Apr 1, 2009 3 min read

Company-Wide Business Agility and the Soviets

Until recently, most of the discussion around Agile has been strictly limited to software development teams. We focused on building and testing and shipping software more effectively, with PMs/POs managing backlogs and user stories. As software companies mature in their adoption of agile, though, it’s becoming clear that agile uncovers inefficiencies throughout the company. It also creates opportunities for executives to drive improvement in market-facing groups such as Support, Marketing, Professional Services, and Channel Sales.

Said another way, if an agile approach can improve how we build software (through collaboration, whole teams, incremental improvement, focus on value, frequent customer input, better estimation, velocity-based metrics…) then it can also help us improve how we understand our markets and serve our customers. Agile moving beyond the engineering cycle.

Tom Grant, a Forrester analyst who covers agile and product management, brought early results of his research on business agility to P-Camp. He has divided technology companies into

  • An agile “vanguard” implementing first-wave improvements in their software development models, and
  • Agile “transformation” companies making broad corporate-wide improvements in understanding customers and cross-departmental coordination.
5 Year Plan

Tom framed this geopolitically, as “the end of Soviet-style development.” He reminded us that Soviet five-year plans had little to do with the reality of hungry Russians and empty store shelves. In the same vein, technology companies with top-down command-and-control waterfalls tend to be unresponsive and overly optimistic. They often lack good market-sensing mechanisms or useful bottoms-up development metrics, so they routinely deliver unexciting products later than planned.

We’re seeing lots of companies enter this “transformational” phase. Having nurtured a handful of agile development teams for a year or two, they are bumping up against bigger company-wide coordination and planning issues. They are experiencing an “impedance mismatch” where some product teams are building great software faster than the rest of the company can handle. And faster than they can monetize it.

This next phase of business agility is about cross-functional coordination and a deeper understanding of customer needs throughout the organization. Your company is at the head of the class if you’re starting to

  • Scale up roadmapping and portfolio planning to keep pace with faster software delivery
  • Add rapid feedback mechanisms and crowdsourcing to ‘voice of the customer’ programs so you can constantly feed hungry product owners
  • Double how often you train resellers and channel partner
  • Share user stories with Professional Services so that some customer needs can be addressed with services as well as products
  • Notice which of your competitors are tuned in to the market

Tom’s data* shows that 54% of surveyed companies working on “agile transformation” report a deeper understanding of market needs. 58% reported improved coordination among functional groups. See his full Forrester report.

[Organizationally, this transformation puts even more pressure on Product Management. PMs have always been the coordinators between highly technical developers and market-facing groups. Agile has boosted this work another 60%, typically split out to Product Owners or technical PMs. Business Agility demands even more cross-functional collaboration, product knowledge, value assessment, market thinking and creative problem-solving. If you’re an executive in charge of product managers/product owners/program managers/product marketers, you’ll need to budget for more staff and more training.]


There’s been a very solid wall between the software development process and the delivery of marketable technology solutions. It”s time to demand that “Mr. Executive, tear down this wall!”


* This was an early look at unpublished ongoing research. It’s likely to change shape and content before publication to Forrester’s subscribers.

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