Is agile Alive? Dead? Misunderstood?

Lats Sunday, after reading multiple “Agile is Dead” articles, I posted this short update on linkedIn

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As you can see from the stats, in less than 7 days it has received a lot of attention (I am not an influencer and my updates generally do not receive such large feedback)

My contacts in linkedIn include a lot of Agile or Lean Coaches and as expected, initially the message got some positive comments. Soon after some agile detractors joined the conversation and made it much more interesting as generally feedback that comes from different perspectives enriches the conversation adding dimensions that sometimes cannot be expressed by a biased mind.

I noticed 3 interesting trends in the messages.

  1. When agile is not driven by technology, agile fails
  2. When agile is driven by technology and not the business stakeholders, agile fails
  3. Agile is only useful to deliver something nobody wants quickly

The first 2 are extremely interesting, in fact they say exactly the opposite thing but they both come to the same conclusion “agile is dead”. I read and reread those messages and then I saw it

If agile is driven by one part of the organisation, whichever it is, and trust is not built within the whole organisation, it will fail. Do it like this and agile is dead before you even start.

If you try to own something that will change your organisation and run with it, you better make sure you share your vision, your responsibilities and your success with the rest of the organisation. How do you expect people outside your little world to want to follow you in this difficult change if they don’t know, understand, own and help you change. Agile/lean transformations are not driven by a department, they are driven by the whole.

And the result might be that you even stop talking about departments and only talk about the whole.

Now on objection #3.

Agile is only useful to deliver something nobody wants quickly

I have seen this very often and honestly makes me sad. A lot of scrum implementations have a Product Owner that is seen as the heart of the product, the person that understands the vision of the product and that takes the responsibility to take the important decisions for the future of the product in regards to strategy, prioritization and so on.

If you look at it this way, you might think that the PO is a single point of failure, in fact what if he is not able to make good decisions, how about his bias, is he a dictator?

As an agile coach I make sure that any product owner that works with me will have the tools for making good decisions. He in fact will know how to manage flow using WIP limits, he will be aware and become proficient in UX techniques, he will learn how to monitor, gather and use feedback from his customers, he will understand the importance of small experiments, he will be aware of cost of delay and when prioritising his features and user stories will have access to many advanced prioritization techniques.

Being agile does not mean automatically ignoring lean startup, lean UX, research. No that is not being agile, that is being a scrum master after 2 days training.

 

How a little man from Japan helped Team X focus on their customers

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Previously on “A knowledge worker’s tale“: Team X discovered that lack of clarity on what to build, was creating a backlog in their exploratory testing work queue. They realised that adding new testers would have only fixed the symptom of the problem but not addressed its root cause.

Team X met to talk about a possible solution to the fact that too many misunderstandings in the user stories were slowing down the work dramatically and driving the testers crazy.

When Gus walked in, they were all there, nobody was late, the team really wanted to resolve this problem.

Mike took charge and said “We need to ensure that the user stories contain all the details, we can’t be blamed for problems in the requirements”. All the others nodded in unison, the bloody user stories were the problem…

Peter added “Absolutely Mike, we need Fritz to sign off the user stories so that when we start, if there is a problem, we know who’s fault it is and we don’t get the blame every time, I am tired of this!” he added “we need to make sure we know who’s fault it is”.

Before Fritz could answer, Gus interjected “OK, let’s see. Am I right in saying that our goal is to deliver value to our customers? Right. How is identifying who to blame going to help our customers? How is blaming somebody going to help our customers at all?”

