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Psst. Wanna buy an agile?

In the last decade almost everyone who has heard of software development has cottoned onto Agile methods and how they can help teams and organisations be better and add more value. This has led to a massive increase in demand for experienced thought leaders, coaches and “do-ers”. A demand that far outstrips supply. To fill the gap there is a fairly new clutch of branded agilists.

This is where it gets tricky to operate as a buyer of agile help. And trickier still as an ethical Agilist who cares about people. I am sick to the back teeth of wandering into so-called agile organisations and finding a horror story where agile is akin to snake oil. (It really doesn’t help when the goal is agile. What do they think that means? What do they expect agility to give them?)

One client I worked with had been using a so-called agile supplier to develop a simple website. I joined six months in only to find the code had never been deployed anywhere, and heck there was nowhere to deploy to. It took a further three months to convince the supplier team that they really couldn’t claim “shippable product increment” unless they knew 1. where to deploy it, 2. how to deploy it and 3. had tried deploying it. The same supplier refused to share stories with the development team until planning day, refused to see that a retrospective was a key opportunity to inspect and adapt…and various small things that meant that 14 months later and the team still had no infrastructure, and instead of delivering a minimal product they were looking for complexities to add…simply to keep the agile development team working at full capacity.

To top it all off my client was happy with the supplier because they were seeing something every two weeks..albeit simply html wireframes. And they were nice people. They never once challenged anything in the legacy organisation. Even when they were running months late and with massive challenges, no-one was asking why. There were multiple other reasons why this group failed to deliver, if only I could find a fractal and relational modelling tool I’d show you!

Yuk.

Often during transformation people learn some awkward truths, and sometimes it’s deemed to be the agile consultant or consultancy who are merely trouble makers – or even agile itself is commonly blamed (we tried that once – it made things worse/didnt work). The gains to be made from change are not always apparent, and through intelligent dialogue problems are often uncovered that have been around forever…but not seen. Only then can we get better. When we know what the problems are. However if you never look, you never find, and the status quo or mild improvement can sustain a consultancy for years if stage managed. (I know of one independent consultant who has made £1million plus from selling pixie dust and charm)

Agility penetrates every layer of your organisation, not just development. It also doesn’t come in a neatly rolled ready to go carton. It takes skills, experience and tools to assess and work with a client to define the way forward. Sometimes it’s the right thing to install a method like SAFe or Scrum and change on the go, sometimes it’s better to keep the status quo and use a method like Kanban to figure out which bits really need change. And sometimes it’s just a couple of tweaks, a mindset shift, facilitation and information that’s needed.

So here I am, writing a series of blog posts designed to help you suss out if you’ve hired a charlatan, a wanna-be or an ego-maniac. Some of you will be lucky enough to have hired agile experts. But not many I’d wager.

Beware of….the agile consultants who

  • evangelise their own personal method (unless you’ve hired Jeff Sutherland, Ken Schwaber, Dean Leffingwell or their peers)
    • I see so many coaches and leaders come into organisations with their mind set on what they want to do, instead of understanding what their client needs. Worse still I’ve come across people in leadership positions (usually interim) who truly believe they have a (undocumented and untested) way of being Agile that is the best and only way for everyone.
    • This is dangerous because your team, your organisation is the testing ground for someone elses philosophy. It also usually comes with a “softly softly” approach which will cost you a lot in consultancy fees as they try to stick your square peg into their round hold.
    • How to spot one..they’re usually saying “My agile” or “The way I do agile”
    • For these cases – sack them. They are dangerous. Don’t even try to conquer their ego.
  • only has one string to his bow and wants to install it
    • Often baby coaches have had a singular fabulous experience in an Agile team and believe this can be recreated everywhere
    • Usually invested in only one of the Agile methods…and picks faults in the others. Doesn’t really get Agility and equates it to specific methods..which aren’t really the point here.
    • How to spot one…they slag off other methods or people who use multiple methods
    • For these cases…well it’s difficult. I was one of these myself many moons ago and I appreciate the opportunities I had to grow and learn with each new group. I recommend keeping them if they are open to trying new things and recognise their limited experience and knowledge. I’d sack them if they insist “X is the only way to be Agile” or if they continue to piss off your experienced Agile folks

We’ll explore more ways to rumble your agile consultant and consultancy in the coming weeks….. 

