The future belongs to the agile

In a world where things happen quickly, companies need to respond fast if they are going to prosper.

Most products and services are new and innovative for only a short while. Soon they become commodities, because they get copied and are offered at lower prices. Profit margins drop when that happens.

This means that a lot of profitable opportunities are short term. So if a company can't respond quickly, it will have a hard time making money. And since most business operations can't function without appropriate technology, IT agility becomes a requirement in our global economy.

What is IT agility? It's the mixture of art and engineering that delivers robust 80 percent solutions fast enough to capitalize on opportunities before profit margins drop. Let's take a look at what this means.

First of all, agility means delivering robust systems, not systems that were thrown together with poorly written code. Agile systems are stable systems that do what they do reliably.

Agile systems are always 80 percent solutions because they need to be delivered quickly. To do this, developers limit scope and focus on delivering only the most important features in any situation -- the ones 80 percent of the users need. Systems that try to address all the issues fall into the trap of ever-expanding requirements and endless scope creep.

Agile systems enable companies to capitalize on opportunities before the profit margins drop. Delivery time frames required for this vary from one opportunity to another, but they generally range from a few weeks to a few months and almost never more than nine months. Systems simply aren't agile if they take longer than that to deliver.

It's clear that the need for agile systems will grow tremendously in the years to come. If you want to participate in this growth market, then ask yourself whether you are up to the challenge of delivering such systems. If you are up to this challenge, then you are a member of the "Agility Corps."

Members of the Agility Corps deliver agile systems by employing combinations of six key techniques to define opportunities, design solutions and build systems quickly. Members are proficient in all six techniques and masters of some of them.

They use the technique of joint application design to pool ideas from appropriate groups of people. They use the technique of process mapping to identify the most important issues. They use data modeling to organize the relevant data, and they use system prototyping to design user interfaces and technical architectures for systems. Then they apply object-oriented techniques to create system code, and they use system testing to roll it out.

If you are in the Agility Corps, you are also able to remain calm while others in the IT profession rush around babbling about business complexity and the need for complex solutions. You are not intimidated by research reports designed to stir up fear, uncertainty and doubt. You are not taken in by fancy marketing campaigns urging you to climb onto the latest IT bandwagon. This means you are part of the group of IT practitioners who will soon set the standards for IT excellence in most companies.

Michael H. Hugos is a CIO at large, author and speaker. He is also a member of the 2006 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leaders class. His books include Essentials of Supply Chain Management and Building the Real-Time Enterprise: An Executive Briefing (both published by John Wiley & Sons). He can be reached at mhugos@yahoo.com.

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