My friend Mike Caspar has another great blog post: Similarities between Agile Coaching and Flight Instruction. Check it out!
My friend Mike Caspar has another great blog post: Similarities between Agile Coaching and Flight Instruction. Check it out!
For reference, here is the link to the article on Slashdot called Is Agile Development a Failing Concept?
This article will generate lots of great discussion, but most of it will be ignorant. My biggest problem with this is that one of the authors of the Agile Manifesto, Andy Hunt, has asserted that Agile just isn’t working out. My opinion: Andy has failed to have the necessary patience for a decades-long cultural change. This is a lot like a leader at Toyota saying that lean has failed because 50 years after they started doing it, not everyone is doing it properly yet. One organization that I know of has been working on changing to Agile for over 10 years and they still aren’t “done”. That’s actually okay.
Although Agile methods are very popular (particularly Scrum), there are still many organizations or departments which may not yet have official support for adopting Agile methods formally. In some cases, management may even be hostile to the concepts and practices of Agile methods. If you are interested in Agile, you don’t have to give up hope (or look to switch jobs). Instead, here are some tips to start using Agile methods even in hostile environments.
Some Agilists claim that the retrospective is actually the key to being Agile. In some ways, this is also the easiest practice to introduce into an organization. Start with “easy” retrospectives like “Pluses and Deltas” or “Starfish“. These are retrospectives that can be done in 15 minutes or half an hour. Try to do them with your team weekly. If you are are a team lead or a project manager, it will be easy to include this as part of an existing weekly status meeting. If you are “just” a team member, you might have to get some modest amount of permission.
So why would it be good to do a retrospective? Because it’s a high return-on-investment activity. For a few minutes of investment, a team using retrospectives can become aware of dramatic opportunities for improvement in how they are functioning. Here are a couple more articles about the importance of retrospectives:
Although I strongly recommend starting with retrospectives, sometimes that’s not the best way to start. Myself, my first formal Agile environment, I started with the Daily Scrum. Another time less formal, I started with Test-Driven Development. In both cases, starting with a single practice, done well, led to adding additional practices over a relatively short period of months. This gradual adoption of practices led, in time, to attracting positive interest from managers and leaders. This is the practice-by-practice approach. Start with a simple Agile practice that you can do without asking anyone for permission. Make sure it is a practice that makes sense for your particular environment – it must produce some benefit! If you are technical contributor on a team, then practices such as refactoring or test-driven development can be a good place to start. If you are more business-oriented, then maybe consider user stories or one of the Innovation Games. If you are responsible for administrative aspects of the work, then consider a Kanban board or burndown charts.
It is important to get the chosen practice done consistently and done well, even when the team is struggling with some sort of crisis or another. If the practice can’t be sustained through a project crisis, then you won’t be able to build on it to add additional Agile practices.
Sometimes you get an unusual opportunity: a project that is funded but hidden from the bureaucracy. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but often it is because some executive has a pet project and says (effectively): “make it so”. This is an opportunity to do Agile. Since there is little oversight from a process perspective, and since the overall project has a strong executive sponsor, there is often a great deal of freedom on the question of “how do we actually execute.” There can be challenges as well: often the executive wants daily insight into progress, but that level of transparency is actually something that Agile methods can really support. In this case, there is no need to ask anyone on what method to use, just pick one (e.g. Scrum or OpenAgile or XP or Kanban or Crystal or…) and go for it. Don’t talk about it.
The “just do it” approach requires that you have some influence. You don’t have to be an influencer, but you need connections and you need charisma and you need courage. If you don’t have at least two of those three, you shouldn’t try this approach. You have to do things and get away with things that normally would get people fired – not because they are illegal – but simply because they are so counter-cultural to how your organization normally works. Here are a few comments on Stealth Methodology Adoption.
There’s nothing like working with a band of rebels! If you can find one or two other people to become co-conspirators in changing your organization, you can try many lines of action and see which ones work. Getting together for lunch or after work frequently is the best way to develop a common vision and to make plans. Of course, you need to actually execute some of your plans. Having people to work with is really part of the other tips here: you can have co-conspirators to help you launch a practice-by-practice Agile transformation, for example.
But, like any rebellion, you really need to trust those you work with in these early stages. Lacking that trust will slow everything you do possibly to the point of ineffectualness. Trust means that you have, for some time, a formal vow of silence. Not until you have critical mass through your mutual efforts can you reveal the plan behind your actions.
