Success Factors of an Agile IT Organization

Many IT organizations struggle to find a balance between improving agility and maintaining the continuity of IT services. This insight is written based on the successful experiences of other organizations such as ING,, Coolblue, and Schuberg Philis, as well as our own experiences.

IT never stands still, and no organization can function properly without IT anymore. IT is found in all veins of the organization. From the government, customers, and from technology, there is a continuous stream of new needs, laws and regulations, and new technologies that need to be implemented.

Looking ahead is difficult. We live in a world that is very volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). An agile IT organization must be able to respond to this, while at the same time there is a need for continuity and predictability of service.

To denote agility, a distinction must be made in:

  1. The World of the Day After Tomorrow (a time horizon of about 3 years ahead)
    The world of the day after tomorrow is about upcoming new legislation, the introduction of new technologies, and life cycle management (applications and infrastructure).
  2. The World of Tomorrow (a time horizon of 12 months)
    The world of tomorrow is about what we already know for certain in terms of legislation, current societal themes, and outdated technology and solutions. It connects the world of the day after tomorrow and today by breaking these down and translating them into prioritized projects.
  3. The World of Today (from now to 3 months ahead)
    Based on set priorities, teams translate the work into deliverables (DoD) that are delivered at a fixed frequency of 2 weeks. In small increments (EPICS, Features, and Sprints), what needs to be delivered according to the DoD is delivered and implemented in 3 months. Estimates are based on story points.
  4. The World of Yesterday and Today (hours to a few days)
    The world of today revolves around continuity and transparency. Through problem analysis, input is provided to the world of today and tomorrow.

Below, we further elaborate on the 6 most important success factors to become an agile IT organization.

Success Factor 1: Central is the Embedding of IT in the Business

All successful agile IT organizations have IT embedded in their primary process. Knowledge about digitalization is abundantly present among involved business partners. This concerns knowledge from strategy to digital processes. The IT world of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow is inseparably connected with the world of yesterday and today.

Different processes establish the connection at the level of planning, securing, and monitoring. KPIs are passed from the world of the day after tomorrow to the world of yesterday and today, and vice versa.

For example, the percentage of transformation (implementing new digital business processes) influences the absorption and realization capacity, capacity management has a major influence on production and service, and the quality of the service affects the world of today and tomorrow through incident and problem management.

Success Factor 2: Human Skills

To properly address the world of today, it is essential to let people work from trust, involvement, and equip them with the right knowledge and skills. This requires employees who adapt to the newly demanded knowledge and skills. Currently, many areas of knowledge in the field of IT are changing structurally as a result of artificial intelligence (A.I.). Understanding the role A.I. can play in agility, productivity, and the impact of people is therefore essential. This involves not only creating requirements, epics, and realizing code but also issues such as knowledge retention, coherence, and creating connections between systems.

Success Factor 3: A Standard Way of Working

The experiences of successful agile IT organizations show that a way of working enforced by systems is present. Documentation, which is often subpar in many Agile organizations, is enforced by technology. The task is not complete if it is not well documented. These systems are linked to OBEYA dashboards where the information comes together. Agile working requires iron discipline from all participants.

Success Factor 4: Self-managing Teams

The world of today can be managed well by teams themselves. The condition is that they act within the priorities (3 months ahead) of the world of tomorrow. Estimates of work are evaluated bi-weekly, and there must be a culture of transparency. This means that employees can and dare to show what has been realized and can make themselves vulnerable. Management must give them the space for this. Involvement of executives (business, IT, and Board of Directors) is essential. For example, Ralph Hamers (formerly ING) visited teams quarterly to talk to them about their questions and challenges and the importance of what they delivered.

Success Factor 5: Dedicated Teams

What we can learn from successful teams is that they know the customer well and work very efficiently at the same time. Customer Intimacy is achieved with dedicated teams that work in a domain for a longer period. Operational Excellence is mainly achieved by being transparent and looking beyond boundaries. Dedicated teams must therefore be able to work in a domain for a number of years (max 4 years). Throughput is part of the development of the employee and the team.

Success Factor 6: A Learning Culture

A culture of being allowed to fail, space to learn, and valuing employees is the success of large organizations. Success arises as a result of the dedication and involvement of the staff. The motto here is ‘Promise less, do more’ instead of vague promises about something that may or may not be finished. Concretely and tangibly steering on team and organizational results increases credibility and makes justifying why more and more money needs to go to IT understandable. Ensuring that executives and external stakeholders understand what has been delivered for the money, that it is market-conform and efficient, and what the added value has been


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