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What Is Agile Transformation?

Check out my latest video on Agile Transformation. In this short video, I touch on the advantages of Agile Transformation. I also discuss the challenges and what leadership can do to help.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.

A Realistic Look at the Agile Manager

Agile Manager

Often you will hear that the biggest challenge to Agile adoption is management. There is little doubt about this. Adjusting to an Agile mindset for many managers is difficult. This is especially true for managers who only know a command and control environment. It also doesn’t help that most business schools teach outdated management theories. Agile requires a new way of managing based on coaching and empowering others.

It is important though to realize that manager’s still play a key role in Agile. Just because the Scrum Guide and Agile Manifesto pay no mention to managers, it doesn’t mean they aren’t needed. To the contrary, in my experience good managers are crucial to the success of Agile delivery. Management shouldn’t be a bad word!

Let me provide a scenario. An Agile team was on track to a deliver a product to a very important customer. The team misses their promised delivery date and the customer is irate. In a situation like this, should executives look to the entire Agile team to understand why the delivery date was missed? No, they shouldn’t. In this situation, a manager should be the one to explain to the executives what happened, and take the heat. The manager would also provide direction to go forward. It’s the manager’s responsibility to communicate with leadership and, well, to manage.

Agile is about empowerment and trust, but this doesn’t mean we abandon management. If we did, it would be chaos. The notion that managers relinquish all control to delivery teams is naive. It’s also irresponsible. Agile purists envision a Utopian world of people working together in harmony. They long for a workplace where people are never told what to do. The reverse is the old school manager, who wants to make all the decisions. Neither one of these approaches are adequate. The key to management is balance. This brings me to the Agile manager.

The Agile manager empowers teams, but also knows when to step in. They are servant leaders first, but they know when to manage. The idea that managers should never put pressure on teams, or tell anyone what to do, is a fantasy. As Agile continues to evolve, we can’t see management approaches as black or white. Agile managers must be flexible. The best teams evolve from a diverse management approach.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.

A Fun Day in Minneapolis – Agile Day Twin Cities 2017

Agile Day Twin Cities

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Agile Day Twin Cities 2017 conference, sponsored by DevJam. The conference aims at helping Minneapolis Agile practitioners learn from each other.   Throughout the day there were breakout sessions which featured different speakers. The talks ranged from the people and business of Agile, to new ideas about improving Agile development.

As David Hussman, the founder of DevJam, kicked off the event, I was impressed by the theme and feel. David made it clear that the event was not about experts and teachers, but instead about learning from each other and challenging the status quo. David also emphasized a focus on product, rather than process. As the event got under way, I was struck by the impressive crowd of Minneapolis Agile practitioners. Minneapolis has become a tech hub and a melting pot for startups, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Throughout the day I attended many sessions. I heard from other Agile practitioners sharing their experiences. Minneapolis being the small town that it is, I ran into many friends and some former colleagues. One of the highlights was hearing Priya Senthilkumar and Ray Grimmer, former colleagues from my days at PearsonVUE. Priya and Ray talked about their journey implementing stable Agile delivery in a complex environment.

Another talk I enjoyed came from Daniel Walsh. Daniel talked about improving Agile development using the Cynefin framework. Cynefin (pronounced KUN-if-in), Welsh for habitat, was developed in the early 2000s and used as a sense making device. The Cynefin framework has four areas of decision-making: simple, complicated, complex, chaotic, and at the center is disorder. Below is a picture of the Cynefin quadrant with actions for how to respond to each situation.

My take away from the Cynefin framework, is that not all Agile concepts will work well in situations. We need to understand why and where our practices work, and get away from asking questions like, is Scrum better than Kanban? This is the wrong question to ask. We should be asking, what is the situation we are dealing with, and how should we respond to it? We need to get away from a single, recipe based approach for all situations. The way we work in Agile needs to be fluid and smart, and not dogmatic and one size fits all.

I could relate to the concept of the Cynefin framework. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of pushing the wrong Agile framework in past situations. I’ve worked with organizations where Scrum fit like a glove, and in other companies Scrum felt like trying to fit a square piece in a round hole. As the Agile movement continues to evolve, we need to be open to new approaches, ideas and methods.

