The Agile Mindset

I have been rather slack at writing for the blog in the past few weeks – seems that my day job as taken all my time and focus, so not much left for my poor neglected blog. So it doesn’t stay so so empty, here are some thought provoking words from a fellow agilist.
Enjoy!

The Agile Warrior

Agile has been around for over a decade, a lot of people are doing it, and that’s great.

But I see a lot of organizations struggling. Not so much with the tools and practices. But mostly in the mind – the head.

Here are a list of thoughts and attitudes companies need to get if they are going to truly adopt Agile as a means of delivery.

The plan is going to change

Plan the work, work the plan. That’s the mantra traditional project management has been teaching PMs for years. Except that it doesn’t work. Companies that expect software projects to be straight lines. But they look a lot more like this:

adaptive-plan

and it’s this unwillingness to change the plan that kills them – Agile or not.

Everyones has a plan until they get punched in the face. – Mike Tyson

Software projects are a bit like getting in…

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Choosing Change.

Something I find particularly difficult to deal with sometimes is how to handle all the suggestions, ideas and requests we receive from our end users. I am not talking about feedback regarding functionality that we are currently working on and where we specifically asked for feedback and user input. I am talking about all of those little things that users would really really like us to change or add to the application – particularly those that may not necessarily be a good idea.

Of course, users always have a specific reason in mind why they want the system to do something. However, not always are these requests really born from necessity. Especially in our case, where our application is replacing another system that many of our users have been working with for years, in some cases even decades. It’s no surprise really, that a not-insignificant number of enhancement requests could be simplified into one user story:

“As an experienced user, I want the system to handle this process the way my old system did, so that I do not need to change.”

Like I said, nobody is at all surprised that we receive requests like that, however somehow we haven’t yet figured out the best way to deal with them. Yes, we do have an extensive team of trainers, support staff and even a specific change management department, but requests such as these seem to bypass those teams entirely and in the end, tend to end up as enhancement requests in our product backlog.

For us product owners, this makes the process of prioritizing and grooming the backlog that much more difficult, because not only do we need to evaluate, prioritize and write user stories for all the very valid and great suggestions we receive from our users, we now also need to figure out what to do with the undesirable ones, who frankly just clog up our queue.

I do believe that the product team is responsible for choosing change – but we are probably not the right team to manage its undesirable cousins and the users who request them…

Don’t Lose Focus on Collaboration.

I was looking for inspiration for the blog when I stumbled across this post by Satish Thatte on the Agile Management Blog.

Balancing Individual Focused Work with Collaborative Team Work: Open-Office Bullpens are Harmful!

I have always been a believer in making sure that my work is a balance of team-time to catch up on what’s going on and focus-time for the more complex and intricate tasks of my day-to-day. Working remote from my home office, it’s pretty easy for me to make that happen. When I really need to focus, I can just avoid my instant messenger, screen any non-urgent calls and dive into the deep pool of total concentration.

My colleagues who work in our “agile friendly” open plan offices are not so lucky. Yes, agile promotes co-location, but how useful is it really to have non-focused chatter in the background while you work? Let’s be honest, not every conversation that happens in an office is actually productive or even related to the work going on. We all chat with our co-workers about our weekends, where we should go for lunch, and so on… Yes, we also discuss our work, but not all the time is the topic of conversation really worth the interruption of and breaking our concentration.

Therefore I question, are open plan offices really the best layout for productive work?

Happy New Year!

Another year gone by, another set of project milestones achieved, another pile of features, enhancements and bugs evaluated, developed and fixed. If I may say so myself, 2013 was a fantastic year for our project!

We made the switch from waterfall to agile scrum. We became more focused, more transparent, more efficient and effective. We learned new tools, techniques and threw ourselves into the change. We tried, we failed, we tried again, we panicked and cursed, we never gave up – and when we look back now, we succeeded.

We involved more users and subject matter experts than ever before. We designed the software with our users for our users. We delivered high value, high impact solutions and earned great feedback and appreciation in return. Our product has never been better, our process is working and we have an incredibly talented, committed and positive team!

It is now 2014. The (never ending) cycle of software development begins once more. From where I am standing, I can’t wait to jump in! I feel motivated, I feel excited and I feel like I have a brilliant team in my corner itching to make our product even better.

So today, the first post of the New Year, it is all about inspiration, motivation and saying THANK YOU!

You all know who you are, you make our team awesome, you support each other, you work like crazy to deliver and you have fun doing it. Thank you for your hard work, your dedication and your energy.

Here’s to another great year!!

Managing Change.

During a recent internal stakeholder meeting, our leadership team brought up the challenge of dealing with changing the working model for a technology project and how we experienced it in our team(s). Since we are (one of) the first teams in our company that have adopted the agile scrum model, it’s often all eyes on us to try and determine whether it is something that should be rolled out to other projects and teams within the company.

While it is easily communicated, documented and supported with facts how working agile has improved out productivity and product quality, it is not so easy to also share the process and the challenge of managing change. Changing from waterfall to agile is not just simply a change in the way we do things day-to-day, more like a huge fundamental upheaval of everything we do and the ways in which we do it.

For myself – and I assume everyone else in my extended team – it was a very big adjustment. Working agile is an approach so completely different, that it was almost like starting a new job, rather than just adapting how we work. During our change process, this was more often than not accompanied by feelings of uncertainty, sometimes confusion and frustration along with it. More importantly, it was more than just a little difficult to suddenly have to work so closely together within our scrum teams. With everyone feeling a little uneasy and overwhelmed by it all in the beginning, it didn’t exactly create the best atmosphere for productive team work. Moving from a process that is known, that I was good at, that I thought I had mastered, to this new thing called agile was a big deal!

Luckily, in my organisation, we had a lot of support. We had consultants who helped us learn the process and apply the methodologies in our project. And honestly, without them and their constant push to keep going and keep looking towards the benefits, I think a lot of us would have cracked and revolted to get back our nice, comfortable waterfall approach. Especially in the early days, when we were working through our very first agile release, it really isn’t all that obvious upfront, that agile really does improve the project, not just the output, but the day-to-day working within. For anyone wanting to implement agile in their organisation, the one thing that I would say you simply have to do, is get an expert in to help you, not just to explain the process, but have a “cheerleader” there to support, guide and motivate your team to keep at it during the tough times at the start.

Now, a few releases later, I can clearly see how working agile is benefiting us, both in terms of project output, as well as enjoying the daily interactions within and across our scrum teams, getting to know the colleagues specializing in their respective disciplines and gaining a much better insight into how we can collaborate and help each other achieve our goals.

I am pretty confident in saying that most of us have converted to agile scrum. We learnt it. We do it. We like it. Change is good.