Read “Fearless Change”
I can’t recommend this one enough! Read “Fearless Change” by Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising. This is a “patterns” book. It is a collection of techniques that can be applied to help make organizational changes, where each technique has its own unique context of use. Lots of research and experience have gone into the creation of this book and it is a classic for anyone who wants to be an organizational change agent. Patterns include basics such as “Do Lunch” to help build trust and agreement with your ideas for change or “Champion Skeptic” to leverage the value of having systematic, open criticism of your change idea.
Don’t Call it “Agile”
This isn’t really a “tip” in the sense of an action item. Instead, this is a preventative measure… to prevent negative reactions to your proposals for change. The words “Agile” or “Scrum”, while they have their supporters, also have detractors. To avoid some of the prejudices that some people may hold, you can start by _not_ calling your effort by those names. Use another name. Or let your ideas go nameless. This can be challenging, particularly if other people start to use the words “Agile” or “Scrum”. By going nameless into the change effort, people will focus more on results and rational assessment of your ideas rather than on their emotional prejudices.
A minor variant of this is to “brand” your ideas in a way that makes them more palatable. One company that we worked with, let’s call them XYZ, called their custom Agile method “Agile @ XYZ”. Just those extra four symbols “@ XYZ” made all the difference in changing the effort from one where managers and executives would resist the change to one where they would feel connected to the change.
Get Some Training
Okay, some blatant self-promotion here: consider our Certified Real Agility Coach training program. It’s a 40-week program that takes about 12 hours/week of your time for coursework. The next cohort of participants starts in June 2015 and we are taking deposits for participants. This training is comprehensive, top-notch training for anyone wishing to become an organizational change agent focusing on Agility.
I was thinking about the concept of becoming excellent at something. My son is a budding artist. He and I had a conversation a few months ago about talent or aptitude. I said to him that I felt that aptitude is only latent: you need to put effort into something in order to expose your talent. He was concerned that he didn’t have any aptitude because he had to work so hard to become better at drawing. I compared him to myself and my brother, Alexei: when we were growing up, we both put a lot of effort into drawing. Quickly, I fell behind my brother in skill. He clearly had aptitude. But he also put in a lot of effort into exposing that talent. I was reminded of all this because my son is struggling with math. He has aptitude, but he hasn’t put much effort into it. I was wondering why?
Then I realized that aside from aptitude and effort, two more things need to be in place to achieve excellence: willingness and confirmation.
Willingness is the internal drive, usually motivated by an unconscious set of factors, but sometimes also coming from a strong conscious decision. Willingness can come from unusual combinations of circumstances. I was extremely willing to learn mathematics in my youth. This came from two experiences. One, in grade 2, was when my teacher told me that I shouldn’t be learning multiplication (my dad had taught me while on a road trip). I was upset that I shouldn’t be able to learn something. Then, in grade 3, I had a puppet called Kazir (a gift from my babysitter who told stories about space adventures with Azir and Kazir the Baha’i astronauts). I brought Kazir to school one day and while doing math problems, I pretended that Kazir was helping me. Suddenly I found math easy. These two events plus a few others contributed strongly to my desire, my willingness to learn math.
Confirmation is the set of environmental factors that helps keep us on a path of learning. These environmental factors are sometimes mimicked in the corporate world with bonuses and gamification, but these are really distant shadows of what confirmation is really about. Confirmation is when the stars align, when everything seems to go right at just the right time, when the spirit inspires and moves you and the world to be, in some way, successful. The trick about confirmation is that success is not usually about monetary success. It’s usually about social, relational or even sacrificial success. As an example, when I was in grade 7, I was chosen with a small group of people in my class to do accelerated math studies. This was a great honour for me and was a confirmation of my interest in math.
In organizational change, and in particular in changing to an Agile enterprise, we need to be aware that excellence requires that these four factors be in place. Aptitude is, to some degree, innate. We can’t trick people to have aptitude. If someone is just fundamentally bad at a certain thing, despite vigorous educational efforts, then that person likely doesn’t have the aptitude. Effort is about both having time and resources, but also, then about willingness. And willingness, in turn, can only be sustained with confirmation. Too much discouragement will break a person’s willingness. The Agile enterprise requires a great number of skills and abilities that are not normally part of a person’s work environment prior to attempting to adopt Agile. Keeping these four things in mind can help people in an organization to reach excellence in Agility.
