Is Walmart going Agile? Not really…

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In this Wall Street Journal article, it points out the latest initiative of the retail behemoth Walmart in their attempt at being more “Agile”.  Agile that is in the traditional sense of applying this to their giant IT division for software development that is spread over 130 “Agile” teams.  
 
 
First of all, I don’t know what the size of the teams are, but if there’s 130 of them and they adopt the principle of keeping Agile teams at a reasonable size, that means a team is comprised of at least 5 people.  Since it’s Walmart, let’s assume it could be a team of 10.  That means there are around 1,300 groups of people all supposedly Agile.  I wonder if Agile was used to deploy and mobile them?  That’s definitely a Walmart sized group of Agile teams for sure!
 
Anyway, as the article further states:
 
Over the past two years, parts of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have begun to embrace a methodology known as Agile for rapid and flexible software development. Still, the methodology, now gaining ground beyond its core base of technology company practitioners, can’t be applied to everything, said a Wal-Mart employee at a conference in Silicon Valley...
 
At least in Wal-Mart’s e-commerce businesses, using the Agile approach was a response to the increasing complexity and dynamic market conditions that require solutions to be delivered faster, according to a 2013 report. Wal-Mart competitor Amazon.com Inc. began using a particular Agile methodology called Scrum nearly a decade ago. The conventional approach to building software, known as the waterfall method, often takes companies a year or more to deliver a complete feature-packed product.
 
“I am a firm believer that Agile is just one tool,” said Mark Tallman, who has worked in project management at Wal-Mart, speaking at the Strategic Execution Conference in Santa Clara. Mr. Tallman, who now works in disaster recovery at Wal-Mart, said that an Agile approach doesn’t work very well for building data centers. “There are things that have to be done waterfall,” he added.
 
So the article doesn’t go into if Walmart has witnessed any tangible evidence of faster delivery of their software projects, but it does seem as though initially they looked at the “Agile methodology” (why do people keep on perpetuating the idea that Agile is a methodology?) as a “one size fit all” approach and did not think more strategically where it could be used best, how to introduce it iteratively and incrementally (so as to be more Agile, ironically) and especially how this would impact a monolithic culture that’s trying to shoehorn a modular method that needs a modular corporate culture to thrive.
 
This outlines what I wrote about previously, in that as a movement such as Agile grows in popularity, so does the rigidity with which it is applied.  People look to incorporate tools and techniques quickly without the deeper thought as to what the underlying principles are and how to really use that to effect change.  
 
It’s about creating a culture of agility not just “doing” Agile!
Posted on: October 28, 2014 12:48 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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It is disappointing that the article omits any discussion of the results achieved from adopting Agile.

Don, you stated "So the article doesn’t go into if Walmart has witnessed any tangible evidence of faster delivery of their software projects". The answer is yes, they did. I know this because I was an Enterprise Agile Coach working with them two years ago.

I have to disagree with you on your statements "People look to incorporate tools and techniques quickly without the deeper thought as to what the underlying principles are and how to really use that to effect change. It’s about creating a culture of agility not just “doing” Agile!"

I believe you are overgeneralizing.

Walmart was very aware of what they were doing. They were not trying to incorporate tools and techniques quickly and they put great thought into how to implement Agile practice adoption into their culture. They knew the Walmart culture trumped everything.

To your last point, "It’s about creating a culture of agility not just “doing" Agile!", in my experience of successful Agile transformations, people fail long-term if they go in mindset first. You're not going to browbeat people into a cultural shift, especially if you already have a strong corporate culture. Agile becomes a subculture, until it becomes institutionalized.

Reinforce practices and principles until they become cultural.

Bruce, most news reports dont get into explanations because the information is "classified" . Walmart wont release that type of information.
Derek, so what I notice reading a bit on Agile, as I am untrained and inexperienced in AGILE, is that people think its a CULTURE in the work environment. But the big picture is how large a culture AGILE actually affects? Buy-in of managers is necessary right? So what were their reactions, and does AGILE translate to the work environment? Individual stores ability to handle IT issues and processes, better?
This would be a great story to discuss as a whole chapter ! Working model?

Good discussion

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