He continued “Customers will still get the product late because of the misunderstandings, I bet if you asked them, they will tell you that they don’t give a rats arse who’s fault it is. What they care about is to get a solution to their problems, through our software”

Then he went “Once there was a little man in Japan, many years ago. He said that every activity that does not benefit the final customer is waste and needs to be removed from the process. He went to define 7 categories of waste that can be found in manufacturing. This guy’s name was Taiichi Ohno, he revolutionised the motor industry and his learnings have been used to improve manufacturing all over the world, he worked at Toyota. I strongly believe his lessons can be used very much in every context, including software development, let’s not introduce waste, let’s focus on value add activities”

“It seems reasonable” said Mike “but how do we make sure the defects in our stories don’t get caught only at exploratory testing, we have seen that when that happens our flow gets to a standstill, we can’t allow that”

“Taiichi would be proud of you Mike” said Gus. “One of his 7 categories of waste was exactly what you described, ‘defects’.” he continued “Quality was fundamental in the Toyota production line, one tenth of a millimetre difference in a bolt could bring the line to standstill, Taiichi knew it and made sure the workers knew it too so that they could find new ways of avoiding it”

Gus stood up and went to the whiteboard, he wrote “Prevention over Detection”. Then he drew a circle that had 3 stages “1. Write a failing test” – “2. Write enough code for the test to pass” – “3. Refactor”.

He went “Ladies and gentlemen, this is TDD, the one most effective ways of preventing defects in your code I have found in my 20 years as an engineer. In one of it’s more modern evolutions it is called BDD. Through high collaboration and conversations it allows teams to deliver code that has a fraction of the defects of code written without it. If you like to know more, I can organise a one day workshop to talk about BDD and how it can help us prevent defects”

Peter said “I am a bit confused about all this stuff, little Japanese people building cars and tests that are written before code, it doesn’t make sense. But in all fairness Gus has been right before with even more nonsensical stuff like ‘do less to do more’, I think we could take a leap of faith and trust something good will come out of this, what do you think guys?”

The team nodded in silence, they were puzzled. Accepting something brand new and counterintuitive can be scary, but true agile teams are courageous in their decisions.

Gus smiled and left the room so that the guys could make a decision freely.

Will Gus’s nonsense help team X? Stay tuned and discover what happens next

 

 

 

 

Stop building a Shitload of products, you are killing your company

idreamoforganizations0awherepeopleareempowered0atodeliverproductsthat0amatterjoyfulorganisations0a28-defaultI took my first steps in technology over 20 years ago. If we exclude the year off I took in 2006 I have always been employed in many different companies and I can say with certainty that I worked on a “shitload of products” and I use that specific term with purpose, read on to find out.

During all these years, being somebody that loves learning, I ended up working as system analyst, developer, tester, business analyst, manager, leader, coach, change agent, plus some other short term hats.

If I exclude the last 6-7 years where I had the skills and the ability to influence decisions I can go back and say for sure that the products that were initially envisioned, before any customer feedback was used, can be called a shitload of useless stuff and one or two good ideas that resolve real customer problems.

Very often the product envisioned was very similar to the product that we delivered.

Am I saying that in my first 13 years I worked I mainly produced waste?

Pretty much YES.

Another thing I remember in those early years was that I was never in a team where we could say, oh thank god we are busy but it’s not too bad, we can do our work, go home and have a balanced life. Invariantly there was pressure. We need all this by that date, come on! Work faster!

To me, it always felt like we were told by Dilbert’s boss that if we shove some more paper in the printer it will print faster. Also, when we were not busy, then managers will fill our capacity with a new shitload of useless products created for the purpose to make people sweat, very often no thought on the customer whatsoever.

Am I saying that trying to deliver fixed scope, fixed date shitloads of products creates big problems to the workers that build them?

YES, not even the pretty much is needed this time.

Another thing that I have noticed through the years is that without exception, companies older than 3 years have already built a shitload of products that are now impeding their ability to respond to change and survive. We will call this “shitload of legacy systems”.

This specific shitload is used as the excuse for not being able to change, as if saying “yes sure, we can’t compete with the market and we will die soon, but it’s not our fault it’s the fault of the legacy system (that by the way we built)

Am I saying that the shitload of products are also causing the slow death of the companies that created it in the first place?

Yes

Next time you start a product, think twice before rewarding people for the delivery of all the scope, in time.

I have been helping organisations deliver products that matter to their customer as soon as possible, I am not in the business of delivering projects or shitloads of products.

I am researching new ways of demonstrating THE VALUE in MONEYof the “non built shitload of products and features”, if you are interested, let’s do this together.

