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Agile is Value Driven, Not Plan Driven

Agile

How many times have we all experienced this? Leadership asks for project status. What they want is a color. Is the project green, yellow or red? If it’s green, all is well. If it’s yellow, there is cause for concern. If it’s red, sound the alarm!

And how do we justify whether a project is green, yellow or red? We check the project schedule, budget and scope. If one if these areas doesn’t align with the plan, the project is red.

If we were talking about waterfall projects, this wouldn’t be an issue. The problem is, many companies manage “Agile” projects in this same way. They want to be Agile, but fail to let go of a plan driven, project focused approach.

Agile is a value driven approach, not plan driven.

A plan driven, project focused, approach is what we learned when we got our PMP’s. Everything is planned up front. Requirements are fixed, and cost and schedule are estimated. We then report status based on how the project is doing compared to the plan.

When it comes to software development, we know a plan driven approach is flawed. Yet, many companies continue to use it. Why? Why do we punish project teams for being over budget or behind schedule when we know it’s the process that’s broken?

We need to shift our mindset from project focus, to product focus.

Product focus is a value driven, adaptive process. It doesn’t punish teams for change. It anticipates change and even welcomes it.

In a value driven approach, cost is fixed, and features are estimated. It’s the reverse of a plan driven approach. Investment is made at the product level, not a project level. People are dedicated to teams, and the teams stay intact.

This move from project focus to product focus is not pie in the sky. It’s not for small tech firms only. Target, for example, has completely shifted to a product focus model. They get it, and they’re not alone. Many large companies are organizing cross functional teams around products. They are bringing IT and business people together to focus on delivering business outcomes.

If your company is going Agile, ask yourself, are you ready to move on from traditional project management? Are you ready to no longer have a PMO? Are you ready to change? If yes, then it’s time to embrace a product focused mindset. If no, then continue using Waterfall, but don’t call it Agile. 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the 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.

What will Agile look like in 2030?

Photo Credit – Pixabay

It’s been almost twenty years since a group of software developers created the Agile Manifesto. Since then, Agile has changed the way we develop software and taken the business world by storm. Terms like “daily stand-ups”, “MVP” (Minimum Viable Product) and “Sprints” have become common language. Offices used to consist of departments working in silos and large cubicle walls. Now they are filled with cross functional teams and open work spaces.

So, what will the future have in store for Agile? Will the Agile movement continue to gain momentum, or will it become another management fad that fades away?  Will it continue to expand outside the realms of product development? Will we see new frameworks that replace common practices like Scrum, Kanban and SAFe? What about Agile teams, will they look different?

In this post I will tackle some of these questions and provide predictions of what Agile may look like in 2030. I’ll start with the biggest question.

Is Agile a management fad that will fade away?

The short answer is no. The underlying principles of Agile are sound. The fundamental beliefs of Agile were well known long before the Agile Manifesto was written in 2001. Past management gurus like Edward Deming preached the benefits of iterative methods. For whatever reason, it’s taken the rest of the world a long time to catch on. Not only is Agile not a fad, it is mandatory for survival.

While Agile is here to stay, many of the current frameworks and certifications will fade away. Over time they will join the graveyard of past management ideas like MRP, ERP, TQM and JIT.

Will Agile continue to expand into more departments, functions and industries?

Yes. Today Agile is still thought of a something used for software development. Over the next decade, we will see a big push in Agile adoption for HR, marketing, sales and every other department and function.  Don’t be surprised if soon you see your accounting team holding a daily stand-up.

We will also see a much wider spread of Agile adoption across industries. This includes construction, logistics and automotive. The largest industry to go all in on Agile will be financial services. Large financial services companies will have to fend off pressure from non-traditional competitors. Many of the big financial services companies already started Agile transformations, but they are just beginning.

What will Agile teams look like in 2030?

We will still have cross functional, self-organizing teams, but there will be one major difference. Agile teams will have a new team member, and that member won’t be human. Interactive artificial intelligence will be a crucial part of Agile teams. In the future, we will wonder how teams ever operated without it.

I’m not saying we will have a robot walking into our meetings. I am saying teams will use a voice activated AI feature like amazon’s Alexa to provide quick response to questions like “how many large stories are in the backlog?”. But that’s just the easy stuff. It will also perform tasks, help teams make decisions and write code.

Think of the character data from star trek. Data was an invaluable resource to the crew. The same will be true of the AI used by future Agile teams, and it will be super cool. I mean, come on, who doesn’t want a robot on their team?

What will be the training needs be in 2030?

