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Everyone On The Delivery Team Is Responsible For Quality


When it comes to software quality assurance, most people think of phase at the end of a project. This testing phase is usually performed by “quality assurance” testers. The traditional project delivery model is to blame for this. As someone who worked as a software tester for years, I know about the pains of doing all testing at the end.

The problem of course is that when testing happens at the end, after a development phase, it is too late. What you are doing is trying to inspect quality in, instead of building quality in.

Lean manufacturing and lean software development is about building quality in. This was one of W. Edwards Deming’s, a pioneer in the lean and quality movement, motto’s . To build quality in, testing should take place all throughout the project. Testing early reduces the cost of defects because the earlier you catch defects, the cheaper they are to fix.

For this reason, it is well advised for software delivery teams to apply lean principles and automate as much as possible. Automation shouldn’t only be a set of regression tests that run at the end. Automation should take place all throughout the entire software development and release process.

Automation can begin in development using test driven development (TDD). For more on TDD, see my post on why automated testing is needed early and often.

After TDD, automation can be applied from build and deploy to acceptance tests.

This brings us to the process of Continuous Delivery. Continuous delivery is all about creating reliable software releases through build, test, and deployment automation. Today, more software organizations are reaping the benefits of continuous delivery, yet for most it’s still a pipe dream.

People think the idea of automating everything is too daunting, or can’t be done for their application. More and more we are now seeing that continuous delivery can be done, for any application or organization, no matter the size. A good way to start is by looking at your current release process, and finding the biggest bottlenecks. You can then start to automate over time, targeting the bottlenecks first.

By automating the whole software release process, you build quality in. This makes everybody on the delivery team responsible for quality, not just a “QA” team who tests at the end. For manual software testers, continuous delivery enables them to focus on exploratory testing.

There are many other benefits to TDD and continuous delivery, but perhaps the greatest is the reduction of stress for delivery teams. If you’ve gone through a production deployment process, using manual processes and ad-hoc configuration techniques, you know what I’m talking about.

For those who already use lean development techniques this information shouldn’t be news to you. If you still work in an environment that uses SDLC processes with little to no automation, the topics I’ve covered only scratch the surface.

Some great books I recommend on lean software development and continuous delivery:

By using continuous delivery and automating as much as possible, everyone on the delivery team is responsible for quality.

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.

 

Authenticity is one of the most important traits for quality leadership

quality leadership

“A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Authenticity is one of the most important traits for quality leadership. The tendency for a lot of us is to put on a persona at work, and not be ourselves. The problem with this is that people can see through us in a minute, and all trust goes out the window. People need to count on their leaders for the truth.

Living and working in Minnesota, I see first hand the problems that go along with people not speaking their mind. “Minnesota nice” is the term. People are reserved and polite in meetings, then voice their true feelings at the water cooler.

I ask teams I work with to drop the Minnesota nice. I tell them that if you disagree with me, I encourage you to speak your mind. Being a New Jersey native, disagreement will not hurt my feelings.

Healthy debate is good for teams, and we need people who will challenge our ideas and positions. At first people are uncomfortable being candid, but after time they open up as you build trust.

Building trust is an exercise that all leaders can and must do. They do it by aligning their actions with what they say. If a leader tells the team they will do something and then doesn’t deliver, the leader immediately cut all trust from the team.

I strive to be as authentic as possible in both my personal and professional life. I want people to know that what they see is what they get. Whether we’re in a meeting at work or running into each other at the grocery store, I’m the same person.

Being authentic is not always easy though, especially at work. Let’s face it, we do have to deal with politics and we need to be somewhat mindful about how we express ourselves. Being candid doesn’t mean shouting out whatever comes to mind, with no filter. If you are tactful, you can still express your thoughts, feelings, and ideas without fear.

From an organizational standpoint, it’s crucial for leaders to foster a culture of honesty and openness. It starts at the top, and this behavior should align with the core values of the company.

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Quality control – Metrics are important but they don’t improve quality

Quality control, defined by the 5th edition PMBOK, is “The process of monitoring and recording results of executing the quality activities to assess performance and recommend necessary changes.” Quality control is important and valuable, especially for IT projects. Managers need to have a clear understanding of where things stand.  If your project is nearing deployment, you would want to know if any critical defects were still open or if any tests remained.

