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Blog: The Three Laws of Agility

Blog: The Three Laws of Agility

There seem to be three laws that govern the practice of business and IT agility. The first one defines why we need to be agile, the second one identifies how to best achieve agility, and the third one shows where agility can yield the greatest results.

To begin with, agility is no longer just a good idea; it's now backed by law, the law of probability. This law says if a company can't keep up with rapid rates of change in the world then its probability of success is getting smaller and smaller every day. And since companies need IT infrastructure and applications to operate just as our bodies need nervous systems and muscles to move, IT agility is required if a company is going to achieve business agility.

Effective support of business agility is the main reason these days for a company to have an internal IT group (versus outsourcing it all). When companies want to avoid problems or seize opportunities, IT groups need to figure out how to quickly deliver systems to make that happen. If internal IT groups cannot do this; if all they can do is explain why things can't be done or why stuff will take 18 months and cost a million dollars, then, as Nick Carr said, "IT doesn't matter."

The second law states that the best way to be agile is to use simple solutions. Agility requires simplicity because you have to reduce the number of things that can go wrong if you want to get stuff done quickly. Otherwise Murphy's Law soon bogs down your best laid but complex plans. How many times have you watched or participated as complex projects struggled to overcome one problem after another with no end in sight no matter how hard people worked?

This means practitioners of agile IT learn to size up what at first seem to be complex situations; they get good at understanding what business people need and they find simple ways to deliver the most important capabilities quickly (often in 30 days or less). Then they stay close to the business as situations unfold and they keep building on the systems already delivered to provide people with new capabilities in a timely manner.

The third law of agility is the law of diminishing returns; it says doing the same things everybody else is doing is going to yield less and less benefit as time goes on. This law greatly affects where agility can best be used. Doing the same old things in an agile way will not provide nearly as much value as using agility to do brand new things.

This law rewards business people who see new opportunities and it rewards IT people who find new (yet still simple) ways to deliver what business people need to exploit those opportunities. Where other companies and IT groups use complex and expensive technology, the practitioner of agile IT doesn't always follow the crowd and their supposed "best practices". The practitioner of agile IT isn't afraid to question conventional wisdom and try different approaches.

So, the next time people question whether your company really needs to be agile ask them how they plan to respond to the law of probability. The next time people downplay your simple IT solutions and propose complex systems instead, ask them how they are going to cope with Murphy's Law. And when experts tell you their best practices are the way you should be doing things, ask them how that will help you deal with the law of diminishing returns.

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