A new approach to delivering business value: Find your A-team, the death of Gantt charts, plus more..

Posted: September 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

Before Agile Australia 2010, Agile to me meant taking a modern approach in developing and launching products quickly to market. Since the conference, I’ve had a sort of tip-of-the-iceberg moment, quickly realising that Agile as a methodology is overwhelmed in practice with the importance of bringing the right mix of culture, leadership and people together in order to achieve an Agile state in an organisation.

Source: Slatteryit.com.au

Agile Australia 2010 was a solid, intensive 2 day workshop themed around delivering business value with Agile, consisting of an eclectic group of speakers from blue chip organisations and specialist consulting firms.

So much great insight was wrapped into the two days (the only conference I’ve been to where all 450 or so attendees stayed until the final workshop!), that it warrants three separate blog posts – here’s the first: successfully adapting Agile practices require a new mindset (and sometimes new blood).

Firstly, I should make it clear that Agile in the context of project management and product or software development is based around short cycle releases (we’re talking weeks as opposed to months), frequent feedback loops with customers and quick iterations that tweak and improve an output to address this feedback. A good place to learn more about the principles behind Agile is the Agile Manifesto site and Martin Fowler’s New Methodology digital handbook on the topic. To this point comes the following key takeouts:

  1. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of unlearning habits and rituals. Ben Hogan of Agile Coach refers to the power of one’s comfort zone and the rather arduous process of moving from current status quo to a new desired state.  Transforming an idea for change to one that is accepted and realised by staff requires leaders rather than managers, and investment in change management. This ensures staff is embedded with a genuine belief and commitment that the change is for the better.
  2. Being Agile puts people first, rather than process first. The infamous  Martin Fowler does a frank comparison of Agile against traditional waterfall to demonstrate the fallacies that is the latter:
  • Waterfall demands predictive behaviour, whereas Agile requires adaptive behaviour. Agile recognizes that accurate crystal balling is impossible to achieve (otherwise we’d all be millionaires!).
  • Documentation and planning is still central, but only if it finetunes your development needs. Possibly my favourite point as it knocks down the popular myth that Agile follows a chaotic, freeform structure. As Jay Jenkins from Renewtek puts it, ‘Agile strips away waste, not documentation.’
  • Success of a Waterfall approach is measured by an ‘according to plan’ mentality, whereas Adaptive’s success is measured by business value: was customers happy with what they were given and has it evolved from what was originally in plan? Change is encouraged rather than opposed by the business (shock horror!).
  • Hence, recruiting small teams of people who are aspirational, highly skilled and self organizing are key ingredients to making this transition. Establishing an ‘A-Team’, as Craig Smith calls it, touches on teachings from Dan Pink’s Drive (a brilliant book I might add!) – the notion of an individual being given autonomy, seeking mastery and finding purpose in what they do as ways to drive high levels of motivation. Reference to Atlassian and Thoughtworks hackathon style days demonstrate just that.

All this from what I can see boils down to two things: accepting continuous improvement in development, integration and delivery of product as the only means to delivering value to our customers, and placing trust in your people to make critical decisions on the fly. Both of these are rationally easy to comprehend and agree to, but in practice very difficult to realise.

Which is a nice segue into my next post on Agile Australia: the importance of teams, collaboration, trust and adaptive leadership.

  1. Leslie says:

    Great summary, Denise. The consistent message is Leadership > change is good > people over process > adaptability > less is more > evolving business value delivered with less = continuous improvement and trust. I look forward to your next post!

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