In summary, my time at Agile Day Twin Cities 2017 was great because it challenged my way of thinking. Sometimes we get so caught up in our work and opinions that we forget to step back and look at things from a different perspective. The new ideas and concepts I heard at Agile Day Twin Cities were great. Perhaps what I enjoyed the most, was connecting with other fellow Agile practitioners.

Below are a few pictures I took during the conference.

Agile Day Twin Cities

David Hussman kicking off the day

Priya Senthilkumar and Ray Grimmer: Agile at Pearson VUE

Daniel Walsh: Improve Agile Development Using the Cynefin Framework

MC Legault: Agile is People & Business!

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

 

 

We Are Your Trusted Agile Strategy Advisors

Agile Strategy

At MacIsaac Consulting, we build relationships based on trust, commitment, and results. Based on these core values, we provide the very best IT delivery services to our clients. Our goal is to help companies improve the quality of their software products.

We are big on Agile delivery, but it’s clear to us that many organizations still have an Agile delivery problem. The problem is that companies rush into Agile adoption too soon. In short, they lack strategy! The results are high Agile training/coaching fees and little results. For those organizations who have felt this pain, we hear you!

To address this problem, we help companies create an Agile strategy. We do this through the following three-step approach:

  1. Detailed assessment of your current state IT delivery capabilities (where you currently are).
  2. Strategic recommendations and goals for your Agile adoption (where you need to be).
  3. Partnership options to help you meet your goals (how we can help you get there).

Together we will create an Agile adoption strategy that’s tailored for your organization. Whether you are a large or small company, when it comes to Agile adoption, there is no one size fits all.

We are agnostic to any particular brand or framework of Agile. Our approach includes all aspects of how you delivery software. This includes both business and IT. Too many companies make the mistake of only focusing on their IT teams, but business and IT must work together as one.

We insist that business leadership understands the principles behind Agile delivery. This is so important to a successful Agile delivery transformation.

For more on our Agile advisory services, I encourage you to reach out to us. We are a small team of seasoned IT delivery and Agile experts. All our consultations are at no cost to you. Our ultimate goal is to set you on the right path.

We want to hear from you! We are here to be your trusted Agile strategy advisors.

For an intro to MacIsaac Consulting, see my short video below:

 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

Have People Had Enough Of Agile?

Agile Delivery

Photo Credit Shutterstock

If you work in a business that has anything to do with technology, you are familiar with Agile. You know the Agile I’m talking about. The kind where teams sit together and deliver software in increments. Seems everywhere you turn these days you hear about Agile. Along with Agile’s popularity has come a title wave of services. These services include coaching, training and certifications.

Consultancies have jumped on the Agile bandwagon big time. The other day I noticed a local consulting firm completely re-branded themselves. They are now the Agile experts. I was like wait, what? Like a year ago, they didn’t even provide IT consulting. Anyway, you get the point, Agile is the flavor of the moment and it’s everywhere.

Along with the over promotion and saturation of Agile, there has also been a mass influx of Agile gurus. These gurus scour the internet to prove their Agile knowledge is second to none. Agile to them has become a religion. They are quick to scold anyone blasphemous enough to challenge their Agile expertise. If you follow any Agile groups on LinkedIn, you’ve seen the ridiculous feuds. For sure the gurus will comment on this post to teach me the error of my ways.  Dealing with these gurus online is bad, but if you’ve had to work with them, it’s even worse.

So, between the obnoxious gurus and the commodification, I must ask, have people had enough of Agile? Is Agile software delivery like the glam hair metal of the 80s, and we’re at the point of Nirvana and grunge breaking onto the scene?  Keep in mind that as I ask this question, I’m a pro Agile guy. For many years, I studied and worked in both the Agile and traditional SDLC worlds, and today Agile is my preference. Although I’m a pro Agile, I’m concerned about what Agile has become.

To back up a bit, I started my career back in 2000 as a manual software tester, long before Agile exploded onto the scene. For years, I tested software for various organizations. Around 2008, I got introduced to Agile when I worked as a QA analyst on Scrum team. After time, I started working as an IT Project Manager and an Agile Scrum Master.

