Agile Ways Of Working

Agile has a chequered history. Hailed by some as the great revolution of the internet age, exciting and delighting users with the production of regular working software (or pixels on screens) for feedback. And creating more predictable and sustainable working environments for teams and the wider organisation. For others it’s another process and an overhead at that, merely oversight that brings little value and takes teams away from their core activities. The truth in fact probably lies somewhere in between.

Agility is not a process, it’s a solution to a problem. But what problem is it solving? In the early days of the internet revolution software teams struggled enormously to cope with the sea of changing requirements coming from their users. It was no longer possible to put software on a CD and deliver updates every 6-12 months. Suddenly users were presented with multiple online product choices via the internet. And if they didn’t like your product they could quickly and without friction move to a competing product. Now software teams were seeing lead times for software delivery shortening and worse still product managers were regularly changing requirements to meet the ever changing market.

So how did agility help solve that problem? Well in 2001 in a ski resort in Snowbird, Utah, a group of 17 out of shape guys asked themselves the very same question. The answer was simple, produce working software early and often for review and feedback and thus quickly plan revisions (if any) into the next short delivery cycle. The idea of short iterations, incremental delivery of working software, visualisation of work in progress and continuous collaboration between tech and business literally revolutionised how software teams built software. This idea was underpinned by 12 Principles, 4 Values and the famous Agile Manifesto. (Btw pure coincidence it was guys only. Normally the same group was made up of luminaries such of Lyssa Atkins and Mary Poppendieck. But it just happened they did not attend on the one weekend the agile manifesto was written and signed).

So the answer is simple, implement agile? Well as many of us know there is a famous saying in the agile world; “agile is easy to learn but difficult to master”. And just like learning to play a new sport, just being a great athlete won’t make you great at that sport. Only a commitment to practice and perfecting your art will make you great. This is where many organisations struggle with agile. We implement the elements of agility that are relatively easy like attending ceremonies, using agile tools like Jira or delivering in 2 week cycles. But we might ignore more difficult elements like continuous planning, writing stories that can be completed in a sprint, producing working software for review at the end of a sprint and ofcourse committing to a sprint goal and achieving that goal at the end of the sprint. Also when teams move from traditional waterfall methods and project management focus to agile ways of working, often the art of planning gets lost. There is a myth around agility that planning is not needed. It’s quite the opposite. Because in an agile world we expect change, we even embrace it (within reason, if we cant plan a 2 week sprint without making significant change, we may have a planning challenge). Hence we must continuously plan. The heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson famously once said “everyone has a plan for me until they get punched in the face”.  Meaning everyone has an upfront plan for him when they step into the ring. But once that first crushing blow to the head comes in, you better be able to adapt your plan to cope with your new reality. Ie stop letting Mike hit you so often and still win the fight 😊. We need an upfront plan but we expect and accept it may change, while still achieving our original goal in a sustainable and predictable manner.

As an Agile Coach it is my job to work with individuals, teams and the wider organisation to help you identify what problems agile can potentially solve for you. Identify your goals for agile adoption if you like. We then work together to plot a realistic path to achieving those goals. The coaching business has this pertinent question it always asks “How do you boil the ocean?”. Answers on a postcard please…The answer is simple and realistic; “one kettle full at a time”. You will not adopt agile ways of working overnight. It’s a journey and not a destination. How successful you become at it equates directly to how much effort you put into practicing it. It’s that simple.

In my experience the easiest and most achievable change all teams can begin to make straight away is –  WHAT YOU PULL INTO IN THE SPRINT, YOU FINISH IN THAT SPRINT. This is the start and the end of everything agile. If you can get good at this, everything else becomes easier. If however you cannot finish what you pull into a sprint, you will struggle with many other aspects of agile ways of working. Think of it as your ‘kettle full’. Achieve this and you are on your way to exciting and delighting your users, customers and partners while doing so in a sustainable, predictable and repeatable manner.

I look forward to accompanying you on your great agile journey, one kettle full at a time 😊

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