterprise agility?