Has the Agile World moved on?

Tough question. As I write my first post on this blog after a long long time, I wonder if the world has actually moved on? The misinterpretations, myths and downright abuse is rampant and the bright spots few and far. I teach, guide and coach young and experienced teams. Because of my work, I also get the opportunity to meet some really bright software professionals – some who have considerable experience with software engineering processes, including Agile. Some recent conversations in some of India’s (and world’s) top companies around agile practices were like this.

Beginners:

  • It means too much pressure.
  • It means micromanagement.
  • Our company is too unique for this.
  • Are testers going to be out of the job?
  • Does it really work?

Intermediate:

  • Our product management sucks.
  • Why are we forced to enter details in an electronic system?
  • It is not as cool as it is made out to be.
  • How do you get anything done really?
  • Does it really work?

Advanced:

  • Agile is not the answer.
  • Processes need to be customized.
  • You need the help of a software coach.
  • Process without engineering excellence does not work.
  • It depends.

That’s how it is now. That’s how it was years ago. Agile is now talked about by more people and in more countries but the rise has not been exponential. Is this because Agile has still to figure out challenges like scaling (SAFe and others are trying), real-time support (Kanban) and aligning the organization (Lean)? Or because, Agile starts as a destination but ends up becoming a journey, sometimes tedious and many a times, one with cross roads that take a while to figure out. Or maybe, I am not exposed enough. It is exciting to resume writing again.

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2 Responses to “Has the Agile World moved on?”

  1. I like how you’ve broken out beginner, intermediate and advanced patterns. I’ve experienced that same progression with many clients. Once they figure out Agile is more work and harder to do they realize that ‘Agile’ isn’t enough to fix their problems.

  2. Beginners:

    “It means too much pressure.”
    It is hard to giggle many balls at the same time. Be available and focus on Agile transformation is critical. And a visible & clear value driven transformation roadmap is a must.

    “It means micromanagement.”
    It is just an old habit that lingers around. It takes understanding of the “real/being” Agile mindset & culture and most importantly trust that will build up gradually. In Agile, it is not about micro-management, it is about visibility of the 5 levels of planning: everyone knows/can find out just enough of everything. And people will self organize organically if they are allowed & rewarded for tech excellence & getting things done. Have faith.

    “Our company is too unique for this.”
    Every company is unique is exactly where Agile will shine. And there are a lot of practices & packages of practices under the Agile umbrella. Agile is a status, goal & mindset. Given the adaptability of different Agile practices, if Agile cannot adapt the “unique” situation, certainly waterfall will fail. Find the right Agile practice is important.

    Are testers going to be out of the job?
    Quality mindset are needed more than ever. In Agile, the concept of quality driven is one of the core of “working software”. For tester’s, they will be driving instead of being driven. And there will be a effort & time focus shift from doing boring “checking “to true testing.

    Does it really work?
    It will work for sure, only if you know why & the value of practicing Agile. Most of the time, looking forward is tool overwhelming. Try Remember the Future, one of the classic Innovation Games: imagine if you are doing Agile exactly right, what will that look like. Then back track in time and figure out what needs to be done to get there.

    Intermediate:

    “Our product management sucks.”
    Great, now we can fix it. Remember, in order to speed up decision making and ensure value and quality, an Agile Product Owner is a single position to unify authority & responsibility among product development, product marketing, product management, project management. The key is to make sure the product owner is available, empowered & supported from all stakeholders. One last thing, do not leave the innovation and experimenting out of the backlog. And product owner is someone a company needs to put effort to grow.

    “Why are we forced to enter details in an electronic system?”
    Usually for reasons: metrics, shareability of documentation, not enough wall space & low-tech techniques looks too unprofessional. We need to balance the value of using software tools and low-tech tools between nourishing collaboration or managing numbers. The facts is there is a huge difference between looking up the wall and seeing 5 levels of planning and going into softwares. I would suggest wall for beginning teams & software for performing teams.

    “It is not as cool as it is made out to be.”
    There is always transition. It takes time to evolve to a cool place. Learning, growth is a process, not an event. And the same applies for Agility.

    “How do you get anything done really?”
    Agile allow us to be more focus on what we do the best given the capacity. If we focus on the capacity, constantly planning, inspect & adapt and not trying to do too much. With a prioritized, value driven backlog & team focus on get things done in quality. The question will be how not getting anythings done. The mostly likely reason this question is asked is we are in transition, doing both traditional process & Agile process in a half half manner.

    “Does it really work?”
    Have we been discipline, committed & focus enough to get past the transition?

    Advanced:

    “Agile is not the answer.”
    Is freedom an answer to every challenge? The state of being Agile, the agility enable us to perform & react to all most any obstacle in the way. It is the same way a healthy & fit person can try a lot more different things than otherwise. If we root cause analysis into the question we want to answer, being Agile will enable you to get to your answer. And remember, it is for the same reason we do physical excises: there must be a incentive behind enduring the effort, muscle pain.

    “Processes need to be customized.”
    The key is to find the right mechanic/rhythm (fits your product), stick with it. And plugin the right practices to cure specific challenge. Agile is also about being balanced & holistic.

    “You need the help of a software coach.”
    Beside continuous improving, agile or engineering coach is always needed as a trusted outsider to be a pair of unbiased eye & fresh approach. One last question to keep in mind: will 2 different coach on the same team produce the same result? And will the same coach on 2 different team produce the same result?

    “Process without engineering excellence does not work.”
    Process does not need “already being excellence” to work. Being engineering excellence does enable process to be more efficient and effective. Agile is a holistic, balance approach. Both business, process & engineering needs to evolve together. it is not sustainable if all 3 does not complement each other.

    It depends.
    Sure, Visibility -> Inspect (root cause) -> Adapt. After all, if my doctor always give me the same medication for whatever reason for the visits, I ll start to concern. The more you opens up, share and try, the more Agile can do.

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