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Navigating Agile Challenges in Digital Product Delivery

​The need to be fast, agile, and ahead of the curve in servicing customers is not just a business aspiration; it's an imperative. However, why does it often seem like this imperative falls short of realisation?

In today's world, we face a crisis of unprecedented scale. Organisations worldwide have invested hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in transitioning their entire business to agile methodologies. The pertinent question that arises is whether these organisations are truly reaping the expected benefits from this transformation.

To understand this better, let's take a step back in time. In the 1970s, the Waterfall Methodology was developed as a formal framework for technology delivery. Fast forward to 2001, and the landscape had drastically changed with the advent of internet applications. Competitive pressures pushed developers to bring applications to market faster, leading to the birth of the Agile Manifesto – a document that outlined four Agile values and a development methodology designed for quick delivery of capabilities to end customers. This was possible because delivering internet applications differed significantly from delivering enterprise applications.

This pivotal moment has generated an avalanche of work for Technology and Business teams across the globe. Enterprises now find themselves burdened with extensive backlogs that demand immediate attention, not next year. If your company didn't make an early entry into the digital race, the question is: How can you catch up? Within our Consulting Practice, we hear daily about the ongoing challenge faced by Australian Tier 1 and Tier 2 Financial Services organisations.

Fast forward to 2023, post-COVID crisis, organisations are searching for ways to deliver digital capabilities even faster. In agile terms, this translates to increasing the velocity of and optimising the investment in each sprint. The dilemma that requires our attention is whether this is genuinely happening, whether it's being measured, or at the very least, whether there's a measurement of the cost versus perceived benefit.

So, why is it often slow to deliver digital products?

At the core of the issue lies a fundamental principle associated with scrum values: the need for focus. The term "scrum" was borrowed from rugby to evoke an image of a united team, shoulder to shoulder, propelling a ball forward. The keyword here is "focus," and this is precisely what's lacking in today's agile delivery model. Architects, developers, business analysts, and testers are often assigned to too many initiatives simultaneously. This forces individuals into a constant cycle of context switching – shifting attention between different tasks, applications, or projects, which is detrimental to productivity and increases stress.

Gerald Weinberg's research on context switching reveals some alarming facts:

  • Approximately 20% of cognitive capacity is lost during context switching.

  • It takes over 20 minutes to regain focus on a task after an interruption.

  • At least 45% of people are less productive when constantly switching contexts.

  • The average professional attends 25.6 meetings or stand-ups per week, resulting in approximately 5.1 context switches per day.

According to Weinberg's findings, individuals in software development teams, when assigned to two tasks, exhibit around 40% productivity per task. When combined, the person's overall productivity drops to 80% due to the toll of context switching.

In real dollars, the average developer's wage in Australia is $100,000. With overburdened developers juggling four tasks, organisations are effectively squandering resources, resulting in slower delivery and wasted investments.

This cost is tangible, so what can be done to reduce it and enhance overall efficiency, optimising the organisation's investment? The solution lies in revaluating our ways of working. Treating every deliverable, project, or program as identical is the crux of the issue. Each project type is inherently unique. What works for one cannot and should not be blindly replicated for another. The key is to implement a fit-for-purpose framework at the point of prioritisation, ensuring the right delivery methodology is chosen. As the saying goes, "one size does not fit all." Additionally, reducing context switching in project work should be a top priority. By minimising the number of projects individuals are assigned to, we can accelerate outcomes, enhance overall quality, and boost employee engagement.

Organisations must select Waterfall, Agile, or a hybrid "Wagile" approach depending on project scope. It's crucial to remember that Waterfall is not taboo – it serves a purpose. What is truly taboo is to believe that only one delivery methodology is universally applicable.


We have extensive experience in all the above. FinXL specialises in Portfolio Optimisation and Ways of Working. With over 30 years of experience delivering projects for organisations across Australia and New Zealand, we bring expertise in:

  • Re-engineering processes to facilitate faster decision-making and the delivery of business outcomes.

  • Providing established squads to support projects from mobilization through to operationalisation.

About the Author

Elaine Smart is a Management Consultant and National Delivery Executive at FinXL with over 30 years of experience in Retail and Investment Banking. She possesses an in-depth understanding of the risks and challenges unique to the banking sector. Elaine has worked with renowned institutions such as the Royal Bank of Canada, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Macquarie Bank, Westpac, and was a Partner at KPMG in Financial Services. During her tenure at Westpac, Elaine played a pivotal role in managing the Consumer, ES & GBU Covid crisis management center, among other responsibilities.
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