The Agile training needs in the future will be less about frameworks and two-day certifications. They will be more about developing emotional intelligence. Team members and managers alike will need to practice mindfulness to deal with the tidal wave of distractions, pressure and stress the next decade will bring. Self-awareness and empathy already are crucial components to work in an Agile environment but in the future, the need for these skills will be multiplied.

Conclusion

In 2030, we will see some big differences in Agile. Agile is not a fad. It will not fade away, but a lot of today’s popular certifications and frameworks will. Agile will continue to expand across industries, departments and functions. The financial services industries could be the largest industry completely changed by Agile. AI will become an invaluable component of future Agile teams. Emotional intelligence will be the critical skill set. Training will be more focused on EQ to improve collaboration, and less on frameworks.

These are my predictions for Agile changes to come in the future. What are yours?

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. MacIsaac Consulting provides Agile Consulting, Agile Coaching and Agile Training. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.

Why Trust Is the Rocket Fuel of The Agile Organization

Trust is the rocket fuel that propels agile organizations forward. Without it, bureaucracy and rigid management can grind things to a halt. For companies to be fast and flexible, leaders must break down the barriers that hinder trust. In this article I will describe how executives, managers and team members can foster a culture of trust to improve agility.

Executives

Executives of large companies often do not grasp what it takes to be agile. To their defense, they have a lot going on. It’s easy for them to stay on the sidelines when it comes to improving agility. Let Jim, the VP of IT go work on that whole “agile” thing says the CEO. What the CEO fails to realize is that agility is critical to the survival of the company and it goes beyond IT. Agility must be part of the enterprise strategy, and it all starts with trust.

The first thing executives can do is assure middle managers that their jobs are safe. In agile organizations, managers don’t command and control. Instead, they empower and coach. If managers trust their jobs are not in jeopardy, it will be easier for them to empower teams.

Second, executives should let the organization know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Often you will hear in agile companies the term “fail fast”. What it means is that it’s better to deliver iterating on fast failures than trying to build perfect solutions. By promoting a fail fast culture, executives will help reduce fear for employees and encourage trust.

Last, executives must get engaged in agile adoption. They can’t talk the talk, they must walk the walk. The best way for them to do this is by clearing bureaucracy and clutter that impede agility. By having skin in the game, executives send a message to the company that they can be trusted.

Managers

The inability for management to empower teams is often a major roadblock to agility. To understand why, there are many layers of the onion that need to be peeled away. At the core of the issue is lack of trust, and fear. They don’t trust teams to operate without their control, and they fear for their job security. Managers also may not know how to coach.

One of the best ways to address this problem is through enterprise agile training. Most companies make the mistake of focusing agile training only on teams. They embed agile coaches within teams, while managers receive no training.

Agile training will help managers understand their role in an agile organization. They will learn how to let go of control and start coaching. Sir John Whitmore, author of coaching for performance, defines coaching as “unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance” (Whitmore, J, 2017). By coaching and empowering self-organizing teams, management will help improve trust and agility. 

Team members

Agile teams are self-organizing. This means they don’t have a manager who is telling everyone what to do. For many organizations this is a paradigm shift. Employees might be used to a project manager who detailed everyone’s task in a Gantt chart. I’ve found that many employees who are new to agile, at first are uncomfortable with the vulnerability it requires.

Team members decide what they will work on in agile teams. They volunteer and rely upon one another to get work done. Trust is the absolute cornerstone to this way of collaborating. Team members must believe that each member of the team will carry their load. If team members feel that someone is slacking, trust will erode, as well as team performance.

Agile teams are also transparent. They expose their work on a task board, also called an information radiator. To do this, employees must trust that leadership will not misuse the task board. The task board is meant to provide transparency, not as a means for managers to micro manage teams.

Conclusion

Lack of trust is a killer to organizational agility. It is the responsibility of all employees to foster a culture of trust. Executives can help by getting engaged and promoting a fail fast culture. Managers must replace command and control with coaching and empowerment. Managers need agile training as much, if not more, than team members.  Last, team members need to be vulnerable so they can trust working with others in a transparent environment.

When trust levels are high, it will take your speed and agility to new heights like rocket fuel.


About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. MacIsaac Consulting provides Agile Consulting, Agile Coaching and Agile Training. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.

Agile Pitfalls – How to avoid 3 common mistakes in an agile transformation

Agile transformation

I’m grateful to PM Network Magazine for publishing my article on Agile pitfalls. You can view the article in the December version of the magazine here

The article published by PM Network was a shortened version of my original white paper. Below is the paper in its entirety.