Quality control

Here’s the problem, a lot of organizations mistake quality control as quality improvement. Metrics are just like a thermometer. A thermometer can tell you the temperature, but it cannot change the temperature. Managers love to look at metrics and graphs, only to put more pressure on teams when they don’t like what they see.

I used to generate a defect slip rate report each month for management. The defect slip rate was calculated by dividing the number of defects found in production by the total number of defects found in prod and test. We defined a target of 20% so anytime we are over 20%, our slip rate was over our targeted threshold.

While the defect slip rate report helped give us a view into our software quality, it never improved it. Throughout the year the defect slip rate percentage on average would stay about the same.

When it comes to quality, organizations not only need to measure, they need to improve. This is part of the reason Agile and Scrum have become so popular for technology delivery. Using Scrum, project teams perform retrospectives, always looking for ways to improve.

The continuous improvement process goes back to the Toyota Production System and Deming’s Plan Do Check Act model. In Japan, the continuous improvement philosophy is called Kaizen.

The point is this, metrics are important, but what’s more important is improving quality. If you’re stuck in a pattern of putting out fires, you’re not improving quality. Fixing production issues is not improving quality. Running defect and metrics reports is not improving quality. Quality comes from improving the system as a whole, and building a quality product up front.

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Quality and the consumer – The 3 corners of quality

quality

Defining what quality means is difficult. On this subject, the great statistician Walter Stewart stated: “The difficulty in defining quality is to translate future needs of the user into measurable characteriscts, so that a product can be designed and turned out to give satisfaction at a price that the suer will pay” (Shewhart, 1931).

In software development, we tend to focus on a series of defined tests. If all our tests pass, we have developed a quality product ready to be shipped. If the product is shipped and the result is a high volume of production defects, the product was not of good quality.

The challenge with the old way of Waterfall software delivery, and only relying on our tests,  is that the consumer of the product is involved too late in the product development process. The consumer is perhaps the most important aspect of developing quality software.

For this reason, we need to involve the consumer all throughout the development process. This way, we build quality up front.

The below figure shows the three corners of quality model put forth by Edwards Deming.

drawit-diagram-4

What we have learned with the application of Agile, is the importance of learning from the customer. Deming talked about this back in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that it was applied for software development.

On learning from the consumer, Deming writes: “The main use of consumer research should be to feed consumer reactions back into the design of the product, so that management can anticipate changing demands and requirements and set economical production levels. Consumer research takes the pulse of the consumer’s reactions and demands, and seeks explanations for the findings” (Deming, 1982).

What Deming describes is exactly what takes place during the Scrum sprint reviews. During the sprint review, we show production ready software to the consumer. The consumer can then give immediate feedback. This allows us to make changes to the design of the product.

The old way of delivering software looked like this:

drawit-diagram-5

The new way of delivering software using Agile ensures we build quality into the product up front. We build production ready software in short iterations, then review it with the customer. The new way of delivering software looks like this:

drawit-diagram-6

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Edwards Deming and quality control

W._Edwards_Deming

W. Edwards Deming was a quality theorist, statistician, author and management consultant. He was influential in the practice of quality management. Deming’s most urgent message was for management. He stressed that management create a system where each worker could do a good job and take pride in their work.

What is quality? The International Organization for Standardization (ISO9000) defines quality as “The degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfills requirements” (Project Management Institute, 2013, p.228). Quality is one of the most important factors for any business to be successful.

“Quality is more than just a statistical analysis tool for manufacturing lines. When done right, quality should encompass the entire enterprise” (Stevenson, 2009, p.406). An increase in quality results in better productivity, higher morale, and increased customer satisfaction.

Edwards Deming was a visionary who understood the importance of quality management.  His concepts helped Japan rise to become a world economic power.

History

Like most of the major contributors in the area of quality, Deming studied engineering. He would go on to get a PhD in mathematical physics from Yale in 1928. Deming was a professor of statistics at New York University’s graduate school of business. He later went to Japan after WWII to help improve their quality and productivity. He used statistical analysis and a systems approach towards quality.

Deming’s teachings and models were successful in Japan. To this day the Japanese give out an award for quality named the Deming prize. One of the causes for Deming’s popularity was his list of 14 points for quality. He was also an advocate of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle.

Deming lived from 1900 – 1993.  His theories had great success in Japan, but he didn’t have much popularity in the US until the 1980s. In the 80s he worked with American Automobile companies to help improve their quality.

