Book Notes #01: Agile IT Organization Design - Sriram Narayan

William Meller - Agile IT Organization Design - Sriram Narayan
This book shows how organizational design helps deliver organizational agility and in turn, helps IT and business Agility. 


Title: Agile IT Organization Design: For Digital Transformation and Continuous Delivery
Author: Sriram Narayan
Themes: Agile; Culture; Management; Teams; Leadership; IT
Year: 2015
Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional
ISBN: 0133904245, 9780133904246
Pages: 304

Agile IT Organization Design by Sriram Narayan is a comprehensive guide for managers and executives who want to improve the quality and speed of their software development processes.

To gain the full benefits of agility in any software organization, you need to extend the organization as a whole, not just for some development teams, in a book that states the applicability of Agile principles in designing an Agile IT organization followed by the explanation of the macro-level view of the structure of organizations. 

This book is a must-read for those who want to understand what really is Digital Transformation and Agile Transformation.

The author explains the centralized and decentralized structures with their pros and cons. He then goes on to provide thorough coverage of team design, accountability, alignment, project finance, tooling, metrics, organizational norms, communication, and culture.

Sriram's book provides a basis for reviewing and reshaping the IT organization to equip it better for the digital age, discussing how to differentiate between organizational activities and outcomes and forming teams accordingly, how to execute streams of work that cut across different product-centric teams, and the role of project and program managers in product-centric IT, learning how to eliminate the specific organizational silos that cause the most problems

Sriram demonstrates how to integrate agility with sales, marketing, product development, engineering, and operations, helping each function deliver more value individually and link it with the rest of the business as well as evaluate and improve organization designs to enhance autonomy, mastery, and purpose. 

Addressing people, process, and technology, he guides you in improving both the dynamic and static aspects of organization design, addressing team structure, accountability structures, organizational norms and culture, metrics, and more.

William Meller - Agile IT Organization Design - Sriram Narayan

Teams must have high autonomy over what they work on, not just how they implement it. But if teams are all super autonomous, they will all go off in different directions. Sriram terms this runaway autonomy, and it's a genuine concern. So is the answer more management and control?

My Book Highlights:

"... To bridge the divide between planning and execution, overlap them. It is possible to design an organization where planners are required to spend, say, 20% of their time in execution..."

"... Cross-functional teams fold the entire software delivery value stream into a single team rather than let it span across multiple activity-oriented teams. This reduces the cost of handoffs, allows reduction in batch size, and thereby decreases cycle time (improving responsiveness)..."

"... Product lines (or LOBs) need to be individually successful. This is success of the first order. Exploiting cross-product synergies, offering bundles, and achieving cross-product standardization for marketing are examples of higher-order success. Do not organize for higher-order success before first-order success is achieved. Doing so puts the cart before the horse..."

"... Systems of record (e.g., payroll and HR) are like utilities (electricity, water, etc.). Although they are essential, they need to be cost-efficient. Systems of differentiation (e.g., a commercial SaaS offering) provide competitive advantage. Systems of innovation are built to try new ideas and graduate the ones that perform well to systems of differentiation..."

"... In enterprise IT, a capability team owns all systems relevant to the capability. They may be systems of record, differentiation, or innovation. In the spirit of DevOps, they are built and run by the capability team..."

"... Recognize that a permission culture is a risk-averse culture. Embrace (perhaps tacitly) the norm of asking for forgiveness rather than permission. It encourages people to take initiative without being too fearful of breaking rules..."

"... How do we go about reinforcement? Here is one way to do it for some organizational norms: Create an internal blog for each norm. Explain the value of the norm in an introductory post from leadership. Use subsequent posts to narrate supporting stories. Employees subscribe to the blog, vote up or like stories, and comment on posts..."

"... Lean product discovery techniques (for start-ups and enterprises) help with the first mile. Continuous delivery and DevOps help with the last mile. Agile software development has become mainstream for the miles in between..."

"... Expensive handoffs encourage large batch sizes to reduce the total number of handoffs..."

"... Tools that blur boundaries between specialists are better than those that reinforce them..."

"... Handoffs are mostly a result of specialization. Organization design cannot reduce these handoffs, but it can make them faster and cheaper by making them occur inside a single team..."

"... This book lays a lot of emphasis on having teams responsible for business outcomes (outcome-oriented teams) as opposed to being responsible for activities (activity-oriented teams)..."

