My job involves helping organizations adopt new technologies and ways of working in software development and infrastructure management. One of the most common objections we get is that these tools and practices are commonly used by newer organizations, so may not be right for more established companies. This gets raised even by smaller, newer companies who worry that they need to behave like larger, established companies if they want to become large and established themselves.
But large clients who are being eaten alive by newer companies like Amazon (especially Amazon) also raise the concern that they are too big, too important, and work with too much money and sensitive customer data to risk working like a wild new startup. There’s an implication that the new generation of companies built on the Internet, and those who have successfully shifted into the new way of working, don’t have the heavy responsibilities of established companies, and so aren’t as rigorous in how they operate.
But I’ve spent too much time inside those established companies to take this objection seriously. The way large companies, even global financial institutions, run their IT is sausage-factory stuff, wrapped up in complicated hierarchies, exhaustive process documentation, and expensive brand-name software.
This enterprise complexity destroys quality and effectivness, but is useful for ass-covering. It divides and obscures responsibility, and gives cover when things go wrong. “Sorry we shut down the bank for 3 days - we were following industry best practices, though! We’ll add more stages to the process to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Which brings us to the recently published book, Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale. Written by three of my colleagues (one now former), it goes beyond agile software development to look at larger organizational challenges like risk management, marketing, culture, governance, and financial management. All the boring, serious stuff that are necessary to make a company work.
Agile software development is about stripping out the unnecessary, and doubling down on the things that really work, like testing. Historically, successful businesses have done this from top to bottom, end to end. All of the garbage that has come to be seen as the way serious businesses run are a sign of a stagnating organization that doesn’t understand how to perform well, so is settling for mediocrity. Joanne, Barry, and Jez have written a book that will hopefully inspire people to question business as usual, and think about business as more.