Agile for the masses

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I love agile for many reasons. Of course, it helps you to focus on what matters most, not wasting your breath on something still far away. Of course, it helps you to deal with change. But its power lies not in moving our gaze toward the here and now, it lies the pillars from the Agile Manifesto. I’ll repeat them here for brevity:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

The reason these lines appeal so well to the teams – and why we all want to adopt them – is because it speaks to our core values it’s human to interact and collaborate, it’s how we moved from gathering nuts and berries to where we are today. To me, it revolves around a shift-left and the three core values:

Trust, Responsibility and Commitment.

This is fine if you’re a small organization, a startup. But then the big companies got involved. We’ve seen the rise of agile frameworks to scale it, from “The Spotify Model” to SAFe, and predominately the homegrown adaptations to get Scrum teams to work together.

What happened to the pillars?

Now what we’re seeing in this context is Agile moves from empowering the teams to getting a more flexible and predictable factory production line. And it’s understandable why:

  • Implementation in these companies is controlled by the same people that were in the previous organization, with existing structure in place (Albert Einstein: we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them).
  • There is an uneven distribution of behavior change requirements depending on how high up one sits in the organization (Jeff Gothelf).
  • It is much, much easier to make money selling a process or a tool than it is to make money selling cultural change.

And here we are. The terminology has been adopted, and we can continue. But of course, your company isn’t one of the places where this occurs. There is of course an easy way to test this, by asking yourself these questions:

  • Is my company focused on individuals and interactions, or on processes and tools?
    • between teams
    • between teams and the board of directors
    • between the solution architect and teams – in dialog
  • Is my company focused on working software, or on documentation?
    • Do you write epics with Business Analysts, or with teams?
    • Do you ask the teams what should be the priority?
    • How do you deal with technical debt?
  • Is my company focused on collaboration, or on contracts?
    • Do you still write out API specifications?
    • Do you ever address the contract you have with your supplier?
    • Are your end users even invited to the demos?
  • Is my company making plans, or responding to change?
    • Does the feedback from retrospectives reach the CEO?
    • How much work is standing by, either refined or in the funnel?
    • How much effort is put into (multi-)year roadmaps and coordination?

The foundation of Agile lies in trust. Trust your teams and give them responsibility. Give them responsibility and they will show commitment. Anything that goes wrong, learn from it. If they’re missing expertise add it to the team, support them, improve with them.

Becoming Agile is hard, most importantly because you must realize you’re a part of the transformation, not the instigator.

Edwin van der Thiel

About

Ever since his childhood, Edwin has had a broad interest in technology, especially in its application. For this reason, he chose to study AI, a more practical application of logic and math. For Edwin, after university in 2004, the world didn’t quite seem ready to adopt AI practices in everyday life, and as many of his colleagues, he also switched. In his case, his interest went to the field of systems engineering and architecture, working in Linux and Windows infrastructures. In 2011, his passion for creating new solutions led him back to the field of software development, where Sogeti offered the opportunity to make this switch. Since then he has worked with different customers at various locations – among which Netherlands, India, Oman and recently joined Joleen and Menno in a Blockchain inspiration session. The past years, he has been active in different communities and the sharing of knowledge. Among others, these are the Microsoft Heroes, the OmniChannel core team, teaching courses on JavaScript, Git, NodeJS and Blockchain, speaking at the Heroes Academy and Microsoft’s Techdays.

More on Edwin van der Thiel.

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