Management and the system

One of Deming’s key messages was that the cause for poor quality was not the employees, it was the system. He emphasized that it was management’s responsibility to fix the system. “According to Deming, 85 percent of the quality problems on a project are attributable to the management environment and the system in which the team works” (Mulcahy, 2013, p. 297).

Appreciation for the system refers to everyone within a company working to achieve optimization. “Deming believed that knowledge comes from theory, and that learning cannot occur within an organization without a theory of knowledge” (Stevenson 2009, p 409).

Deming was an adversary of the annual performance review process within companies. He thought the arbitrary annual review process was managing by fear. He believed it robbed employees of their internal motivation. Deming believed managements greatest challenge was motivating workers to achieve a common goal.

The Plan Do Study Act (PDSA) Cycle

The concept of the PDSA cycle was introduced to Deming by Walter Shewhart of Bell Laboratories in New York. The first step in the process is to put together a plan by formulating a theory and creating success metrics. Next comes the execution of that plan (the Do step). Following execution is studying the results. The last step is to act based on the results found and put in place adjustments if needed.

The Five Deadly Diseases of Management

Edwards Deming recognized five deadly diseases of management which impede quality improvements. The five disease are as follows:

1.      Lack of constancy of purpose. This means that leadership needs to understand exactly why they are in business. They must have a clear mission that has a market for the future and is understood throughout the organization. Firms need to plan for the future and have a long term definition of goals.

2.      Short term thinking and emphasis on short term profits. Too much focus on quarterly dividends and raising the company stock. Not enough focus on quality and long term planning.

3.      The annual system of rating/performance review. The yearly employee review has a negative effect on long term planning as well as team work. Employees get bitter when they do not receive high performance ratings. The system is arbitrary, unjust and demoralizing to employees.

4.      Management that has no roots in the company. They lack knowledge and understanding of operational problems.

5.      Use of visible figures only for management. Management needs to  understand there are  unknowable figures.  Understand the importance of  the multiplying effect of a happy or unhappy customer (Deming, 1984).

14 Points for Quality

Perhaps the most well know of Edwards Deming’s teachings were his 14 points for management. Below are the 14 points as stated from the Deming Institute (https://www.deming.org):

1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.

2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.

3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for inspection on a mass basis by building quality into the product in the first place.

4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag. Instead, minimize total cost. Move toward a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.

5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.

6. Institute training on the job.

7. Institute leadership (see Point 12 and Ch. 8). The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets to do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.

8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company (see Ch. 3).

9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, to foresee problems of production and in use that may be encountered with the product or service.

10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.

Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.

11. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.

12. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.

13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.

14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

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Stevenson, W. (2009). Operations Management, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

Mulcahy, R. (2013) PMP Exam Prep, Minnetonka, MN: RMC Publications, Inc.

Project Management Institute (2013) Project Management Body Of Knowledge (5th ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute

Deming, E. (1984) Dr Deming – The Five Deadly Diseases [online Video]. Retrieved from the Deming Institute YouTube website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehMAwIHGN0Y

Deming, E. (1984) W. Edward Deming Quality Guru [online Video]. Retrieved from YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQpY3lnljBE

Delighting Clients Absolutely Needs To Be The Primary Goal

In 2011, my wife and I went on a vacation of a lifetime. We went to the island of Maui, and we were fortunate to stay in the Ritz Carlton hotel. The trip was a wedding gift from a very generous family member. Had it not been for the gift, my wife and I would have not been able to take such an extravagant vacation.

Staying at the Ritz, surrounded by the beautiful blue ocean and breathtaking Maui views, was an experience we will never forget. Yet, when I look back upon the experience staying at the Ritz, there’s something else that I am reminded of. It wasn’t only the radiant sunshine and palm trees that delighted us. The customer service provided by Ritz Carlton employees was fantastic!

By far, the customer service at the Ritz was the highest quality we had ever experienced. Whether checking in, asking for advice, or saying hello, the staff treated us as though we were royalty. They did this for good reason. They understood that an underlying principle for successful business is to delight clients.

In 1954, in his book The Practice of Management, Peter Drucker said that the purpose of a business is to create a customer. Well, times have changed. While Drucker may have been right that creating a customer was the purpose for business in the 20th century, it’s not good enough today. Increased competition and the advance of technology and globalization have demanded a new way of doing business. The marketplace has changed. Today, businesses need to not only create a customer, they need to delight them.

