Agile Archive

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Why the Divergence Between Talks and Lean Coffee?

Lean Coffee Agile2015

It’s been a few weeks now since Agile2015 wrapped up.  So, what’s next?

I made a plan this year that I was going to spend a lot more time outside of the planned sessions of the annual Agile Alliance conference, of which this was my fourth.  When I attended back in 2012, I went to sessions by the “who’s who” in the Agile space.  To get as much value as possible, I attended as many scheduled sessions as possible.  The only exception to that schedule was I wanted to attend some Lean Coffees.

Each year, I have returned to the Gaylords for the annual Agile Alliance conference. Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Washington DC…  In that short time, something changed.  Those things that I believe, as they relate to Lean, Agile, and Transformations in the Enterprise have evolved. Those people who I saw speak back in 2012 are saying the same things.  Honestly, what they are saying just isn’t as compelling as it once was.

The Problem of BDUF

Agilists talk about how bad it is to have a Big Design Up Front (BDUF).

“Critics (notably those who practice agile software development) argue that BDUF is poorly adaptable to changing requirements and that BDUF assumes that designers are able to foresee problem areas without extensive prototyping and at least some investment into implementation… ~Wikipedia”

Each year, a bunch of super smart people go through a few thousand submissions for the coming event, in the hope of shaping a conference that people will attend and enjoy.  The decisions are made months in advance on exactly what talks/workshops will happen.  A lot of work goes into this effort (I know because I was a reviewer one year).  This is all done in a vacuum.  Honestly, those who are reviewing the sessions don’t know what the attendees will perceive as valuable. So, they can’t vet the most valuable sessions.  This year, I found the conference was heavy on Agile fundamentals (this was a conversation at one of the lean coffees at the conference).  Now, this may not be a bad thing. Maybe the Agile Alliance has a target market of those with less than three years working in the domain.  But what about those with more experience in the Agile space? Where will we find our valuable sessions at the conference?

Solving the problem with Emergent Design

I know you can’t please everyone, but each year I have found fewer topics so compelling that I want to sit there for an hour and listen to someone.  I have learned to get up and walk out as quickly as possible, when I discover the session is not going to provide me the value I had hoped.  Fortunately this year, I found that Lean Coffee, Open Jam, and the Stalwarts sessions gave me almost an entire conference-week of very valuable and satisfying conversations and learning.  Did I find a few compelling sessions this year?  Yes.  Is the value of the planned session diminishing year over year for me? Yes. Will I spend even more time in the Lean Coffee and Open Jam space next year? Yes, absolutely!

The Divergence

I am certainly not poo-pooing the Agile Alliance or the people who put on the conference. I’m sure there are people out there who think I am. That’s not what I’m doing.  Those people do a hell of a good job, year after year. I look forward to going to the conference in Atlanta next year.  But, there is a split that I’m seeing.  I didn’t like the big planning upfront this year or at other local conferences. So, I stood up my own conference: Agile Baltimore Unconference. Now, this post isn’t about self-promoting my event.  It’s about the divergence I’m seeing.  I found it interesting to discover that if you have an Open Space (an unconference method) event, the sponsor request will take a different path within the Agile Alliance (who are now a sponsor of the Agile Baltimore Unconference). I found it interesting the attendees of the Agile2015 Lean Coffees and Open Jam agreed that if you wanted more advanced topics, you weren’t going to find many in the planned sessions.

Agile Baltimore or Agile2015+ Unconference

So, what if the Agile Alliance had an Unconference?  Imagine a whole day of conversations, like the ones you had between sessions, at coffee, lunch, or over drinks.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?  Do you think that is the direction we’re going?  As a community, is the big plan up front more valuable than the conversations or the information we’re trying to distribute?

Again, I’d like to thank the Agile Alliance for sponsoring the upcoming Agile Baltimore Unconference.

What: Agile Baltimore Unconference
When: Monday, October 12, 2015 7:30 AM – 7:00 PM (Eastern Time)
Where: ETC Incubator, 101 N Haven St, Baltimore, Maryland 21224
How:  To learn more or to register, go to http://www.agilebaltimore.org

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Agile 2015 Twitter Feed

Looking for the play by play from Agile 2015? Check out the feed below


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What is the goal?

What is the goal?

I seem to lead with that question a lot these days. Is the goal to practice Scrum? Is the goal to apply SAFe? Is the goal to use some other Agile delivery framework? Is the goal to uphold the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto?

They are all means to an end. Your goal depends on your organization. Fundamentally, every for-profit organization I’ve come in contact with has pretty much the same primary goal. Make money!

Before committing budget for that next project, let’s first ask ourselves if we know our core business drivers.

Common Business Drivers

  • Predictability
  • Higher Quality
  • Shorter time to market
  • Lower Costs

But let’s look at this again. What is the primary goal? Make money!

How do we achieve the goal?

  • Through predictability, we get better at forecasting sales and delivery (lead times)
  • Through higher quality, we lower costs of rework and increase customer satisfaction
  • With shorter time to market, we can get an earlier ROI and increase cash flow
  • With lower costs, we free up capital for other areas of our organization

Answer these questions:

  1. What is your primary organizational goal?
  2. What are your core business drivers, relative to your primary organizational goal?
  3. If you don’t know the goal, how do you know where to spend your time or money?
  4. How do you know where to start?

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Is Agile Now a Social Movement?

Mike Cottmeyer, LeadingAgile’s founder, asked the question on the company blog.

When Did Agile Become a Social Movement?

It seems to me back in the day, agile was about getting product into market faster… it was about working with customers to make sure we were building the stuff they really wanted… it was about craftsmanship and quality and excellence. There is a part of me that feels like some of us have taken things like self-organization, empowerment, and collaboration to an illogical extreme. Potentially to the detriment of some of our other goals.

Though I do not agree with their position, I do get the feeling from some that they see Agile as a disruptive cause.

What are your thoughts?  Take my straw poll!
Yes, Agile is becoming a social cause.
No, Agile is about getting product to market faster

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You Need More Process and Tools

processEven in an environment where you have a single, ideal, co-located cross-functional team, I believe you’re going to need processes and tools. The more complex and distributed your organization, the more processes and tools you’re going to need. Doesn’t sound very agile does it? Well, get over it. You’re going to need processes and tools to enable individuals and interactions. If you can’t sit in your chair and make direct eye contact with everyone on your team, you need more processes and tools. Hell, even if you can see everyone, you’ll still need processes and tools. What is Scrum? A process framework. What is a team board? A communications tool.

Context

I’m not dismissing the Agile Manifesto. I do prefer individual and interactions over processes and tools. I’m just trying to establish some context. Most of us don’t work in that ideal agile world. Rather, we have to operate within a series of non-ideal organizational constraints. Most people are sold on the idea of Agile. The values and principles resonate with us. But my job (and LeadingAgile) is to understand the goals of an organization and help them reach them.  We start by laying the foundation for an agile enterprise by forming teams and installing a Lean/Kanban based governance model, but maintaining focus on longer term planning, risk management, and dependency management.

Current State

Before laying the foundation, I look at their current organizational structure, I look at their current governance (processes) and I look at their current metrics to see how good that structure and governance is working out for them.

Future State with Process and Tools

Whatever the future state looks like, I expect two things to help get us there.

1. We need to provide clarity by making process policies explicit.
2. We need to demonstrate incremental improvements by using tools.

Do you agree with me? Maybe you disagree with me. I’d love to read your feedback.


Image Credit: Pictofigo

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