Three Common Pitfalls of Agile Transformation, and How to Avoid Them: By Mike MacIsaac

Agile transformation is becoming an increasingly high priority for companies. Everybody wants to be Agile, from start-ups to large enterprises. In today’s competitive global market, agility is critical for managing changing priorities. As an Agile delivery consultant, I’ve seen the struggles companies face when they set out to become Agile.

For the past ten years I’ve worked with a range of companies, across various industries. Their Agile transformation struggles tend to be similar. In this article I will discuss three common pitfalls I see, and advise on how to avoid them.

Before we can talk about transformation, we first have to answer the question: What does it mean to be Agile? Most people think of Agile as a way of developing software, but it is much more. Agile is a mindset. Agile is a different way of thinking and behaving from traditional management. Agile is putting client needs first. Agile is delivering value early, and often through the use of an iterative, experimental process.  Agile is innovating through self-organizing teams. Agile is all these things—and to better understand why companies need transformation, it helps to understand some history.

A Brief History of Agile

While Agile is the hot buzzword today, understandings of Agile benefits are not new. In fact, we can trace Agile roots back to the 1600s. Francis Bacon, an English scientist, developed a scientific method in 1620 which would later become the basis for the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle. The PDCA cycle was used by Walter Shewhart and it was made popular by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. The concept was an iterative approach for improving products and processes. The continuous cycle of short iterations allowed for agility by adapting for change after each iteration. The PDCA cycle had a huge influence on Japan after WWII, as it helped improve production quality and automotive operations.

The most relevant step to agility in the PDCA cycle is step four, “Check.” The idea is to inspect and adapt. In Deming’s Out of the Crisis he writes, “Step 4 of the Shewhart cycle (study the results; what did we learn from the change?) will lead (a) to improvement of any state, and (b) to better satisfaction of the customer of that stage.” (Deming, 1986)  Notice that Deming puts emphasis on satisfying the customer. Customer satisfaction is at the heart of what Agile is all about.

Although Deming advocated Agile concepts throughout the 20th century, Frederick Taylor’s scientific management theory (referred to as Taylorism) was predominant in American business. Taylor’s approach was all about following rigid processes, with a top-down, command-and-control style of management. Managers told workers what to do, and workers followed orders. Taylor’s management theory helped propel the industrial revolution.

Taylorism ran into problems towards the end of the 20th century. The economy had changed and a new workforce emerged. Knowledge workers became the majority, replacing semiskilled workers. Knowledge workers couldn’t be managed the same way as the factory workers. Well renowned Austrian-born American management consultant Peter Drucker once said, “Workers through history could be ‘supervised.’ They could be told what to do, how to do it, how fast to do it, and so on. Knowledge workers cannot, in effect, be supervised.” (Drucker, 1993)

Taylorism worked well for workers on the factory floor, but not for knowledge workers who dealt with complex problems. In 1986, things changed when Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka published a paper on a new way for product development (see “The New NewProduct Development Game,” HBR, Jan 1986). The paper was instrumental in kick-starting the modern Agile movement. Takeuchi and Nonaka described a new product development approach that looked more like rugby. Teams would pass the ball back and forth as they headed towards their goal. This was different from the traditional sequential approach to product development. This new rugby-like approach, made up of self-organizing teams, allowed for speed and flexibility. It enabled change throughout the product development process.

Fast forward to 2001, and a group of software developers got together at a ski lodge and created the Agile Manifesto. This was a declaration of guiding principles aimed at finding better ways to develop software. After 2001, the Agile delivery movement took off on a global scale.

Today, Agile practices are common, but many organizations still operate in the old world of Taylorism. Knowing they need to change, companies are trying hard to become Agile, but many still struggle. Here are three common pitfalls I see when companies set out for Agile transformation—and how to avoid them.

Pitfall 1, Not Having Goals

It’s amazing how many companies set off on a mission to become Agile without have any clear goals. If you ask their executives what their goals are, they’ll respond with something like “to be better at delivering software.” This response provides no specifics on what they are trying to achieve. It also doesn’t provide any sort of inspiration for the employees who will be in the trenches of the transformation.

One client I worked for made this mistake. Without clear goals, they couldn’t tell if they were improving. Employees became frustrated because they didn’t understand what they were trying to accomplish. This caused an unhealthy culture, contention among teams and gave Agile a bad rap. After about two years of little progress, the client finally realized they lacked goals.

