Agile, You’re Doing it Right

For all the attention people apply to not being agile, or needing to be more agile, there is a distinct possibility that is often unaccounted for. That you’re already agile.

Of course, you could have a better process, but that’s always true. Recognizing that you can be better is at the heart of agile (and lean). Lean uses kaizen and PDCA for incremental improvements. In agile, there’s the principle:

12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

The fact that you want to be more agile is usually a misrepresentation of your desires. Most teams say things like “more agile” or “leaner” as a euphemism for “better”. That sort of drive is a key characteristic of being agile.

We Don’t Look Agile

There is no one way to be agile, so stop worrying if you don’t have the scrum ceremonies or roles. You can be agile without a “product owner”. Lacking a “scrum master” does not diminish your agility.

There is nothing in agile that says you must have a stand-up, or a sprint, or a prioritized backlog. There are good reasons for these, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for you. Don’t judge how agile you are based on how closely you follow any specific playbook. Look at these for ideas, not rules.

Especially in large scale companies there are no shortage of guides such as the scaled agile framework (SAFe) or scaled scrum that talk about how to be an agile enterprise. Enterprise agility a bit of an industry buzz word right now, The great irony of these is that they put a lot of emphasis on the process. Why is that ironic?

Individuals and interactions OVER process and tools

It’s critical that you know your client and work with them. Having a formal process to facilitate that can be nice, but find a process that works with what you have. Stop evaluating how agile your enterprise appears to be based on some theoretical process that was created without considering your unique context.

Go ahead and look at it. It probably has some good ideas.

Understand it. It was made by smart people to solve problems. But consider, are the problems it solves problems you have?

Look for ways it may help you, but recognize that it doesn’t understand your people, your clients, your processes, or your culture. Your way may be better for you. It may even be more agile.

Project Managers

Don’t fire your project managers, and don’t re-classify them as scrum masters.

Contrary to popular belief, good project managers need not impede agility. Their plans provide a reference point for how much we expect to invest and when our time boxes end. These can help us create visual management, so we can see when we are out of standard and fix it. When things do change (discoveries by the team or new client needs) the PM skillset can help us and our clients understand the trade offs so that expectations remain aligned and decisions are made that are respectful of (sometimes) fixed dates and the needs of others.

Consider what is one of the most well known agile shops around; Menlo Innovations. Do they have scrum masters? No. Do they have product owners? No. Do they have project managers? Yes. Are they agile? They are among the best for agile software delivery and their project managers help make that possible.

The only problem with project managers is that sometimes you find a bad one. What is a bad project manager? Someone who thinks it’s their job to protect the plan from change rather than using it to facilitate a well informed conversation about the inevitable changes. The problem here isn’t project management, it’s a bad project manager. Don’t confuse the two. Agile and lean processes benefit from having a plan so that way we can check ourselves against it (PDCA) and make trade-offs explicit.

Plans are worthless, planning is everything.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Evaluating Your Priorities.

Are you driven to satisfy your clients or are you wrestling with them?

Are you excited to show them what you’ve built and get their opinion, or do you want to be left alone for a few more weeks to perfect it?

Are you trying to deliver often or do you want to cut down on deliveries to reduce fixed costs like QA?

If you gravitated toward the first statements, you’re probably fine. Stop looking for a whole new way of doing things and just try to get better; one step at a time.

If you gravitated toward the latter statements, then you may need an agile intervention. But here’s the trouble. The problem isn’t your methodology, it’s likely how you think about your role and your relationship to the client. Until you fix that, all the scrum ceremonies in the world won’t help you. Worse, having those ceremonies may give you the feeling that you are agile, but you may be fundamentally doing it wrong.

Leave a Reply