I studied everything I could on project management and on Agile delivery. I got my PMP and in business school I studied systems thinking and the theory of constraints. I attended Agile training, got a CSM (Certified Scrum Master) certification, and read every book I could on Agile.

Today, I still consult as an IT project/program manager or Agile Scrum Master. Although my preference is Agile, I’ll perform whatever the client role requires. Usually this means being a traditional project manager, an Agile Scrum Master, or a hybrid of both.

I have a real appreciation for Agile delivery. I found that the Scrum Master role coincides with two of my other passions, leadership and emotional intelligence. I love how Agile delivery is not only about writing code, but also about relationships and working together as a team.

As much as I’m a fan of Agile, I still think there is value in traditional project management. There are disciplines and processes that are tried and true in project management. We need to be careful not to write them off. Not all organizations are ready for Agile adoption, and that’s okay. I know that may sound odd coming from someone who is pro Agile, but if we are honest, Agile adoption is not easy. It isn’t as simple as attending a training. There are some great training services available, but often they have little effect.

All this leads me back to question, have people had enough of Agile? Am I, and pro Agile people like myself, part of the problem? Have we lost sight of the Agile Manifesto and become too dogmatic in our views, turning others off?

Soon Agile will morph into something else. New delivery frameworks will emerge, and so will new gurus. Whatever happens, it’s important we open ourselves up to not having all the answers, and we remain teachable. The main goal is that we continue to improve how we develop software and work together. To me, the Agile movement is a part of something bigger than certifications and gurus. It’s about working together to build quality products that provide value. What say you?

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

6 Steps To Take Before Making The Agile Transformation Plunge

With the popularity of Agile, more and more executives are pushing Agile transformation. To meet this demand, everywhere you look someone is now selling Agile. In a sense, Agile has become a commodity.

Agile Transformation

Those selling the commodity offer things like Agile coaches, Scrum training, and SAFe certifications, just to name a few. Don’t get me wrong, many of these vendors provide high quality services. The commoditization of Agile is a result of demand due to the positive brand that is “Agile”. When done right, few will disagree that Agile isn’t the best way to develop software.

When it comes to Agile transformation, the problem is not so much the Agile service providers, but more so around a lack of planning. Without proper planning,  the “transformation” process often goes over like a lead balloon.

The scenario usually goes something like this: executive from company X declares the organization needs to be Agile. Management then scrambles and hires Agile coaches and force employees to sit in open-work spaces. Throw in some team stand-ups and burn down charts and voila, they are now Agile! Management is happy, that is, until time goes by and they realize they have no measurable improvements.

Here’s the thing, Agile transformation is a huge change. If you haven’t properly planned before charging into transformation, your chances of success will be slim.

Another way to think of Agile transformation is like getting yourself in good physical shape. Last year I started working with a personal trainer. When I first met with my trainer, he didn’t send me right into the weight room and have me do dead lifts and squats. Instead, we met on multiple occasions and talked through my eating habits, my fitness routine, and my goals. We did this before I went anywhere near the weights.

By taking the time to do the analysis, I got a clear picture of where the problems were with my current fitness routine (or lack thereof) and diet. This enabled me to come up with goals and a manageable plan to achieve them. I was then able to put the plan into action and with the help of the trainer, receive some great results.

It’s the same with Agile transformation. You need to take the time to analyze and plan before charging ahead. If you’re planning to bring in Scrum training and Agile coaches, I’d like to propose some steps to take before doing so. Below I have outlined 6 steps intended to help you be successful in your Agile transformation journey. Think of them as Agile transformation prerequisites.

1) Know Your Organizational Purpose – Make sure you are clear on what your definite purpose is as an organization. You might be asking, how is the purpose of my company related to Agile, isn’t Agile an IT thing? It’s funny, many of us in technology sometimes forget we are part of a bigger picture. Business and IT must be aligned on the definite purpose of the company. If you don’t know the purpose of your company, then you have a bigger problem to deal with then adopting Agile. By knowing the definite purpose of the organization, you can align your Agile transformation strategy with the mission and goals of the company.

