Over last couple of months I have been speaking to project teams and organizations that are undergoing some major technology transformations and which have set out on this course in traditional waterfall approaches. Changing course during such a transformation is risky and any changes are usually more of a smaller nature as the risk appetite is low when so much money is on the line. I understand, while I personally think that Agile is less risky in any case, the organizational maturity with Agile and the required change energy are probably preventive of making a change in-flight.
But here is the thing, once you get to the end of the current transformation, your whole delivery process is tuned for the big change that you are currently undergoing. If you use the same governance approach and delivery method for the smaller changes that come after the transformation you will be inefficient. You will wish you had used the transformation to not only set you up with a new technology but also with a delivery mechanism that supports you effectively after the transformation is over when change is smaller and more frequent.
This is where a bit of planning ahead can go a long way. If you realize the above you can use the time while your transformation is still under way to prepare yourself for post-transformation Agile delivery. You can build DevOps practices into your ways of working, because they support waterfall delivery as well as Agile delivery. All the automation and process improvements will make the transformation effort less risky and the cultural shift can start to take momentum through changed behavior. If you have a staged go-live over multiple releases you can start to embed Agile into your production support and maintenance processes so that your organization starts to learn about Agile methods of working.
In my book “DevOps for the Modern Enterprise” I talk about transaction costs in IT and this is another case where this concept is helpful to explain the situation. If your transaction cost for a release (all the efforts for regression testing, deployments, release planning, go-live support etc.) is 100 units for your transformation which is a large development effort of 10,000 units. Then using the same processes will still cost you close to 100 units for smaller changes post transformation (let’s say 1,000 units). This will make delivery of small changes inefficient and might start to bundle them up again into larger less frequent releases. What you should do is to take a hard look at all the transaction costs and invest during the transformation to reduce them so that you get yourself ready for the time after. Otherwise the post-transformation blues is going to come quickly and you will soon see yourself in the next transformation cycle to improve the delivery process.
Another reason to invest during the transformation is that once there is less work to be done on the functional side there is probably also less money around to make the required investment in changing the way you work and the automation and tooling that is required to support it. It is much easier to justify the bit of extra investment while the transformation is still under way and use the attention of the leadership team and the change energy already in the company during transformation to set yourself up for success post transformation. Don’t let a perfectly fine transformation go to waste for your Agile change effort.