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A Guide to Agile Infrastructure & Transformation

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Last updated on
25th Oct, 2021
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25th Oct, 2021
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A Guide to Agile Infrastructure & Transformation

In the post-Covid era, as we enter a new phase of globalization, organizations must cope with increasing volatility and uncertainty.  Agile enterprises have managed to stay afloat through these turbulent times, staying ahead of the competition and keeping up with the rapid pace of evolving markets. By readily adapting to new cloud-based applications, remote ways of working, and workplace digitalization, companies that have adopted Agile were able to get ahead of their peers and stay relevant in the global market.  

However, just adopting Agile is not enough. In order to ensure and sustain business growth, these companies must have the underlying support of the right infrastructure. What is Agile infrastructure, and what are its benefits and limitations? Read on to find out.

What Is Agile?

Before we define Agile infrastructure, let’s first understand what Agile is all about. Even as globalization has shrunk the world, it has also brought in a lot of unpredictability— and in some cases even chaos!  

To cope with these volatile markets, companies realized that they needed to do all they could to adapt to changes, support newly evolving technologies and keep productivity levels up. They found that Agile was the answer.  

Agile is the ability to create and respond to change. It is a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment. —Agile Alliance 

The Agile framework was conceptualized in the early 1990s as an alternative to old-fashioned and rigid project management systems that were opposed to change of any kind. Agile is cantered on four values that inform and guide its processes, and they prioritize 

  • Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools 
  • Working software over Comprehensive documentation 
  • Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation 
  • Responding to change over Following a plan 

The fourth value talks about ‘responding to change, as opposed to following a plan.’ By doing this, agility helps an organization to cope with change and adapt to evolving conditions. Agile’s iterative and incremental model supports flexibility and helps organizations align themselves with changing conditions.  

4 Key Agile Values

Originally conceptualized as a software development methodology, Agile has now transformed into a general framework for managing any kind of project and has found acceptance in sectors as diverse as healthcare and retail, marketing and pharma. At its very basic, Agile requires a culture shift and a change in mindset. It is flexible and versatile and encourages quick responses to changing conditions.

What is Agile Infrastructure?

Traditional ‘waterfall’ infrastructure does not allow changes till the very end and is not the best solution for complex and volatile projects. 

In contrast, an Agile infrastructure is one that supports incremental upgrades, quick deployment and provisioning, and allows for feedback and improvements at every stage.  

Agile infrastructure is founded on Agile values and principles and applies them to the hardware and software components of the organizational IT networks. With this infrastructure at the core, teams are easily able to adapt to new technology and collaborate across geographies. They work in small increments using lightweight deployment and roll out applications in quick successive releases.

Why the Need for Agile Infrastructure

  • Rapid Deployment: In a traditional project, processes were linear, and it was only when the project was nearing completion that the product would be released. In direct contrast to this way of working, Agile works on the premise of quick, iterative releases, each of which represents a completed feature or set of features in their entirety. This results in faster deployment and continuous delivery of value and sets in motion an iterative cycle of feedback and improvements. 
  • More Flexibility: Traditional infrastructure is rigid and conservative and does not easily allow for change. However, with Agile, teams can factor in amendments as and when required, course correct at any stage over the course of the project journey and deliver releases that are in sync with customer expectations and the changing needs of the market. 
  • Continuous Feedback: Traditional project methods would typically solicit feedback only after the project was completed. This could result in setting back the final release, and it would often take months to redo the project in accordance with the changes requested. The feedback cycle in Agile Infrastructure allows for stakeholder and end user inputs at every stage. This helps to mould the product according to what the customers need over the course of the project, rather than stick to what was defined during the initial stages. 
  • Continuous Improvement: As Agile believes in rapid deployments, the end users can review and use the product in phases. After each incremental release they give their feedback and the product is improved accordingly, getting fine-tuned at each stage so that it completely meets all the expectations of the customers. 

Limitations of Agile Infrastructure

Agile infrastructure comes with some limitations, and these could pose complex challenges that must be overcome. 

