Friday, 3 July 2015

Tools don't make you Agile

So this is my mug from a recent assignment. We were all issued one within the Capability Team but it was supposed to remind us all that when we'd finished all our stand-ups, facilitation workshops and face to face interactions, that at the end of the day we needed to update our supporting toolset.

Keep calm and update Rally
Keep calm and update Rally
The challenge with adopting Agile is that you need to learn new agile values, and its not easy. Giving developers or technologists the choice of interacting with business people or playing about with a new toolset there is often a sway towards tools and insular practices.

In Agile, its all about the people interactions and conversations that make you more Agile, and you can get the most of them happening when you have an agile wall / 'radiator board'.  These walls tell their own story about the status of any project and will attract any interested parties like moths to a light bulb. If this board is in a collaborative space it will encourage the business and technology to openly engage with it and with each other.  The six conversations* you're going to have about each user story are easily enacted in this space with physical media (cards and pens) rather than a screen.

If you use desktop tools you promote people to look at their own screens rather than each other. I call desktop tools 'fridge's' as you've got to open them to see what's inside, unlike your Agile wall that is always radiating information. The human brain can happily manage about 150 items in view and in context on a wall, so only got for a supporting toolset if you're way over this amount, or you have specific geographical challenges you can't overcome with other means.

Any organisation that thinks rolling out Rally, Jira or whatever to their tech department is suddenly going to turn them Agile is starting off in the wrong direction.  Toolsets can help make your processes more efficient, but they don't make you "Agile".

*A user story is a placeholder for a conversation, one that will take place about six different times before the story gets played into a scrum team.

Friday, 29 May 2015

On the journey

So every journey begins with a single step..

Today I was running a session to elicit a list of potential projects with the business so that they could be further analysed by process and technology and then played back to the business again for a short-listing.

Its good to be back in the facilitator role again

Whilst we got the list of projects together in a reasonable time and some excellent debate was had, it was interesting to observe the worry in the room that there was not going to be a concensus on priority.  The concern seemed to be that either some "quick wins" that would be easy to deliver would make it in, or alternatively just a start on a more strategic journey that would deliver big benefit down the track, but not necessarily in the coming year.

Thankfully, I was able to speak to the concern using Weighted Shortest Job First (WSJF) and had printed out a copy of the formula and a description of the elements that make it up.  There seemed to be a real sense of calm coming back once I had explained the inputs and process and that there was an existing method to take stakeholders on a journey to a potential "straw man" priority list that they could then debate with some actaul "science" behind it.

I just hope they like the answer when I run the prioritisation workshop in a few weeks, I have yet to crack exactly how we are going to get an overall clear measure of "business benefit" here.

More to come..

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Back to Basics

So I've been away for a while.

Having persued the Agile path from its early beginings working with XP, FDD and RAD methods in the late nineties and then been on a journey all the way to the Scaled Agile Framework in 2013/14, I stepped off.

One of the interesting things in doing what I do is that once in a while it helps to go back to the other side of the fence and see what it looks like.  I'm now deeply involved in a global datawarehouse delivery for a large Financial Corporation and its all fixed price 3rd party work and waterfall documentation.  I've been here for a while, and have witnessed all the things that we tried to fix with Agile all over again.

Whats fascinating is what happened when things started to slip on the waterfall plan. The build phase in my project was being held up as design was late and still emerging. It somehow seemed really natural to fall back to Agile first principals and start short iterations of design, build, design review and test, within the waterfall process.  Also what was equally fascinating is how this "iterative" approach has been hailed as significant progress within the Department.

In this heavily silo'd and waterfall organisation there are so many ways that grass roots Agile can help sort out and fix problems and also give a framework to prioritisation.  Not by suddenly implementing scrum and making the business engage as product owners (they really aren't ready for that) but just by going back to some of the original Agile principals, like Keep it Simple, Evolve Designs and Reflect Regularly.

I have now been invited to run presentations and workshops to demonstrate what Agile can do for the Organisation and how the Agile principals can pave the way to more successful outcomes.

Here we go again :-)