Leaders of Agile Transformations for the Enterprise need to have good sources of information, concepts and techniques that will guide and assist them. This short list of twelve books (yes, books) is what I consider critical reading for any executive, leader or enterprise change agent. Of course, there are many books that might also belong on this list, so if you have suggestions, please make them in the comments.
I want to be clear about the focus of this list: it is for leaders that need to do a deep and complete change of culture throughout their entire organization. It is not a list for people who want to do Agile pilot projects and maybe eventually lots of people will use Agile. It is about urgency and need, and about a recognition that Agile is better than not-Agile. If you aren’t in that situation, this is not the book list for you.
These books all help you to understand and work with the deeper aspects of corporate behaviour which are rooted in culture. Becoming aware of culture and learning to work with it is probably the most difficult part of any deep transformation in an organization.
This set of books gets a bit more specific: it is the “how” of managing and leading in high-change environments. These books all touch on culture in various ways, and build on the ideas in the books about culture. For leaders of an organization, there are dozens of critical, specific, management concepts that often challenge deeply held beliefs and behaviours about the role of management.
Agile at Scale
These books discuss how to get large numbers of people working together effectively. They also start to get a bit technical and definitely assume that you are working in technology or IT. However, they are focused on management, organization and process rather than the technical details of software development. I highly recommend these books even if you have a non-technical background. There will be parts where it may be a bit more difficult to follow along with some examples, but the core concepts will be easily translated into almost any type of work that requires problem-solving and creativity.
These books (including some free online books) are related to some of the key supporting ideas that are part of any good enterprise Agile transformation.
The Scrum Guide – Ken Schwaber, Jeff Sutherland, et. al.
The OpenAgile Primer – Mishkin Berteig, et. al.
Priming Kanban – Jesper Boeg
When I am speaking with executives, ScrumMasters and other leaders of change in organizations, I often present a simple 3-layer model to understand the relationship between the various moving parts in the Agile Framework:
All of this is summarized in this graphic:
The Agile Framework [PDF]
I sometimes also call this the “Agile Ecosystem” since it is a constantly evolving set of ideas (processes, tools, resources) that does not have a clearly defined boundary. For example, the technique of Value Stream Mapping comes from Lean manufacturing but has also be broadly adopted by Agile practitioners.
Many teams that I work with choose their Sprint length without too much thought. Often enough, that’s okay and it works out. But, in some cases, it helps to think clearly and deeply about what length of Sprint to choose. Here are 21 tips on choosing a Sprint length.
Author’s Note: this is one of those articles where I thought of the title first and then worked to make the article meet the promise of the title. It was tough to think of 21 different ways to look at Sprint length. If you have any suggestions for items to add, please let me know in the comments (and feel free to link to articles you have written on the topic). – Mishkin.
One of the main components of our Real Agility Program for enterprise Agile transformations is the Leadership Development track. This track is a series of monthly leadership meetings with one of our consultants to help them establish their Leadership Transformation Team. This team is based in part on the concept of a guiding coalition from John Kotter’s work (see “Leading Change“), and in part on Edgar Schein’s work on corporate culture (see “The Corporate Culture Survival Guide“) as well as our own specific experience on successful Agile transformations in organizations.
The very first thing, of course, is to establish who should be on the Leadership Transformation Team. There are six major categories from which the team must find representatives:
In total, the number of people on this team should be no more than 12, but smaller is better.
Once established, this Leadership Transformation Team must execute on three core responsibilities in perpetuity:
This leadership support is a critical success factor for an Agile Transformation. One of the first steps in our program for this team is to help with the creation of the team’s plan for the transformation. This plan can be derived from an number of sources including assessment work, but includes a number of standard items that must eventually be addressed for a successful transformation. At a high level, these include:
Many of these items are multi-year change efforts that need to be closely guided and encouraged by the Leadership Transformation Team.
One final point about the Leadership Transformation Team needs to be made: the work they do must not be delegated to subordinates. If something is part of their three core responsibilities, it must be handled directly by the members of this team. Therefore, the team members need to allocate a significant percentage of their time to the effort. Usually 20% is sufficient to get started. The proportion may wax and wane slightly over time, but if it gets too low, the Leadership Transformation Team will lose touch with the transformation and the risk of it going bad increases substantially.
See also our article about the Recommendations component of the Real Agility Program.
