By the time that you read this, I’ll be ensconced in my new position as a full-time faculty member at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business. In my first year, I’ll be teaching a number of courses in the Department of Information Systems, including CIS440: Systems Design. As part of the course curriculum, students need to read a number of books, one of which is The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win (affiliate link).
At a high level, the excellent book tells the story of Parts Unlimited, a fictional retail organization in the midst of a maelstrom of technological changes and business challenges. Employees are overwhelmed, IT budgets are getting slashed, data problems are endemic, and the conflict between line-of-business employees and IT is exacerbating.
Many large organizations going Agile.
As I blew threw the novel, I couldn’t help but think about the technology and cultural differences between large, stereotypically stodgy enterprises and their nimbler, smaller counterparts. (These are often startups.) The former have historically released new applications, systems, and technical tools via the Waterfall model, often unsuccessfully as I describe in Why New Systems Fail. For their part, the latter have embraced Agile methodologies, iterative releases, and, most recently, Lean Startup methods.
This begs the question: Which is the “best” way to deploy a new technology, release, or feature? In the abstract, there’s no right answer to that question, but it’s interesting to note that many large organizations (such as GE) going Agile.
To be sure, the Waterfall model suffers from significant limitations. For one, it typically takes longer to identify issues, never mind fix them. Nor does it typically account for changes. That is, a business need expressed in the requirements-gathering phase may have changed considerably.
Beyond these obvious drawbacks, though, there is a subtler problem with relying exclusively on top-down development, especially today. Organizations that cling to antiquated ways and technologies risk losing out on top-notch young and tech-savvy candidates. Millennials know that they almost certainly won’t work at a single organization for their entire careers. Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn even advocates that they adopt a “tour of duty” mind-set. To this end, they want to build things more than participate in meetings and conference calls. You learn more by doing than maintaining.
Today, companies can ape business models, strategies, and organizational capability faster than ever. Thanks to the rise of cloud computing and open-source software, technological barriers to entry have never been lower. Against this backdrop, how can an organization build a sustainable competitive advantage?
Perhaps through its people and its ability to adapt. I’m hard-pressed to think of a more significant chip than attracting and retaining the best people. To this end, it’s never been more important for large organizations to not only embrace newer technologies, but a more progressive mind-set—one that includes BYOD, true collaboration, and a work-from-anywhere mind-set.
What say you?
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