In Stephen Denning’s book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century, he emphasizes the importance of delighting customers. He puts forth principles aimed at moving away from Fredrick Taylor’s outdated command and control style of management. Setting a goal to delight clients is Denning’s number one principle. “The purpose of work is to delight clients, not merely to produce goods or services or make money for shareholders”, writes Denning.

By having client delight be the company goal, it achieves several things. First, clients will promote a product or service if they are delighted by it. Dr. W. Edwards Deming used to harp on this. Dr. Deming said that a happy customer will generate new customers through word of mouth. This effect poses a dilemma for management because it’s hard to put figures around it. It’s hard to measure. Dr. Deming said: “The most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable”.

Second, delighting clients will inspire continuous innovation. Employees don’t get inspired to produce goods or to increase shareholder value. Employees get inspired to improve people’s lives. Starbucks gets this. Their mission is not about coffee, it’s about inspiring and nurturing the human spirit.

Third, delighting clients fosters a company culture that enriches job satisfaction. Companies that put client satisfaction first, use self-organizing teams. If you haven’t experienced working within a self-organizing team, where you are free to innovate, be yourself and have fun, you are missing out.

The Agile software delivery movement has been leading the way for a new customer focused style of management. Regardless if your business creates software or not, there is much to learn from the Agile movement. It’s the modern way of doing business, with focus not on systems and things, but on people. In Scrum, self-organized and empowered teams build products in short iterations. After each iteration, the product goes to the client for immediate feedback. Shorter feedback loops increase both the product quality and client satisfaction.

The market place today demands a new way of doing work. Our workplace is now made up of knowledge workers, and we must inspire and empower them. Fredrick Taylor’s model of management is not suitable anymore.

Going back to the 2011 vacation my wife and I took in Maui. The experience we had staying at the Ritz Carlton will forever be ingrained in our minds. We learned what it is like to be delighted as customers. For me, I want to emulate that feeling into the clients I serve. At the end of the day, business is about people, not about numbers. If we make client delight the top priority, shareholder value and profits will follow.

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 subscribe to Mike’s blog.

Bring IT a Holiday Gift This Season With Good Roadmap Planning

roadmap planing

It’s that time of the year again. Office Christmas party’s and holiday happy hours are in full effect. Most people are scrambling to get last-minute gifts and prepping for time off. Soon the offices will be empty and most of us will be enjoying time over the Holidays with family.

At this point,  most organizations should have a good idea what their IT roadmaps look like for 2018. Businesses usually rank projects based on need and return on investment. This process usually takes place in Q4 as teams prep to get funding for their roadmaps.

Non-IT management of the business typically handle the prioritization process. The idea is, let the business folks decide on what to do, then let the IT folks decide on how to do it.  There’s a lot of logic to this train of thought, and for some companies this works well, but I would tell companies to take caution when using this approach.

The idea that the business should focus on the IT roadmap, without IT involved, is prone for trouble. Yes, the business should be accountable for prioritizing work that provides the most value, but IT should be in the discussion.

When prioritizing an IT roadmap, there are other factors to consider other than financial benefits.  Looking only through the short-term lens of return on investment, you lose sight of the following questions:

  • Which projects are best aligned to the long-term IT strategy for the company?
  • How will the projects affect the IT teams? Are the team’s setup to be successful?
  • How will employees feel about the work? Will those who are doing the work find it engaging, or are you setting yourself up for a mass exodus?
  • How will quality be affected? Are you planning to take on too much work, which could jeopardize quality?
  • If your company is using or moving towards Agile delivery (which it should), how will that affect your roadmap?

Above are a few questions to consider, but you can see why IT leadership should be in the discussion when it comes to prioritizing work for the year.

Aside from IT being involved in the prioritization process, the business should also have a voice in technical solutions. Yes IT is ultimately accountable, but this doesn’t mean the business shouldn’t be in the discussion. When solving technical problems, it’s usually those who work in operations that have the best understanding of the issues. Their’ insights are invaluable.

The need for agile organizations demands that business and IT leadership come together. We can’t afford to have areas of our organizations working in silos. As we begin a new year, isn’t it time we find creative ways for our “business” and “IT” resources and leadership to come together?

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.

 

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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