Unlike some of those fervent Agile proponents who think the Agile process is "the end all and be all" solution of our IT ills, our approach to IT process improvement is based not on some vague process improvement for the sake of process, but on an organization's business needs and goals—the only condition for any process improvement effort to have a measurable and lasting success.

Step 1: Identify the Business Sponsor and Her or His Needs and Goals

As long as we recognize that the main objective in building software is to support a business, it will become obvious that for a software delivery improvement program to be successful, we have to link it to some specific business goals. This is the reason why the first step is to identify the owner of these business goals for whom you are supposed to implement this IT improvement effort.

Identify the Business Sponsor
Knowing whose business goals this IT effort is supposed to help achieve will help you identify the goals that will drive your improvement effort, as well as determine the metrics you should use to measure your achievement.

Identify Business Problems and Issues
Whether the idea to improve software delivery capability comes from within IT or from the business, it will always address some business problems and issues, which the business sponsor tries to solve.
For illustration purposes, examples of problems or issues that have to be corrected can be one of the following:
- Complaint that software delivered does not meet requirements, to better serve the company's customers
- Complaint that the software delivered contains a very high number of bugs, which make the customers' experience very unpleasant
- Complaint that it takes too long to deliver software while the competitor usually brings out new software in half the time
Identifying specific problems like these will help identify business goals and their measurements that help lead the IT improvement effort, which we address later.

Identify Business and IT Goals
Business goal:
Increase the number of customers who visit our website by 5%.
IT goals:
It should take the customers less than 1 minute to register their information.
The number of bugs should be reduced by 50%.
Business goal:
Increase the number of newly registered customers by 3% every quarter.
IT goals:
Project deadline should be reduced by 10%.
Key features should be delivered 10% times faster.

Identify Measurements
From the previous list of goals, we can identify the following as their respective measurements:
Number of unused features by users
Variance in delivery timeline

Step 2: Perform Environment Boundary Identification and Assessment

Even though the title of this book mentions IT-wide improvement, this does not mean that the whole IT department is going to be the object of an immediate and big-bang rollout. Rather, what we have seen work in the majority of cases is a phased implementation strategy that progressively takes the IT organization from an unsuccessful situation to a controlled state where the IT project is well undertaken and delivered. For this, what you will need to do first is to identify the boundary of organization that will be impacted by this IT-wide implementation.

Identify the Boundary
To do this, first meet and ask your business sponsor for the environment under her or his direction that will be the target of this IT improvement effort.

Environment Assessment
After identifying the boundary, contact everyone who will be impacted by the improvement effort, on both the business and the IT side, to find out what they think about the current situation and to gather suggestions and ideas that could help facilitate their buy-in for the success of this IT implementation effort.

Findings Summary
Because the result of the assessment could be lengthy, you are advised to sum up the findings in some sort of executive summary. Doing this will help facilitate both the discussion with the executive sponsor(s) and your own vision of what the future solution should address, in terms of key improvements from the current environment.

Step 3: Envision Scenarios and Risks

Before selecting one (best) improvement plan, experience has led us to believe that having two or three scenarios (options) is always something we would like to first come up with. Not only does this give top management and some key leaders an opportunity to see which scenario will address most of their needs, but it also provides them with an opportunity to provide input. This will, then, in turn allow them to take ownership of the solution as theirs and not that of an outsider.

In building these scenarios (options), please also remember to identify all the risks that are associated with each one of them. You should carefully point them out to the management team to ensure that they are fully aware of their impact on the future implementation.

Step 4: Detail the Chosen Action Plan

Once management and some of the key leaders have had the opporutnity to go through the pros and cons of the various scenarios (options), ask them to chose one of these scenarios or a combination of them to create a single plan from which to implement the improvement effort.

Step 5: Implement the Chosen Action Plan

Once the plan has been detailed and presented back to the management team for review, it is time to get prepared for execution.

Depending on what section of the business will be impacted by the chosen plan, the composition of the steering committee to follow up on the execution will be essential. The key thing is to make sure that the committee has access to up-to-date and accurate information for their understanding and help with removing impediments.

As the late management guru Peter Drucker often said, "Strategy is execution." What this means, in our case, is that having a plan is a good first step, but knowing how to execute it is what counts the most.

Step 6: Inspect the Implementation's Progress

As the popular saying goes, "A plan is only a plan." This is to say that we should expect some deviation from the chosen plan when it comes time to execute it. This is also to say that it is key to continuously inspect the execution's progress and remove impediments to help keep it moving.

Step 7: Adapt the Chosen Action Plan (as Needed)

While inspecting the plan's progress, you may need to make adaptations to the plan to make adjustments to the changes in the organization and surrounding business environment, depending on the level and nature of their impacts.

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