2) Know Your Current Value Stream – Get a clear picture of your current end to end process for delivering product or service. Many companies have different departments responsible for their part in the sausage making, yet nobody understands the full end to end process. Remember, if you’re going to make improvements, first you need to understand what needs to be improved. Saying that you want to become more Agile is not good enough. That’s like going to a trainer and saying that you want to be healthier. You need to get specific and find out what’s going on.

One way to do this is to sit in a room with management and white board out your current end to end process. Start from the beginning of new product idea, or customer order, all the way until the product or service is in the hands of your customer. This includes your business funding and prioritization process, and project planning and delivery. Include all your processes and steps for delivering your product and service. While you are doing this, write down the actual work time it takes to complete each step in the process, as well as the wait time. What you’re doing at this point is getting a clear picture of your delivery process, while also identify constraints in your system. For more on the benefits of this process, see my post on the theory of constraints and value stream mapping.

3) Know your constraints – The next step is to identify the clear bottlenecks in your delivery process. For example, if you find that on average it takes your company 1 year to approve new projects for funding, you’ll know you have a constraint way up-stream in your delivery process. Agile transformation is not only about making changes to your IT teams, it’s also about changing how your business operates. The idea is to be lean and efficient while providing high quality products to your customer.

4) Know your employees – Take a good look at your people. Are they open to change? Do they bring a positive attitude and contribute to a healthy culture? How about your IT people, are things like paired program and test driven development foreign concepts to them? Take a good inventory of the soft and hard skills of your employees. This is important because if you don’t have the right people, your Agile transformation efforts will fall flat. Get to know how your people really feel about Agile. What you don’t want is people who pretend to be on board with Agile, but bad mouth it at the water cooler.

In my experience, if you have people who are open and willing change, and are positive, you’ll be in good shape. You can teach the technical skills but trying to change someone’s attitude is a whole other ball game. Agile is all about collaboration and working as a team. You need great team players.

5) Know your technology – Analyze your current applications and delivery system. What type of infrastructure do you have in place? What’s your technology stack? Are you using physical or virtual servers? Are you using cloud technology? Take the time to do a full inventory of your technology and its health. How about your testing and deployment capabilities, are you running any automation? You need to know what kind of technology you’re working with. If you company uses archaic technology, it may be time to upgrade. Agile is a modern software delivery practice, you should aim to complement it with modern technology.

6) Create goals and an action plan for Agile transformation – After doing a thorough analysis of steps 1-5,  now you’re ready to create a tailored action plan with goals. This is where you decide what Agile framework to use, or combination of frameworks. At this stage you are now ready to engage outside help for Agile training and coaching, based on your goals.

By going through all the steps, you may be surprised what you discover. Your teams may be more Agile than you think. Only through proper analysis can you discover what is working and what needs to change.

If all this seems too daunting, or if you have already brought in Agile coaches yet see little change, at MacIsaac Consulting we can help. We act as trusted advisers to help organizations put the right Agile transformation plan in place.

We are Agile framework agnostic. Our goal is to tailor a plan that what works best for your company. With Agile transformation, it shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach. Just like someone’s fitness goals, each organization will have different goals and strategies to achieve them.

So take the proper steps, because you and your organization deserve a successful Agile transformation!

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the president and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

 

Why I Love Agile (And You Should, Too!)

After recently starting a new consulting engagement as an IT program manager, I’m reminded why I love Agile.

I love Agile

 

For most companies, sticking with a Waterfall software delivery model is like being in a bad relationship. No matter how much you know and feel something is wrong, you keep going back to it.

It could be due to the comfort of the familiar. Sometimes the idea of changing to something unfamiliar is too frightening, even when we know we should.

One of the major problems I see with Waterfall is that it sets the stage for people to work against each other. Each phase in Waterfall provides the perfect recipe for friction among people who are afraid. What are they afraid of? They’re afraid of being blamed if things go wrong.

What if the project fails and they blame it on my requirements? What if they blame it on my software design? What if they blame it on my development or testing? The result of this fear is people working against each other.

