Agile Apple – Apple Inc. & Enterprise Agility

There are a lot of people who talk a lot about enterprise agile or agile “at scale”. They even put together very big graphics to show us how to do it. Unfortunately, they seem to miss the point.

Individuals and interactions OVER processes and tools

To understand what enterprise agility means, let’s look at Apple.

How To Not See Enterprise Agility

People have written about Apple as agile before, and some people challenged those arguments. At the end of the day, they both miss the point. Apple does not demonstrate enterprise agility by having Steve Jobs serve as an enterprise “product owner”. Nor is Apple not agile because it uses Direct Responsible Individual (DRI) over team ownership.

You won’t find enterprise agility by applying scrum roles to a company. Nor does a company fail to be agile because it uses management techniques that you (or agile evangelists) don’t like.

Enterprise Iterations & Client Value

What does small scale agility look like? With each sprint, you deliver as much value to your client as possible. What does enterprise agility look like? With each product cycle, you try to deliver as much value to the entire client base as possible.

To consider this with Apple, let’s start in the early 2000s. MP3s we’re all the rage, but burning CDs was a chore, most portable players could only hold a handful of songs, the software for these devices was terrible. Apple introduced the iPod with a 1,000 song capacity and a good app for managing the device.

Consumers were growing dissatisfied with how music was purchased; buying a full CDs that had just a pair of good songs. Apple gave consumers a buying experience closer to their preference, with the iTunes music store.

Consumers lamented having a phone, a camera, and an iPod. Apple introduced the iPhone as the convergence of these devices.

People wanted more flexibility with the phone, and the App Store was created.

People wanted to be able to more seamlessly sync their many devices. Apple created iCloud.

In case it isn’t clear yet, Apple consistently addresses the biggest opportunity within it’s customer base every few years. It strives to solve real problems that real people have and they will pay to see go away. By generating real value for clients, Apple generates a lot of real revenue for itself.

1(ish). Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software products and services.

Enterprise Does Not Mean Perfect Nor New

Was iTunes the best music player? No. Was the original iPod the best device? Maybe, but it was a Mac only peripheral.

iTunes wasn’t the first online music store. Others were selling $0.99 songs and $9.99 albums years before the iPod debuted and almost 5 years before the music store.

The iPhone wasn’t the first touch screen smart phone.

Phones had apps long before the App Store.

Was iCloud the most advanced cloud technology? No. It’s second tier (at best) compared to Amazon and others.

To most consumers, these things don’t matter. It’s only the value delivered by Apple that matters.

7(ish). Working software products and services are the primary measure of progress.

Enterprise Starts with Just Enough

There are entertaining stories about how the iPhone’s screen was changed from plastic to glass a month before the launch. Needless to say, this was quite disruptive.

Steve Jobs’ demo in the public debut followed a “golden path” using exact text inputs, no full audio clips, and other specific actions because any deviation could cause a software crash. The software team was so nervous that they got drunk during the keynote.

With the thrashing and just getting by, you’d wonder how the phone was ever finished, or how it ever worked. But it did. Subsequent generations were far better, but the first was good enough.

Responding to change over following a plan

2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

Focus

What Apple does better than almost any other company, is focus.

No matter how big Apple gets, it knows it has finite pool of human talent and creativity. To get the most out of it, Apple decides what it is not going to do. Steve Jobs was famous for taking his top people on a retreat, having them fight amongst themselves to create Apple’s top 10 priorities. He would then cross out the bottom seven and declare that they will only work on the top 3.

This often means killing products that don’t support Apple’s future.

iTools gave way to .Mac, which gave way to MobileMe which gave way to iCloud.

iPhoto and aperture gave way to Photos.

iLife is just gone.

There are no Mac servers.

With each generation, the previous was killed off, even if the new product does not offer feature parity. Products are killed off, even if they have loyal users.

The iPad had been in development for years, but were paused for the iPhone. Once the time was right, development resumed on the iPad. Priorities change and when they do, Apple changes how it invests it’s human talent.

The goal of R&D at Apple isn’t to make money from each investment, but to find the right opportunities in which to invest. Despite researching many, Apple only releases a few. This gives the whole company the focus needed to keep thousands of people aligned on a singular purpose.

10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.

Based on This, It Sounds Like All Successful Companies “Agile”…

In a sense, yes. They likely became successful by working with clients to solve some need and were delivering something of value. Blackberry, for instance fits this mold. Mostly, no. One successful product can make you a lot of money. It doesn’t make you agile. Blackberry for instance, has failed to find a new need to solve since the debut of the iPhone.

The question is less about success, and more about sustained success via consecutive successful iterations. It isn’t about a product or an industry. It’s about building your base then following it. Find the problems they have. Find the problems they don’t know they have. Identify the biggest one you can do the most to fix, and execute. If you do this via a platform rather than a series of ad hoc solutions, you’ll become very sticky as well. Fortunately, as long as you keep up with the growing need, most people will gladly stay with you.

It’s also not about trying to solve every problem for your customers. Apple does well because it only solves a few things a year. Samsung does well for itself, but it pales in comparison to Apple. Samsung must divide it’s talents across microprocessors, phones, refrigerators, TVs, microwaves, and a whole lot more.

It’s also not about helping every human. Apple gladly loses customers with each major change (like dropping iLife). But for each client lost, more are added, and the added focus helps Apple serve those whom stay even better. HP by contrast does a lot of contract IT work for many clients. This gives HP breadth of customers, but this also diffuses their talent and makes it harder to do big things since they’re busy doing lots of small things.

Conclusion

Enterprise agility is fundamentally different than team agility. Having lots of agile teams do not constitute an agile enterprise. In fact, per HP, that can be counter productive. Nor does using SAFe and having a big agile process does not grant you enterprise agility. It gives you a process to follow.

You get enterprise agility by following Apple’s lead. By solving major client problems with every cycle. Do this consistently over many cycles. Apply focus to get rid of low value problems or solutions from yesteryears that no longer solve problems for the majority of your clients.

Is Apple perfect? No. Neither are it’s products.

However, Apple is focused on delivering value to consumers through the regular delivery of new products or services that solve actual problems people face. These products aren’t perfect but with greater adoption comes greater refinement.

8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Apple exemplifies what it means to have enterprise agility. Apple may not follow any agile rules, but perhaps that’s not what it takes to be agile.

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