Monday, September 9, 2013

How Fascinating! Learning to Speak the Truth about Agile Adoption

Ellen Gottesdiener (EBG Consulting) and Ainsley Nies (Acorn Consulting) kicked off the first Agile workshop of the 2013 PW&WCBA by emphasizing truth-telling with regard to Agile adoption.  When we discuss the who, what and why of Agile, we must be willing to be honest about where we are in our progress.  This includes being honest about the adoption challenges we face.  Once we are transparent, we can take steps to overcome the challenges and advance our Agile implementation.

The duo went on to encourage each person to identify her progress on the spectrum of traditional versus Agile practices in areas like management focus, culture, design, change, and value. As participants physically moved up and down the spectrum (created by Ellen and Ainsley standing at opposite ends of the room), discussion ensued about how participants may be more mature in some areas of Agile, but have opportunities for improvement in other areas.  The activity also revealed that an individual participant may be at one place on the spectrum, where the actual organization in which the participant works is somewhere else on the spectrum.  Participants were encouraged that identifying these types of opportunities and gaps is the starting point for addressing related challenges and maturing in Agile adoption.

The traditional versus Agile spectrum activity was a nice transition in to the being Agile versus doing Agile discussion, where Ellen and Ainsley emphasized that “many implementations fail because people are so focused on doing Agile instead of being Agile.”   The duo stressed that being Agile means a change in mindset, where values and principles guide behavior and enable success.  Some of the key values and principles discussed included thinking with a systems perspective, tolerating ambiguity, building relationships, and being transparent.   To help participants take the next steps in being more Agile Ellen and Ainsley directed everyone in starting a development plan with actions to address the opportunities for improvement identified during the session. 

Ellen and Ainsley shared a number of other insights regarding who is involved with Agile (the Agile teams) and what those teams do.  One of the more impressive ways I have seen to demonstrate what teams do (versus just lecturing on it) is the way that the duo structured the agenda.  The agenda items were listed in an actual backlog.   Ellen and Ainsley explained that the session participants were the users for this backlog.  As the duo progressed through the backlog, they moved items from the backlog to the doing board and finally to the done board.  Participants were treated like actual users in that they were allowed to add items to the backlog during the meeting.  Towards the end of the meeting Ellen and Ainsley asked participants to choose which backlog items they wanted to pull into the current sprint, given that there was only X amount of time left in the session.  This really drove home the concepts of backlog management and time-boxing. 

Finally, in the spirit of being transparent (according to Agile principles) Ellen and Ainsley shared with the group a technique they use for handling unexpected change (which they learned from another expert).  Instead of handling unexpected change with fret and dismay, they instructed participants to simply shout out “how fascinating!” This takes the initial sting out of change and allows the necessary steps to be taken for handling that change.  Ellen and Ainsley encouraged participants to apply the technique during the meeting.  The participants did just that.  By the end of the session, everyone seemed to get the point that change happens and you have to be prepared to handle it – not ignore it or get so worked up that you are unable to move forward. 

Overall this session reinforced key Agile principles in an interactive way that gained (and maintained) participants’ attention.  To that I give a genuine - how fascinating!

Belinda Henderson, CBAP, PSM
Senior Consultant and Business Analysis Blogger, Cardinal Solutions Group



Anonymous said...

Belinda, thanks for the detail! I feel like I was there! And thanks to Ainsley & Ellen for sharing! Fascinating, indeed!


Terry Wiegmann said...

Thanks for the detail, Belinda! I feel as though I were there! And thanks to Ellen and Ainsley for showing, not just telling!

Terry Wiegmann