The Agile Tribe

The path to Agile

Author: Susan Akers

 Two of the most common questions I get asked as the Agile Academy Advisor are:

“How can I start my Agile journey? 

What type of training can I get?” 

 So I thought perhaps it was about time that I put something together in one spot to make it easy for people to see a clear path ahead of them and feel confident in moving to an Agile way of working.  One way to see what training might be useful is to have a look at our role based Training Roadmap and then read the course overview to make sure that you have the necessary pre-requisites.  The roadmap shows the recommended courses and pathway.

The Agile Academy has also produced a number of artefacts to complement our training courses and give budding Agilists an opportunity to have open access to easy to understand material.  These include our Agile in Practice Help Sheets which cover a number of Agile practices and techniques.  Most of these also have a complementary video which explains more about how each of these techniques can be used. 

All the very best on your Agile journey.  Don’t be discouraged if your path becomes a little windy, there are many resources to guide you and if you have any questions at all around Agile or training please feel free to contact us directly.

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Just give me a 'G & T'!

Author: Susan Akers

We talk about having a common language in the world of ‘Agile’ so that all members of the team (both IT and business) have a shared understanding. However, we still can’t seem to get away from the overuse of acronyms. I saw a new one this week and got to thinking about how clever are they really? 
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Agile Q&A: Wording User Stories

Author: Craig Smith

A former colleague contacted me the other day with a question along the lines of: “I am working with some guys who are looking at creating User Stories and there is a lot of discussion about how they should be worded.”
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Agile's secret sauce – Part 1.

Authors: Tracey Kay and Julian Coldrey

Welcome to Part 1 of our series on a real case study of working Agile and what we have learned.

Let’s be clear right from the beginning, WE ARE fans of Agile. After going on a multi-year journey from the warm, cuddly, but ultimately illusory security blanket of Waterfall to the extreme sports vibe of a functioning Agile environment, we know the benefits of Agile first hand. Team empowerment, distributed problem-solving, stepping up, across, and even — occasionally – down; Agile is simply a great way to get things done! We’re currently working on a large, geographically distributed project to deliver a snazzy new insurance claims system. Challenging as it has been, we don’t know how we would have made it to the point where we’re at, almost ready to drop our first production release only a few months after starting to code, if we had been working any other way than Agile.

As much as we dig storywalls and retrospectives, we don’t credit our progress to Agile practices. Sure, Agile has a great toolkit of techniques that can help the team understand and manage what needs to be done but …… teams with low Agile maturity often hone in on the more tangible aspects of the methodology: standups, story cards and so forth. Yet time and time again, we’ve seen teams go through the motions and ultimately struggle, even though on a superficial level they are doing “everything right.”

SO WHAT IS THE SECRET SAUCE THEN? Put simply: CULTURE and, because culture is driven from the top down (ie. the leadership team) the right culture creates an environment for a productive set of values and behaviours to emerge. It is the culture, not the mechanics of Agile, that infuses Agile practices with the right intent. Culture, not a wall covered with sticky notes, enables sustainable pace, quality and collaboration. In fact, experience tells us that, without an appropriate culture, working Agile is pointless.

Now that’s a lot of italics, let alone ideas, to cram into one paragraph. And we don’t mean to suggest we’ve nailed it in our project. However, the closer we’ve come to the right team culture, the more effective our Agile practices have been; the better the team has worked; and the more confident we’ve been in reaching our goals.

In part 2, we’ll look at some aspects of the team culture that have helped our delivery the most.


Can't see the wood for the trees?

Author: Cara Talbot

Introducing Agile to an organisation, as with any change program, means significant disruption. The way we do things is no longer the same. We no longer have our traditional rulebooks to clearly define what our roles are, how we’re supposed to engage with each other, or how we should go about our work.

This has heightened anxiety to some degree either consciously or unconsciously for almost everyone coming into contact with it. What’s my role now? How am I supposed to know what I should be doing? What if our team fails? What if I fail?

Most have dipped their toes in the water, and have grown in confidence as successes have been achieved. Some have quite radically removed some of the traditional roles altogether and claimed early successes. What risks might have they introduced critics would argue? It’s all a bit too early to tell. Some have turned into what is being coined as ‘Agile Purists’ where they will argue to the death about sticking to process over pragmatism. Perhaps this is because a natural inclination for some might be to seek new (Agile) rulebooks to replace the old; to firm up the ground beneath their feet and feel secure and stable again.