Leaders need to take the time to define specific goals that align with the strategy of the company. They need to understand the value generated by an Agile transformation. An example might be something like the following:

“We need to double our production releases from four a year to eight. This will allow us to get new innovative products to market faster. It will also help us meet customer demands and increase market share by x.”

The example above gives a specific goal, with a clear end state. Once goals are defined, alignment needs to be created throughout the organization. A plan can then be put in place, putting the company in a much greater position for transformation.

Pitfall 2, Lack of Prioritization and Executive Sponsorship

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. If leadership is not on board, it’s going to be tough sledding.Leaders often underestimate what it takes for a successful Agile transformation.In a recent report by KPMG, lack of executive sponsorship was a top reason companies struggle with Agile transformation (see AchievingGreater Agility, PMI, Nov 2017). 

In another one of my client experiences, middle management continued to govern delivery teams with tight control. They did so because a) executives weren’t on board with change and b) management was afraid to give up control. Every important decision and process went through a board review and approval process. This of course did not promote a culture of empowerment and trust. It only frustrated and confused delivery teams. It wasn’t long before employees started to leave the company in search for more autonomy.  

Agile transformation is about changing culture. It’s going to take more than forming Agile teams and bringing in Agile coaches. Teams alone cannot change bureaucracy and culture. Leaders need to help remove impediments and promote a new culture built on openness and trust. “Senior executives need to communicate early and often at all levels of the organization to let their people know that the Agile journey will benefit all, and that it is OK for mistakes to be made as long as lessons are learned.” (Cullum, Bagg, Trivedi, Nov 2017)

Target Corp is a great example of the benefits of executive sponsorship. Target executives set out to transform the organization to Agile back in 2015, after the company took a big hit with a data breach. They’ve had great success. In 2017, Target’s CIO Mike McNamara gave a keynote at National Retail Federation (NRF)’s annual Big Show in New York. McNamara said, “What I’m perhaps most proud of is how our new way of working is taking root in other parts of Target, beyond technology teams.Agile sets us up for more innovation and for becoming a leader in how technology and data science can (and will) enhance the retail experience” (see “MikeMcNamara:Technology Transformation on Tap at NRF’s Big Show,”Target, Jan 2017).

Executives also need ensure the transformation a top priority for the company. Lack of prioritization is a common problem with transformations. McKinsey recently published an article in which they wrote “While it is completely OK to start the agile transformation within, say, a small part of the organization,it is important not to stop there and to treat it as a strategic priority for the enterprise. Taking agile beyond small experiments is where the real benefits arise” (see “How to Mess Up Your Agile Transformation in Seven Easy(Mis)steps,” McKinsey, April 2018).  

Pitfall 3, Putting Process over Behavior

Companies are usually quick to put Agile processes in place. If you walk around their offices, you will see task boards with sticky notes and teams having stand ups. They use popular software tools like VersionOne or Jira. From the outside they have all the appearances of being Agile. But if you look deeper, you may find that their behaviors and mindset have not changed. The common reason for this is fear. People are afraid they will be punished for making mistakes. They also don’t trust others enough to be transparent.

Agile values individuals and interactions over processes and tools. This is the first principle outlined in the Agile Manifesto. This is a human element in Agile that is so important, yet often overlooked. To be Agile, people need to talk to each other, and they need to be open and honest.

The best way to drive out fear is through leadership. Managers need to shift their mindset from command and control to coaching and mentoring. Companies need leaders who have strong emotional and social intelligence. With empathy, leaders can foster an environment where people feel safe to make mistakes.

There are various ways to improve emotional and social intelligence. There are learning and development programs available. Google uses a widely popular course called “Search Inside Yourself”. Daniel Goleman is an author and science journalist who offers a framework with coaching certifications.  Aside from development programs, companies should recruit for emotional and social intelligence. Many top business schools are now developing emotionally and socially intelligent leaders. Harvard Business School, for example, offers a program on authentic leadership. The program was started by Bill George, the ex Medtronic CEO and author of True North.

Conclusion

Agile is a different way of thinking and behaving. For companies attempting transformation, the following are three key areas to address: (1) There needs to be specific goals in place. The goals need to be a top priority in the company, and they need to align with the overall strategy. (2) Executive sponsorship is crucial for a successful transformation. (3)  In Agile, individuals and interactions are valued more than processes and tools. To drive out fear, you need leaders who have strong emotional and social intelligence to foster a culture of safety and trust.  


About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. MacIsaac Consulting provides Agile Consulting, Agile Coaching and Agile Training. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.

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.

 

 

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