Actually, the answer is to align teams with business outcomes. If the goal of a team is to improve a business outcome, then it will be oriented toward system-level benefits, by creating truly cross-functional teams, carefully analyzing business outcomes, and appointing outcome owners.

Sriram's book provides a basis for reviewing and reshaping the IT organization to equip it better for the digital age, discussing how to differentiate between organizational activities and outcomes and forming teams accordingly, how to execute streams of work that cut across different product-centric teams, and the role of project and program managers in product-centric IT.

Chapters of the Book:

Chapter 1 - Context: Focus; Business, IT, and Shadow IT; Business-IT Effectiveness; Digital Transformation; Bimodal IT and Dual Operating Systems; Angles of Coverage.

Chapter 2 - The Agile Credo: Understanding the Agile Manifesto; Continuous Delivery and DevOps; Agile Culture; Common Themes; Isn’t Agile Dead?

Chapter 3 - Key Themes: Software Development Reconsidered; Govern for Value over Predictability; Organize for Responsiveness over Cost-efficiency; Design for Intrinsic Motivation and Unscripted Collaboration.

Chapter 4 - Superstructure: Business Activities and Outcomes; Centralization and Decentralization; Silos.

Chapter 5 - Team Design: Framing the Problem; Activity-oriented Teams; Shared Services; Cross-functional Teams; Cross-functionality in Other Domains; Migrating to Cross-functional Teams; Communities of Practice; Maintenance Teams; Outsourcing; The Matrix: Solve It or Dissolve It.

Chapter 6 - Accountability: Power and Hierarchy; Balance Autonomy with Accountability; Assign Accountability; Minimize Power Struggles; Decide on an Outcome Owner; Migration; Decision Accountability; Planning and Execution; Org Chart Debt.

Chapter 7 - Alignment: Articulate Strategy for General Alignment; Aligning IT with Business; Structural Alignment; Making Business Play Its Part.

Chapter 8 - Projects:
What Is Wrong with Plan-driven Software Projects; Budget for Capacity, Not for Projects; Business-capability-centric IT; Project Business Cases; Value-driven Projects; Project Managers; Governance; Change Programs and Initiatives; Summary of Insights; Summary of Actions.

Chapter 9 - Finance: Relevance; Cost Center or Profit Center; Chargebacks; CapEx and OpEx; Conventional Budgeting; Agile Budgeting.

Chapter 10 - Staffing: Dealing with the Talent Crunch; Go Beyond Project Teams; Better Staffing.

Chapter 11 - Tooling: Access Control for Unscripted Collaboration; Subtle Effects of the Toolchain; Technology Isn’t Value Neutral; Tool Evaluation.

Chapter 12 - Metrics: Metrics Don’t Tell the Whole Story; Dashboards Promote Ignorance; The Problem with Targets and Incentives; Reforming the Metrics Regime; Designing Better Metrics; Objections to Metrics Reform; Migration.

Chapter 13 - Norms: What Are Norms; Reinforcing Norms; Cooperation over Competition; Living Policies; Consistency over Uniformity; Ask for Forgiveness, Not for Permission; Confidential Surveys; Balance Theory and Practice.

Chapter 14 - Communications: Intrinsic Motivation; Interpersonal Communications: Problems; Interpersonal Communications: Mitigation; Scaling Employee Engagement through Internal Communications; Deliberating in Writing; The Use and Misuse of Visual Aids; Documents, Reports, and Templates.

Chapter 15 - The Office: Open-plan Layouts; Ergonomics; Remote Working.

Chapter 16 - Wrap-up: Summary of Effects; Order of Adoption; Information Radiators; Sample Exercise; IT Services; GICs; Beyond IT.

In conclusion, Agile IT Organization Design by Sriram Narayan is a must-read for any manager or executive looking to improve their software development and delivery processes. 

Not only does Narayan provide insightful advice and strategies to help organizations transition to a product-centric model, but he also offers practical tips and guidance to help create an agile organization and foster continuous delivery. 

With its actionable advice and case studies, the book will undoubtedly leave readers with the tools they need to redesign their organizations for success.

Sriram Narayan is an independent consultant. Formerly VP, Transformation Advisory at ThoughtWorks.

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  1. This book is a classic! Thanks!

  2. Diversifying revenue streams mitigates risks associated with economic fluctuations. learn more