The irony is that debating at this level stunts productivity and can cultivate fear, uncertainty and doubt within their teams by challenging who should be doing what role instead of simply enabling the team to get on with the business of delivery. Teams can lose sight of their end goal.

My observations in attending the recent Agile Australia conference in Melbourne perpetuated this theory. No matter the viewpoint or appetite for risk, discussion threads resulting from the presentations and workshops were often on the following sorts of themes:

  • All design must be done up front/ no upfront design at all; get rid of the Architects!
  • Iteration Managers vs Project Managers. Get rid of the PMs; IMs aren’t really needed!
  • Business Analysts vs Technical Analysts; Subject Matter Experts vs Business Analysts; get rid of the BAs!
  • er… is there anyone left to progress the project?

Of course, there were also the sales pitches about the numerous methods of Agile we should be applying, although Scrum and Kanban seemed to be clear favourites du jour.

Perhaps, it’s a natural evolution of maturing Agile development for organisations. However, there appears to be a tendency to become overly introspective when faced with the challenge of change, rather than focus on what we are trying to achieve by changing. Perhaps we need to reassure people that their base skills are still valid and valued, we just need to work out how and when to apply them to achieve the Agile values of: doing enough to give the best bang for our buck; focussing on delivering benefit to our businesses quickly; being flexible enough to seize opportunities where it is sensible to do so… in other words, projects still need management (albeit there is a heightened, but not new, focus on coaching first, directing second). don’t get mee wrong though we still need to go into design; problems still need analysis; code still needs to be written and tested… and we need to figure out how to do all of this flexibly and collaboratively.

What was most refreshing to me during the conference was to hear the views of Martin Kearns (Agile Practice Lead from Renewtek), Neal Ford (Software Architect from ThoughtWorks) and Nigel Dalton (CIO of Lonely Planet). These three guys appeared to be in the minority in expressing what I feel being Agile is really about –

“…it’s just a guidebook guys, do what works for getting to your end goal.”

With all the Agile methods, tools, techniques and blurring of roles – there are two constants that run commonly between them all – the promotion of genuine collaboration; and of continuous learning. All roles bring value to the way we work. Alistair Cockburn has said: ‘people are highly variable and non-linear’ and as people aren’t software components – it inevitably introduces variability into projects. What’s great about Agile is that it fits process to people, not the other way around. Agile brings a different approach to process: the team is responsible for choosing their own processes, and as such no project will be the same, and no team will be the same.

We need to avoid the trap of holding ourselves up for too long by trying to figure out who does what activity within the project; and instead lift our eyes towards the project’s end goal. What are individual’s expertise – let them get on with it, don’t shuffle activities for shuffling’s sake. What are the team weaknesses? Get the team to collaborate on how to best address any gaps. Don’t introduce any unnecessary complexity. Think – what will success look like, and how can the team best work together to get there?

For those that are still seeking the new rulebook: defines Agile as:

  1. Quick and well-coordinated in movement; lithe.
  2. Active; lively.
  3. Marked by an ability to think quickly; mentally acute or aware.

To me, this means that to be truly Agile you have to be agile! The minute you think you’ve got it right, you’re making mistakes. Agile is ever evolving, and what we see as Agile today is likely to bear little resemblance to what it will look like Tomorrow.

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23 Points of Value Please

Author: Daniel Ginn

When I go grocery shopping I often think to myself ‘This would be a breeze if I just picked one of everything in the store, I’d never have to worry about forgetting something or having something I didn’t realise I needed. I then realise how much I have in my wallet and think ‘actually I think I’ll just get what I need’. Seems logical, so why do I still see projects with every story being a MUST HAVE. Has someone borrowed dad’s credit card?

Seriously though, the beauty of the financial mechanisms that we live with force us to make rational decisions with our money. This rationalisation disappears when we are not spending our own money. Well I believe Agile does offer some help here in the form of value points.

This concept was first introduced to me at the recent Agile Australia conference by Jim Highsmith, one of the authors of the Agile Manifesto, in his keynote address about how we measure Agile success. The idea behind value points is to assign value to features or even down to the story level using business input. The project team can then use this information to focus on delivering the highest business value features/stories to the customer.

So the desired behaviour here isTo get the business to identify what is really valuable to them. But what mechanisms can be used to encourage this behaviour? Well, Jim mentioned a couple of techniques to achieve this.