We’ve come a long long way together

Well I’ve not posted on my previous blog for a few years now.  I got working for the public sector and was too spooked to write much of anything.  Funnily enough I’ve come full circle and am back working with government..however this time feels different.  I’ve grown up.  I can separate the day and my thoughts to blog coherently and, somewhat more importantly, within legal bounds.

Ha ha.

So, my topic of 2013, the year of my fortieth birthday, was to immerse myself in learning.  Indeed I spent that very big birthday itself in a plane speeding towards a week long workshop with Gerry Weinberg, 80 years old and still easily the smartest man in the room.  And this has continued through last year, immersing myself with all sorts of knowledge leaders, learning about their different methods, and far more interestingly their tales of real life.

Anyway, I digress.  In 2014 I will endeavour to spread the word that Agile is not an add-on. To reap the long term benefits, of any change Agile or not, it must permeate and flourish throughout all aspects of hiring and caring for people, decision making and governing, supporting and delivering.

No pressure folks.

Scrum Values and The Duality of Openness

The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness.   
Niels Bohr 
 
Openness is synonymous with transparency, and this requires candid and frank communication.  The most important word in the previous sentence is communication – if this isn’t happening then openness is simply impossible.   This can be a challenging value to hold dear and is particularly difficult to achieve if respect and courage are not yet instilled, and even more difficult it trust is yet to be established – this is probably why Commitment is the first value!  Anyone affected by conversations and decisions must be made aware as soon as possible – and without disrupting their current focus.   Openness needs to be considered at the highest levels of the organisation. Consider distributed, multiple teams facing a common impediment. There is little opportunity for passive communication and it’s probably something that is not within a single team’s control – in this situation openness becomes essential to everyone. Read More

What is Agile Coaching?

All too often people forget what was learned in a training session or struggle to apply what they have learned to real-life.  Coaching enhances and extends training by helping people to understand what they have learned and how they can leverage it to their advantage in a real-life situation.  Coaches work closely with you and your people, pulling information from across the organisation and supporting you in defining what success looks like.  An Agile Coach will help you set goals and support you in discovering the right way for your organisation to use Agile to your advantage.

Coaching can be effective for short and long term purposes.  Short term coaching is usually focused on specific activities, for example coaching a team’s planning meeting or helping groom

Read More

Scrum Values and The Tale of the Cowardly Cow

Today I was self-respecting – as I often do towards the end of an engagement – and found myself looking for inspirational quotes around opportunity..of which plenty abounds in India.  As I considered everything I happened upon in the last six months, both professional and personal, I realise that I have been lacking in something.  Courage.

As I tried to focus on when and where and how to improve I began to correlate with Scrum values.  Over the last several years these ideals became so embedded in my way of working that I simply forgot about them..and recent exploration has confirmed my fears – that most people who are actively pursuing or practicing Scrum are also lacking in conscious knowledge of these core ideals.    I only recall ever seeing these in black and white in the very first Scrum book I read by Ken Schwaber Read More

Agile Ah-ha’s

I spend as much of my time reading and investigating the coaching side of my business, as I do in keeping up-to-date with Agile.  I also spend a considerable amount of time learning about psychology, anthropologies and general management theory..and all of the above play an integral role in shaping how I chose to interact with teams or individuals  I coach.

Take Agile games for example… Read More

Agile Principles in Practice @ Scrum Bangalore

Thanks to Isense Prowareness for another fabulous Scrum meetup. It seems that Scrum and Agile continue to grow exponentially here in India, I could swear the crowd doubled from the last meetup!    For those of you in Bangalore it’s worthwhile signing up to come along – lunch is even provided!

This time I was one of the main presenters, alongside Jesse Fewell and Sanjeev Kumar Mishra – who ran a mean marshmallow challenge!

Anyway I digress – it is early Sunday morning  – I decided to present on the Agile Principles and thought I’d share it for posterity. Read More