 

 

A short report on my agile experimental talk

Last week I asked the community for help on designing an agile talk rather than a talk on agile .

If you don’t want to read the full article here’s the TLDR: Can we embed the agile values in the format of a beginners talk so that people will learn by breathing them rather than hearing about them?

I received quite a lot of encouragement from a lot of people. I love the agile/lean community, thank you folks, you are incredible!

I got some great suggestions from Patrick Steyaert that recommended looking into Lean Coffee and Fish Bowl.

Both formats are highly participative and pretty much agendaless and gave me a great point to start at.

My goals in priority order:

  1. Do not bore an audience that for the first time hears about agile. Don’t push them away!
  2. Identify a format that embodies the values I believe to be the most important in agile and make sure the attendees feel and recognise them while they are attending
  3. Make sure people actively participate
  4. Have fun

To me the most important values in agile are: people, customer and responding to change.

The People

I asked 3 fantastic practitioners to help me on the day. The 4 of us were “the agile product team” that was going to deliver the product (learning) to our customers (audience)

Thank you so much to Claudio Perrone, Andrea Baker and Lisa Hickey for accepting to help with less than 24 hour notice and no details whatsoever on what i needed them to do (isn’t this ability to respond to change? :-))

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My Fantastic Team Mates: from left to right Claudio, Andrea and Lisa

The Customers

I told the audience that me and my team mates were going to give a product to them, they were our customers and as such they were extremely important.

To start we needed the customer help to understand what real value is to them.

We asked them to select with dot voting some agile topics from around 35 different agile topics (I took a subset including mainly basic concepts).

The topics were taken from ‘s wonderful Agile Topics card deck that I printed and laminated (for the quite steep price of €50)

The customers immediately queued towards the table where the cards and the markers for voting were. We time boxed the activity to 5 minutes. Claudio, ever the lean man,  immediately identified a bottleneck as the table was too small and only 2 to 3 people could vote at the same time.

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Customers queuing to dot vote (bottleneck)

The activity had to be extended to 6 minutes to allow everybody to vote.

The team took 6 topics with highest number of votes and put them on the wall in dot voting ranking order.

We started with the first topic.

It happened to be BDD: First thing, I asked the customers if they knew what it was. One of the people in the audience started giving us his take. When he finished, I spoke about it a bit, then my 3 team mates took turns in adding their perspective.

Responding to change

This lasted for 5 minutes when the timer went off and i asked the audience to tell us by using thumbs up or down whether they wanted to continue talking for 5 more minutes about BDD or if they wanted to move to the next topic.

People voted for sticking to BDD for 5 more minutes

After 5 more minutes we voted again and we went to the second topic.

We made sure that the team swapped activities, everybody took turns in talking about the topics, we alternated roles like time keeping and pulling the cards from the wall.

We wanted to show team collaboration and cross functional abilities.

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The topics selected by our customers

I got loads of feedback from the people in the audience and the team.

Claudio suggested that when talking about topics, the first couple of sentences need to describe it in a easily understandable recipe format, this is true in particular because of the audience low level of agile knowledge.

Davide Lovetere an enterprise Architect among our customers gave me a lot of incredibly valuable feedback around some contradiction in terms he had noticed during execution.

Other customers said that they enjoyed the format and want to use it for some of the meetings they do in work (yay!)

Other customers said that they enjoyed it but it finished too early, we only had time to talk about 4 topics and they would have loved to touch more

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That’s me having a ball as usual when I speak at conferences 🙂

I loved doing it, received valuable feedback to improve it and can’t wait for the next time!

 

 

Testers: what’s your strategy in a continuous delivery context?

smallbatchIn my last stint as a tester from October 2012 to Jan 2014, I helped my organisation at that time moving from delivering once every month, to delivering multiple times a day.

Let me first clarify that we didn’t move to multiple deliveries per day just for the fun of it, but because we needed it.

 

Your organisation might not yet know it needs this level of agility but more than likely it will at some stage in the future.

How did this transform the role of the testers within the organisation?

