AWS Cloud Enterprise Strategy Blog

Why you Should Adopt Agile Cloud Transformation

While technology executives generally understand and accept that agile software development methods are effective, some may still be reluctant to approach their cloud transformations in an agile manner. They believe that a cloud transformation is too big and complex for Agile to work. In this blog post, Dr. Saša Baškarada, a senior cloud transformation advisor at Amazon Web Services (AWS) Professional Services, explains why incremental, iterative, and adaptive approaches to cloud transformation are more likely to deliver successful outcomes more quickly than traditional project management methods, precisely because of the complex nature of large-scale cloud transformation initiatives.


Guest post by Dr Saša Baškarada, Senior Cloud Transformation Advisor, AWS Professional Services

Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.

―Allen Saunders

Suppose you are a CIO about to embark on a large-scale cloud transformation initiative. You might start by ranking the key business outcomes in order of their importance, such as faster time to market, improved customer experience, cost savings, higher technical reliability, and higher staff productivity. Next, you could design all feasible cloud transformation roadmaps. Then, you might evaluate how effectively each roadmap maximizes the said business outcomes. Naturally, evaluating such roadmaps with respect to the business outcomes would require you to make a large number of assumptions, estimates, and causal inferences. Finally, you might try to select the roadmap that results in the highest overall business value by also considering the cost of change, as well as by weighting and aggregating the individual business outcomes.

Alternatively, you can choose to progressively deliver value against any of the business objectives identified. Instead of focusing on maximizing the overall business value, you can choose to learn from experience and adapt your cloud transformation journey as you go: Think big, start small, move fast!

Organizations as Complex Socio-Technical Systems

To start your cloud transformation, you must understand your organization as a large socio-technical system. Socio-technical systems involve complex interactions between people, technology, and the external environment. In the context of cloud transformation, this may include a broad range of on-premises and cloud technologies, various internal technology and business stakeholders, and external partners and customers. Developing an effective cloud transformation roadmap is complicated by the fact that relevant business outcomes may be achieved by more than one means, as well as by the fact that various technical and social subsystems cannot be considered in isolation. For instance, focusing on the technical aspects at the expense of the social ones is likely to lead to a suboptimal outcome. Moreover, the most significant cloud transformation challenges are not technical. A cloud transformation strategy that doesn’t start from a shared understanding of an organization as a socio-technical system is bound to fail.

Evolving your Cloud Transformation Journey

Now that you understand your organization as a vast, interconnected system, it’s time to think about to enact your transformation. Pioneers of incremental policy development have long claimed that it just isn’t practicable to consider all possible alternatives and relevant factors before making the most optimal decision. Instead, decision-makers should aim for “satisficing,” or making incremental improvements, adapting not only their approach but also their objectives with each iteration. Accordingly, your cloud transformation roadmap should be seen as a living artifact that is not built once and for all, but one that is continuously evolving.

An agile approach to cloud transformation minimizes the need to make far-reaching predictions, instead allowing you to test and revise forecasts with each sprint. Expect that some initiatives will only partially achieve their objectives while others may produce unintended consequences. Incremental and iterative approaches will allow you to learn from experience and adapt your approach as you progress through your cloud transformation journey.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t engage in discontinuous innovation by leveraging the cloud to develop new products or services. It only implies that your approach to discontinuous innovation should be agile.

Success Factors

Finally, let’s talk about some practical steps you can take in the process of transforming your organization. While agile cloud transformations aren’t easy, the following guidelines can help you succeed.

  • Think big. As noted above, first and foremost, you need to set a bold vision (your North Star) that aligns your technology and business strategies. McKinsey research has found that organizations with successful transformations deploy more advanced technologies. Setting an ambitious goal creates a sense of urgency and excitement that can help attract talent and build momentum.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Of course, a bold vision is useless without broad organizational buy-in. To get buy-in, demonstrate your commitment by constantly and consistently articulating your vision and the path to success, preferably with storytelling and via multiple channels.
  • Close capability gaps. The AWS Cloud Adoption Framework (AWS CAF) provides a comprehensive framework for evaluating your cloud transformation readiness. It describes key capabilities underpinning cloud transformations from six perspectives: business, people, governance, platform, security, and operations. The AWS CAF can help you identify relevant technical and business stakeholders, address gaps in skills and processes, and transition from a traditional model to a cloud operating model. Leverage the AWS CAF to assess your capabilities and develop an action plan for capability uplift.
  • Establish a transformation office. Implement new organizational structures, allocate dedicated transformation resources, and continuously monitor progress. Do not simply add additional transformation responsibilities to peoples’ existing day jobs. A transformation office facilitates decision-making and drives accountability and transparency.
  • Transform your operating model. Your operating model describes the relationship and interactions between consumers and suppliers of cloud services or products. It specifically describes how your organization will use the the cloud to provide digital products and services to internal and external consumers. The new organizational structure should be formed around cross-functional product teams, with metrics that align with business outcomes. This may include aspects of Bimodal IT, which advocates maintaining two operating models in parallel, both of which play an essential role in digital transformation.
  • Encourage experimentation. Experimentation is at the heart of agile cloud transformations. To iterate quickly and learn by doing, you need to encourage experimentation and accept occasional setbacks.
  • Focus on organizational change management (OCM). Our experience indicates that resistance to change is one of the most challenging and underestimated roadblocks to cloud transformation success. Leverage the AWS OCM 6-Point Framework and Essentials Toolkit to facilitate the adoption of organizational change associated with your cloud transformation.

It’s Time to Transform—the Agile Way

Cloud transformation is a continuous journey. Adopting an agile approach and the guidelines discussed in this post will help you demonstrate value quickly and maintain momentum as you transform into the future.


About the Author

Dr. Saša Baškarada is a Senior Cloud Transformation Advisor at Amazon Web Services (AWS), where he helps customers achieve transformational business outcomes through each step of their cloud adoption journey. Prior to joining AWS, Saša spent 10 years as a science and technology executive at the Australian Department of Defence, and another 10 years as a university academic and researcher. Saša has published extensively on a broad range of topics, has a PhD in Information Systems and a BIT(Hons) in Software Engineering, and is currently completing a master’s degree in Public Leadership and Policy.

Mark Schwartz

Mark Schwartz

Mark Schwartz is an Enterprise Strategist at Amazon Web Services and the author of The Art of Business Value and A Seat at the Table: IT Leadership in the Age of Agility. Before joining AWS he was the CIO of US Citizenship and Immigration Service (part of the Department of Homeland Security), CIO of Intrax, and CEO of Auctiva. He has an MBA from Wharton, a BS in Computer Science from Yale, and an MA in Philosophy from Yale.