  • Infrastructure involves hardware, software and networks, and in certain scenarios the hardware is fixed and cannot be easily changed. This could make a do over hard, even when required. 
  • As infrastructure deals with physical hardware, there is a limit on the initial release cycles. Due to the nature of certain projects, the first release of a minimum viable product might need a large number of setup tasks to be completed. As a result the initial release might turn out too long and break the cadence of equal cycles. 
  • Again, while projects that deal only with software are flexible, when the hardware aspects of an Agile infrastructure project need to be course-corrected it gets very complicated. It is easy to start over with software development, but the same is not the case with hardware. 
  • Agile is based on the concept of cross-functional teams, with resources who are capable of collaborating and multi-tasking. When it comes to infrastructure projects, people often have specialized skills only. They may not be required for a long period on a single Agile project and will be working on two or more projects at the same time. As a result, they might be unavailable when needed on a particular project and this will hamper progress. 
  • Short iterations and quick release cycles work well with software development, but when it comes to dealing with hardware releases these may not be viable.   
  • There could be long-term manageability issues on Agile infrastructure projects. 

An Example of a Transition to Agile IT Infrastructure

Transition to Agile IT Infrastructure

Source Image: testingxperts.com

A mid-sized UK-based UI-UX-services company chose to adopt an agile approach in its 50-person IT infrastructure subsidiary. They chose to roll out an agile operating model across the entire infrastructure organization and focused on first improving their processes. Within the first year of deployment, they found that their Agile transformation had brought down IT costs by over 40%, while at the same time productivity was doubled. Automating repetitive operations and replacing legacy models with new, flexible iterative models was at the heart of their transformation. 

Principles for Agile Transformation


Traditional organizationAgile organization
Organization and resources
Teams are function-specific, with staff with specialized skillsets who are focused on tasks.Teams are integrated and cross-managing, and comprise of infrastructure engineers with a variety of development skills.
Technology
Customized infrastructure that requires significant manual effort from infrastructure teams.Standardized infrastructure, with a large part of deliveries being automated. Application developers can configure infrastructure on their own using self-service tools.
Processes
Rigid, sequential processes and repetitive tasks that are performed manually.Repetitive work is automated, and processes are cyclical and flexible.
Collaboration
Infrastructure requests are ticketed and are dealt with by service managers on behalf of infrastructure teams. Once developers put code into production, they are no longer responsible.Application development and operations roles are integrated, and developers handle all operations using self-service tools.

Approach to Transforming Infrastructure Using Agile

Organizations with legacy systems that are looking to transform their IT infrastructure to an Agile model can employ a structured approach to the design, deployment and monitoring of Agile teams and resources. This approach involves the following steps:  

  • Chalk out a vision for the new infrastructure organization.  
    • Outline all the infrastructure service offerings that will be provided, in order to define the scope of the teams. 
    • Decide how closely the infrastructure organization will work with application developers, and the extent of their involvement with operations such as deploying code. 
    • Decide on automation and cloud strategies. 
    • Identify objectives and metrics for performance and value creation 
  • Identify the opportunities with the potential to create organizational value. This can be done through a study of data on past consumption patterns and projected future needs. The work can then be organized around scope, and effort divided between teams of appropriate sizes needed to complete tasks. 
  • Each agile infrastructure team should be aligned with the Agile methods needed to complete the assigned tasks. Typically, teams working on automating infrastructure might be smaller, with around 10 people, and work using Scrum; while teams that work on support and operations might use Kanban or Scrumban. 
  • Next, work on a structured process for putting together agile infrastructure teams. Team members should be trained, a strong team charter developed, key stakeholders aligned to the project needs, and an initial backlog should be built. 
  • Work on the sustainability of the Agile transformation. Once the agile infrastructure teams are launched, teams who will govern the work should be set up to ensure progress toward goals. They will oversee changes in priorities and will ensure that the use of Agile practices is enforced.  

Conclusion 

While traditional IT infrastructure processes were very successful in the past, the advent of digitization has made it an imperative for companies to align themselves with Agile infrastructure. An Agile adoption is not easy, and it requires significant change in the culture and mindset across the organization. However, organizations that can pull off a successful Agile infrastructure transformation will be able to adapt to volatile markets easily, hastening time-to-market even while cutting costs and boosting productivity.  

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KnowledgeHut is an outcome-focused global ed-tech company. We help organizations and professionals unlock excellence through skills development. We offer training solutions under the people and process, data science, full-stack development, cybersecurity, future technologies and digital transformation verticals.