In Agile you break down the barriers of fear and distrust by bringing people together into cross functional teams. When we bring the different phases and groups together into one unified process, we can achieve great things.

Agile is about people collaborating and connecting with empathy, while creating synergy to achieve a common goal. In my humble opinion, the greatest benefit of Agile is that it brings people together. That is why I love Agile.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the president and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

The one thing you should stop saying to Agile teams

Let’s face it, Agile adoption is difficult. For people new to an Agile team, especially those who spent decades in the waterfall world, it takes time to adjust.

Agile teams

I’ve been on different types of Agile teams. Some were completely new to Agile, while others were advanced. As I’ve written in my post, the problems with SAFe, the real challenge with Agile adoption is the mindset.

It’s not the standups, retros or demos. That’s the easy part. The struggle is in improving collaboration, changing the way you think, and building trust.

If you are a manager, Scrum Master or coach, here’s the one thing you should never say to an Agile team: “This isn’t true Agile”.

I’ve heard this statement quite a bit, and I’m guilty of saying it myself.

Let’s take a look at the statement, and why you should never say this to an Agile team. What is “true Agile”? Is “true Agile” some destination that once you reach you’ve accomplished perfection among the eyes of the Agile Gods? Are there some absolute rules that dictate whether a team is “true Agile” or not?

I’ll tell you what “true Agile” is. It’s a unicorn. It doesn’t exist. It’s a mythical place we’ve made up in our mind due to insecurity. There is no true Agile and there are no absolute rules that say you’re either Agile or you’re not.

Here’s the problem. When you tell a team they are not “true Agile”, it sends the wrong message and makes them feel inferior. It’s demeaning and demotivating. Teams that hear they are not “true Agile” get frustrated and their confidence goes down.

Agile adoption is about progress, not perfection. If a team is doing their best to follow the principles, and following a framework, then they are an Agile team. The team should hold their head high and feel proud that they are Agile.

In Agile, it’s always about improving.  It’s the journey, not the destination. Listen to advanced Agile practitioners from places like Spotify or Google. They say that they are learning, changing and improving. They have humility.

Another way to think about it is with music. I’ve played guitar since I was little, and I’ve always loved music (who doesn’t?) If someone was new to learning guitar, and they loved playing but couldn’t play much due to their skill set, I would never say they weren’t a “true guitarist”. It’s not about being a “true guitarist”, it’s about making music. It’s the same with Agile teams, it’s about building valuable software, and continuing to improve.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

What are the best Agile development tools?

Agile development tools

The debate over the best Agile development tools rages on. Tools like JIRA, VersionOne, and Trello all offer different benefits. Some people love the lightweight team focused flexibility of JIRA, while others prefer VersionOne for its program management capabilities.

Long before the popularity of Agile, organizations struggled to find the right software delivery tools. Teams need tools for things like version control, defect management, test cases, reports and requirements/user stories.

It’s not uncommon to find companies using different tools to manage the different aspects of software delivery. For example, they might use Rational ClearQuest to manage defects while using HP ALM to manage test cases. Or they may use SharePoint to maintain documents while using JIRA to manage User Stories and Sprints.

Here’s the thing. There is no right or wrong combination of tools that works for your team or organization. Some teams prefer not to use any tools, and that’s okay. The real goal of self-organized teams is to produce good flow. Good flow means producing quality software that provides value to the business. It should be up to the teams to decide which tools, or lack of tools, works best for them.

 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

Adapting to change, the Agile organization

Organizations today must be Agile to deal with the rapid pace of change due to globalization and technology. In software development, we have seen how well cross functional Agile teams can deliver value.

Companies that adopt this same level of agility across their enterprise will be well served. I’m not talking about scaled Agile or some framework. I’m talking about organizations that can change and adapt. They are like clay instead of rocks. Agility provides a level of flexibility and adaptability that gives them a competitive advantage.

Below is a short talk from John Kotter in which he discusses the differences between the network and the hierarchy, and how they can coexist. In my view, organizational structures of the future will look less like hierarchies, and more like solar systems (networks).

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

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