Massively

The start

When I joined I found scrum teams that delivered either once a month or once every 2 months. The teams had 3 different defects management databases full with old and new defects. Testers were doing the following activities:

  1. automation (~30-50%)
  2. exploratory testing (~50-70&)

The batches were big, the exploratory sessions were long and found a lot of defects. The automation was not effective, as it was slow and unpredictable, its value was negative.

When I left

When I left, we were using kanban, delivering multiple times a day, defects were more or less a myth of the past, no defect management tool existed. Testers were doing the following activities:

  1. Three amigos BDD sessions with customers and developers
  2. Exploratory testing (1~5%) – never longer than 10 minutes per card, more often than not reporting no defects
  3. Pairing with developers
  4. Coaching developers on testing
  5. Writing automation (0%)
  6. Talking to the customer and the team
  7. Improving the system
  8. Designing the product with the team and the customer
  9. Helping define what to monitor in production
  10. Any other valuable activity the team needed them to do

As you can see the activities that before occupied 100% of testers time, now occupy from 1 to 5% of testers time.

Were testers busy before? Yes, absolutely

Were testers busy after? Yes, absolutely

Were testers complaining because they weren’t doing automation or enough exploratory testing? No, believe me. Most testers I worked with saw the new activities in the role as a learning activity and an opportunity to broaden their skills and become more valuable to any company.

If a tester didn’t want to adapt to the new reality and embrace the change and new ways of doing things, he would have been busy for 10 minutes  a day (~2%) and he would have not been useful to the team.

Did we get there with the touch of a magic wand? No, the end stage was the result of many experiments. It was, back then, a good recipe for that context at that time (it is continuously changing)

So, tester, what’s your strategy for working in a company that releases multiple times a day?

 

The magic talking board

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This is the second episode of the adventures of team X, if you haven’t already, read the first part of the story

Things looked slightly less grim now. We had visualised the work that was coming through and at least we could see how deep the hole we had dug for ourself was.

For a team of 8 (programmers testers and analysts) we had something like 60 work items in progress, it was gigantic, daunting and scary.

But that was huge progress, because now we knew it was there. Now that we could see it and show it, we could do something to stop it from happening again.

messy-deskLittle we knew that what we had created was not only a board, what we had created was a living and talking entity, you don’t believe me? Read on.

The morning after we built the board, Zach appeared, he was the most unreasonable customer in the Northern hemisphere, known for his famous saying “take this ticket, if you finish it last week you are late”. He walked hurriedly to the team area with his usual bunch of new unbelievably urgent tickets to work on.

While he was walking, I swear, I thought I heard the music from “The good the bad and the ugly” such was the tension in the air.

Jimmy, a developer, told him: “Hey Zach, yes, we will work on them but we need to finish these first” pointing at the board.

Zach wasn’t happy, squinted and said, “but this is urgent! I need it now!”.

Jimmy was relentless, looked at the cards that Zach had already in progress on the board and said “that’s fine Zach, no problem, have a look at these cards on the board, they are your 6 tickets already in progress, if your new two are more urgent then let’s replace them”.

Zach eyes widened with disbelief, looked at the other cards and said, “but, but, but… I, I, I… need, need , need… …well no, those are more urgent, work on these new 2 only once you are done with the old ones”, he said goodbye and went back to his office.

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From Top to Bottom: Jimmy, Gus and Zach

Jimmy the developer had defeated Zach, the fastest ticket-slinger in the company!

The team X guys looked at each other, high fived Jimmy and noted that the board had told the customer what they had been trying to say for the last 2 years, i.e. “we are too busy we can’t take more work”, but for some magic reason now that the work was visible, that conversation was much easier and Zach was not shouting anymore, miracle!

This small event made the team determined to always make sure that their work was visible on the board, the board was a silent ally, they won’t forget to feed it!

If Zach had been brought to reason, what else could the board help them do?

Gus said, now the fun starts, let’s talk about setting a WIP limit…

Wanna know what happened next? Is the WIP limit going to make the team even more powerful? Stay tuned for the 3rd episode to find out what Jimmy and the team X lads get up to!

The new episode is out!