An Agile approach to software development and deployment aims to maximize business value through an iterative approach focused on delivering working software. As both a delivery executive and an Agile instructor and coach, I am constantly reminded (and reminding) that the overall objective is to deliver value and keep the business in charge of that value realization.

Cloud-based applications and ecosystems extend the rapid, cost-effective deployments and iterative cycles of Agile to areas previously dominated by expensive on-premise systems and technology, and long, expensive projects. I’ve seen an enterprise-class SaaS ecommerce system deployed using Agile methodology take a net-new customer from signed contracts to ecommerce value realization in eight weeks. Using a two-week iteration cycle, the customer saw their first demo of the product (with their branding and products in the system) after the first two-week sprint. Additional two-week iterations refined the branding, product and customer data, as well as added basic integrations such as order and credit card processing, with the final sprint devoted to UAT and deployment.

This powerful combination of the SaaS enterprise ecommerce system on a PaaS ecosystem combined with Agile project execution yielded interesting reactions from executives attending their first demo. One executive, after seeing a demo with his firm’s branding and products in the system at the end of the opening two-week sprint, said “this is great; can I have these PowerPoint slides?” It was pointed out that he was seeing a live system, not slideware, after only two weeks of work. His response, “Can we go live on Monday?”

These reactions aside, this Agile approach allows an organization to realize value in several important ways during the project. The fast pace of the project and the ease of configuration means that project team members are seeing results of their work within two weeks, and every two weeks after. Agile practitioners know that this maintains and increases project team motivation, which in turn maintains project momentum and likelihood of on-time delivery. This same result inspires confidence in business sponsors, who see value from the investment they approved within the first two weeks and every two weeks thereafter.

SaaS and Agile combine to enable more nimble project governance. Business leaders are able to steer the project in two-week increments to gain maximum benefit by focusing resources on features that yield immediate value, while deferring “nice-to-have” features for future deployments. As well, business leaders gain the confidence to manage the project in this way, knowing that the Agile approach means that Release 1 will indeed be the first of many value-adding deployments in a multi-release program.

However – these benefits are not automatic. Business articles and websites are full of stories and lessons about organizations that expect to reap benefits of Agile and SaaS without making the appropriate investments and preparations. And, even though Agile and SaaS provide flexibility and value working software and results over documentation and process, both require discipline and rigor in execution.

With this in mind, consider some keys to successful adoption and benefit realizations from Agile and SaaS:

  • Develop a solid foundation through training, evangelism and executive support: Too many organizations expect success by merely adopting something new and then expecting it to work by itself. Agile and SaaS, whether adopted separately or together, require the following:
    • Common basis in training: The organization cannot expect to enjoy success without providing training to its teams. The key here is to provide a common basis of training. I’ve worked with and in organizations who have trained people in Agile in different ways and through different sources. While there is some common basis of nomenclature and understanding, the differences of depth and approach can cause friction and lost cycles. Send key people to a single, common source for training on methodology and tools.
    • Evangelism: Successful adoption requires key and respected people within your organization to be supportive of the change. The move to Agile and/or SaaS as business and technology enablers means change, and change can cause FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. Respected evangelists inside the organization can mitigate FUD and begin building a base of support as the new methods and tools are introduced.
    • Executive support: As with any important initiative, visible and unwavering executive support is crucial to the successful adoption of Agile and SaaS. This applies at the beginning and throughout all projects and initiatives.
    • Rigor and discipline in execution: Agile project management requires more discipline in execution than traditional approaches. For example, enforcing a rigorous definition of “Done” helps Agile teams implementing a SaaS product avoid accumulating technical debt. Much like corporate or personal fiscal discipline, this rigor means that at the end of a sprint, phase or project, there is no technical debt to pay off before you can realize the benefits of the investment. This is the point of Agile and SaaS – rapid benefits realization. Discipline in execution allows the organization to see this value when expected.
    • Rigor and discipline in prioritization: The iterative approach of Agile combined with the flexibility of SaaS allows the business to drive selection and implementation of the most valuable features and functionality. However, the prioritization process must be executed regularly and ruthlessly to yield these benefits. Failure to prioritize for each iteration deprives the business and the team of the knowledge of where to allocate their time in order to minimize time to value.

SaaS plus Agile is a powerful combination. Leveraging both a cloud ecosystem and an Agile project methodology enables delivery of business value in a rapid and cost-effective timeframe. As noted, keys to value realization include preparation and rigorous execution. Prepare with training, evangelism and executive support, then follow through with rigor, discipline and ongoing support.

About the Author, Shawn Belling

Vice President, eCommerce Practice Manager at EDL Consulting
Shawn Belling brings over twenty years of experience in application development and project management to his passion as an Agile practitioner, instructor and coach. A Project Management Professional and Certified Scrum Professional, Shawn uses his skills to lead Agile deployments of CloudCraze Enterprise eCommerce for Salesforce.