In his book “Crossing the Chasm“, Geoffrey Moore describes the difficulty of creating a popular new product due to a conceptual “chasm” between the first people who adopt a new product and those who come later. He describes five types of people in relation to how they adopt new products:
This product adoption behavior also applies to new ideas in general, and of course, to Agile Transformation [Agile Transformation vs. Agile Adoption] in particular.
Implications of the “Chasm” Model
An organization attempting to do an Agile Transformation [Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model] should understand how to use this model to ensure long-term success. This diagram illustrates the concepts (click on it to see it full size):
First, the organization should start the transformation by finding the innovators and early adopters. These people can then be recruited to run the initial pilot projects. They will be enthusiastic and will typically adapt themselves to the new behaviors and thinking patterns required by Agility. If they are properly supported by managers, they will also be successful – at least within the bounds of a limited pilot environment. Success here will mean that the pilot projects deliver value, use feedback effectively, and the participants (team members and stakeholders) will be happy with the results.
In this stage, it is best to avoid putting people on the teams who are from the early majority, late majority or laggards groups. These people will tend to drag on the results of the pilot projects. This is a common mistake in running a pilot program and leads to discouraging results. One way to help filter between these two groups is simply to ask for volunteers for the pilot projects. Innovators and early adopters will be much more likely to volunteer for a new initiative.
After the pilot projects have shown some good results, the next step is to go the general roll-out. In this step, you are now working with the early and late majority. These people need much more substantial support for a change of this nature. They will require intensive training, and hand-holding in the form of coaching and mentoring. This hand-holding can come partially from your innovators and early adopters. Some of the participants in the pilot projects will have the desire to share their success. From these, you need to carefully select and prepare a few who will act as internal coaches. If you are a small organization or if you wish to do your transformation quickly, you will likely need to hire coaches from outside your organization as well.
The early and late majority require evidence of benefits and reassurance that risks are minimal or can be mitigated. This evidence partially comes from your pilot projects. However, this may not be sufficient. There are two other important sources of evidence for this group: the leadership team and external experts.
The leadership team must be committed to the change to agility and can demonstrate this commitment by doing their own management work as an agile team. The exact details of the agile process do not need to be identical to that of the staff teams, but it should be recognizably similar. As well, this “Agile Transformation Team” must make itself very visible during the general roll-out. This can be done with communication and by taking up visible residence in a central conference room or bullpen. As well, this Agile Transformation Team must work diligently to remove obstacles that are raised by staff teams during the general roll-out.
The second source of evidence comes from external sources. Published case studies are one valuable source. However, there is a huge value in a visible management investment in external support from recognized experts. This can be in the form of training, coaching, consulting as well as informal “lunch-and-learn” meetings, town hall meetings and the like. When engaging experts, it is imperative that the Agile Transformation Team act on their advice otherwise the early and late majority will take that as a sign of hypocrisy.
The final stage of a roll-out is to deal with the laggards. For the most part this is a do-or-die proposition for these people. Either get with the program and engage like a committed employee or leave the organization. If your organization is large enough, you will likely have observed some of these people leaving the organization in the general roll-out.
For some organizations, this transformation process can take many years. An organization with thousands of people should expect to be working on the pilot projects for at least a year, the general roll-out for at least three years. Often it will be longer. Good luck on your agile transformation effort!
Recently, I have been reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Fascinating reading. In this book, Mr. Gladwell chronicles some of the backgrounds of top professionals in artistic, sport and business endeavors. He tried to determine why these individuals/groups have accomplished so much in their lives and why they are in the top of their profession. Tiger Woods, Bill Gates and the Beatles are a few of the many professionals he examines. There should be no doubt in your mind that Tiger Woods is the top golfer, Bill Gates is a very successful entrepreneur, and the Beatles are a prolific band.
Please forgive me Mr. Galdwell if I summarize and distill your findings into a few short sentences. The answer is 10,000 hours. Each of these individuals or groups put 10,000 hours into their chosen profession before they arrived at the top. They viewed their professions differently, were passionate about what they did and behaved differently when learning their profession. I am not suggesting you need to work for 10,000 hours before you are successful. I am suggesting if you adopt the same methods they do, you will increase your chance of success.
As I observed these top professionals, I began to see similarities in a number of areas. They seem to share a comfort in their ability to grow and develop. I am not sure they set out to be the top but they certainly thought they would overcome what life threw at them and they trusted their own capacity to excel. I have found that giving yourself a steady message of what is possible helps you deal better with life and to overcome all the negatives around us. As an example, I seldom read the newspaper or watch the news, for this barrage of negative messages affects my outlook of what is possible. It seems to me that these top professionals insulate themselves from negative messages as well.
