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How we developed in three years the world’s largest agile-ready workforce

It was 2017 and business as usual at a TCS office in Mumbai. In one of the conference rooms, the CEO, senior business leaders, and a few of the company’s agile experts were meeting. “We see an increasing adoption of agile by our clients, and we need to know what’s getting them excited about it, and why,” the CEO said.

It was a statement directed at the agile experts and was forever going to change the way TCS approached work.  

The team planned a real-time demonstration of the agile way of working and its benefits along with one of the business units. Their challenge: Apply agile to create an offering. The group was organized into self-managed scrum teams. Over the next three days, the agile experts guided the scrum teams into planning product backlogs with minimum viable products (MVPs), drawing out Kanbans, listing dependencies, and advancing in short, swift bursts. At the end of it all, an offering was born. It took all of three days for an outcome that would otherwise have taken three months.

Agile functions on the simple truth that time is a non-renewable resource, and with the core premise that the marketplace is in a continual state of disruption and waits for no one.

Those three days set the stage for a journey that would be completed in three years.  TCS embarked on its vision of becoming “enterprise agile by 2020”. And here we are today -- the world’s largest agile-ready workforce in the world. 440,000 of us and counting, spread across the globe as #OneTCS, working and living agile. This is our agile transformation story.

Why enterprise agile?

Agile has primarily found use as an operating model to hasten the speed-to-value of deliveries in information technology. We, however, saw opportunity in the role it could play to elevate us as an organization. Products and services, at the end of the day, require human intervention. Many of these interventions come from enterprise-wide functions like legal, marketing and finance. The need to seep agile into the enterprise as a whole was part of our reimagination of the value stream across the organization such that it moved -- from concept to the customer -- rapidly.

In 2017, TCS also developed Business 4.0™, a framework designed to help companies with their digital-led business transformation. Agile, as one of the core pillars of this framework, enabled enterprises to embrace risk, thanks to its iterative approach and fail-fast philosophy. This ability to embrace risk in turn reinforced other business behaviors of Business 4.0 like the ability to leverage ecosystems and develop more audacious business models that create exponential value.

It is through the lens of Business 4.0 that TCS recognized the potential of Enterprise Agile -- the ability to apply agile not only to IT development, but also as a working methodology that the entire organization could adopt.


Agents of change

The first step towards meeting this wider goal was to prioritize where we needed for the agility to penetrate. The first wave of the transformation covered IT services across all industry units. Wave 2 encompassed Cognitive Business Operations, comprising Business Process Services and IT Infrastructure Services. And because no enterprise endeavor can be successful if it leaves out core organizational support functions, Wave 3 saw the transformation of enablement functions such as HR, Marketing, Administration, IT Infrastructure, Delivery Excellence, Internal IT, and Research.

The Agile Initiative Network – an internal body of agile experts designed to evangelize agile as a work methodology across TCS worldwide -- led the transformation. Today, this ‘network’ comprises agile ninja coaches, who in turn groom agile practitioners, who implement the agile way of working in their projects.

As of March 2021, we are at over 1,900 coaches.

Agile every day

Living Agile™ -- a concept we introduced – focuses on adopting agile as a lifestyle via mini projects that are short (a maximum of three days), and experiential. Agile coaches help learner groups break down a real-world problem and to work as scrum teams in sprints to meet their goal. The intent is to shatter legacy-led, cultural mindsets towards the concept of work and instead see it as iterative value-building; to think of a team with no leadership hierarchy; to foster fast learning; to embrace risk; and most importantly, to keep pushing the envelope on problem-solving. Agility is explained as a way of life because agile principles can be applied to all challenges – be it helping your child ace their daily reading and math, or you training to complete that elusive 20K run, or helping a customer migrate to the cloud with no breaks in business.

The outcome of such real time mini projects is behavioral transformation, in a short span of time. The idea behind Living Agile is to internalize agility; to ‘do and learn principles’ as opposed to the traditional approach of ‘learn theory, then do’. 


Location Independent Agile™: Precursor to a new beginning

2020 was not just a gamechanger, rather it was a life changer for industries, businesses, and people alike, the world over. The pandemic led us to momentarily believe that our internal goal of reaching enterprise-wide agility might have to be reset. So much was changing on a daily basis that it was only logical that we push forward our target. But the beauty of the agile process is that at some level it starts to develop organically.

Two years prior, we had worked on the concept of Location Independent Agile™ (LIA) to further the idea that agility doesn’t require the physical co-location of teams for cross-functional collaboration. It wasn’t an idea that was easy to promote because, typically, agility pushes for collaboration within a physical setting. But LIA underlines agility and the harnessing of a global abundance of talent. It facilitates a structured geographical working model of agile team members by design, instead of a random spread. So, agility is not compromised even though people are not co-located.

When the pandemic forced us to work remotely, it was LIA that helped us seamlessly migrate to working as a borderless enterprise. LIA dovetailed perfectly with the Secure Borderless Workspaces™ (SBWS™) framework that details our new operating model for the future.

Where do we go from here?

Today, industry agile experts and analysts acknowledge TCS’ leadership in this sphere. We handle over 12,000 agile projects, with 85% of our IT revenues coming from these. We have also added to the worldwide agile vocabulary by introducing the concept of Agility Debt™ -- a unique and exclusive index that measures an organization’s agility. The lower the debt, the higher the agility.

Today, we’d like to take enterprise agility industry-wide and to world standards bodies.  And today, we’d also like to have with you the conversation we had among ourselves in that conference room in 2017.