Next, they have incredible self discipline skills. They practice their profession with passion. They don’t believe in luck as much as they believe in hard work. This is where the 10,000 hours come into their development. They are constantly practicing to improve and master their profession. The top professionals did not achieve their position through luck, they attained the position through hard work.
To summarize, their methods are to be positive about your ability to cope with the future, give yourself positive messages, be disciplined about mastering your profession and be prepared to work hard to achieve the position of the professional.
There is a quote I like that was told to me by a businessperson from Jamaica. When asked his view of life, he said “I refuse to be held hostage by circumstances!” The top professionals choose their future and are agile as they cope with what life offers.
It seems to me another reason why these individuals are so successful is that they were very agile in their approach to life. They created their future rather than follow others. Through their own personal agility they made the right decisions to gain a top position in their chosen profession.
So the question I have been wrestling with is this: If they can be the top, then why not me? What is holding me back? Well, if you have ever spent time with me, or read any of my books, you would know the answer. The only thing holding me back is me. Can I get better? Yes, I can. Can I work harder? Yes, I can. Can I be more successful? Yes, I can. Can I be more agile in my approach to life and its challenges? Absolutely yes!
So how about you? In these troubled economic times, we have an opportunity to re-invent ourselves. The best way to survive and thrive from our current situation is to build the future we desire. Rather than expending a lot of energy worrying about your current situation, you should be taking that energy and using it to take charge of your future and build a new reality. Approach whatever life throws at you with agility. I believe success is a choice. Make good choices and everything is possible.
One of our partner organizations, HBI Leadership, has launched a blog called SustainabilityCulture.com. Check it out!
Although there many other benefits of agile, and although those provide us with other reasons to try agile, the five essential benefits of agile are:
Rapid Learning – disciplined application of the scientific method to explore the best ways to deliver valuable results.
Early Return on Investment – opportunity to use the results of work starting with the work delivered at the end of the first iteration.
Satisfied Stakeholders – engagement in the process in a way that allows meaningful contributions from all stakeholders.
Increased Control – mechanisms to track/measure and therefore steer the direction that work is going so that it meets goals.
Responsiveness to Change – processes, tools, roles and principles that allow a team and an organization to embrace change rather than reject, control or suffer from change.
These reasons are sufficient and apply to operations work, project work and open-ended research work, whenever humans are involved. The above links take you to more detailed descriptions of each of these benefits.
What are some of the other benefits of agile?
Kent Beck’s book “Extreme Programming Explained : Embrace Change” provides a good introduction to how software development can embrace the constant change that affects our world. Some of the practices he introduces are very software-specific. However, the overall basic message is sound and provides a foundational principle for all agile work. (By the way, the book is excellent.)
Change really does occur everywhere. Change is constant. A google search for “embrace change” or “change is constant” will both turn up an incredible variety of articles, papers, discussions, books and viewpoints that all affirm the constant nature of change and the need to embrace it.
Nevertheless, it is sometimes difficult to accomodate change when we also have a legitimate and deep desire to know what is coming next.
For many teams, the environment in which they work is constantly changing. This change can be caused by competition between organizations, scientific or technological advances, fads and cultural shifts, major events in people’s personal lives or even just a change of opinion with a stakeholder. Any change, even small change, can invalidate a planned course of action. However, goals (as distinct from plans) are more stable and often survive even major environmental changes. Therefore, rather than trying to plan the future, an agile team can focus on being able to respond to change while still reaching a goal.
Nevertheless, a team needs some sense of what it will do in the near future. A team can work with a “horizon of predictability”. This is the distance into the future which a team can be reasonably certain that plans will be stable. Depending on the environment, this may be as little as a few minutes, or as long as a month. It is rarely longer. The horizon of predictability is not a precise demarcation, rather, expect change with a probability based on the horizon of predictability. Then, plan to respond to change. Be detached from the concrete details of a plan, particularly if they occur outside the horizon of predictability.
Responding to change requires a major mental shift for many people that is difficult and takes time and environmental support. People are often penalized socially or formally for being flexible or adaptable. This quality can appear to be “wishy-washy”, uncertain, indecisive, uncommitted or even rebellious.
The terms “agility” or “agile work” refer to this principle of embracing constant change since it is the most visible of the principles. However, the ability to respond to change relies on the establishment of agile work disciplines and practices.