  1. The first is to use true value, that is, the actual expected benefit for the productionisation of a feature or story. The problem with this is, that it requires a great deal of effort in terms of analysis, and it may not be possible on projects where benefits are not easily defined by a number.

  2. The second method is more pragmatic and uses a relative approach to assigning value. That is, giving the customers the opportunity to assign relative value points to features or stories. By limiting the amount of points that the customer can assign, the customer is forced to consider the relative value of each story against another. The abstract value rating also allows for points to be assigned down to a story level. On smaller projects all stories can be considered together, on larger projects have the points divided at the feature level and then assign the feature level points to the stories underneath them.

You may receive pushback from the business and find that they don’t want to participate. If so, let them know that all effort must measure both cost and benefit before being scheduled, otherwise you can’t be sure that it adds value. Another method the desired participatory behaviour might achieved, is through employing gaming mechanics. This means, make a game out of the value points assignment.

In a recent project, I setup a virtual storefront in which stakeholders could go in and buy stories that were important for them. The participants had two opportunities to buy stories and could see what others were buying in between each “sale”. I think the most critical parts of the exercise though are setting the scenario, making it fun and creating the same limiting conditions that one has when grocery shopping.

Any of these methods will only be marginally effective unless useable software is being regularly released.

By having regular releases you are homing in and delivering on what is most valuable to your business. You never know, the customer might come back after a couple of releases and say ‘Thanks, but for now, that’s all we really need’.

So the next time you see a customer pull out dad’s credit card, value points might be the way to go.

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Agile – What's the buzz?

Author: Daniel Luschwitz

Agile development is definitely the latest trend in software engineering. Over the past 18 months I have had numerous conversations about sprints, stories, sliders, burn charts, wall ware and all the other cool techniques that fit under the ‘Agile’ banner.

When you start to understand these techniques they all make sense so no wonder the IT community is starting to see the benefits that Agile development can bring to an organisation.

The main difficulty though can be ‘selling’ the idea to the wider organisation, but luckily, the solution isn’t hard to find – in fact it is printed as point number one in the Agile Manifesto:

“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”.

Interesting point right? Believe in your people and empower them to have conversations – revolutionary! So here is my battle plan to make this happen:

  • Become informed.

Knowledge is power, so know how to answer the mirage-hurdles such as: “it doesn’t work with distributed teams” and “regulations mean that we need documentation”. Dispel these myths! Talk to colleagues who are doing it and gather some case studies. Even those pesky sales people that aren’t!

  • Create a buzz within your organisation.

In most cases I see, Agile development is being driven by the IT community so the first port of call is to inform ‘the business’ of what it is all about. If you sell it correctly then they will be driving the change! Think about what you would need to do if you were trying to convert to Waterfall from Agile.

Your ‘sales pitch’ would be something like:

“We are going to organise a team to ask a whole heap of questions about what you want. Once we think we are ready we are going to get started on putting everything together and in 6 months the product will be ready for you. If you want changes/additions along the way, we can do it, but you will need to either give us more time or throw more money at us to hit the release date.”

How much easier is it to say?

“We want you to be a part of the team that is developing this product. Every two weeks we will show you what we have done. You can then give us feedback about you would like and what you would like us to chance. We want to work on the items that are most important to you first up. If you want additional features along the way, no problem, we’ll show you what is left to achieve and you can make a decision on what is more important.”

Support your people with training and consulting and the results will come. Agile to me is a cultural shift in an organisation and first and foremost it is important to get everyone on the same page and manage this transition carefully.

The Agile Academy courses, Taste of Agile and Agile for the Business (choose your flavour) are fantastic ways to create the right buzz about Agile. These courses deliver the message in an informative and fun manner. Where else can you see your IT Executive playing with Lego and blowing up balloons?

As Kylie once sang “Everybody is doin’ a brand new dance now, I know you’ll get to like it if you give it a chance now…”

Daniel Luschwitz is a Senior Account Manager at Software Education, a training partner with the Agile Academy. You can contact Daniel directly at, 0410 455 040 or follow him on Twitter @Daniel_SoftEd.

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“Is artificial velocity spoiling your team?”

Authors: Ryan McKergow and Daniel Ginn

Artificial velocity is the velocity achieved when an agile team is not working sustainably. After recent discussions, the two of us decided to adopt the term to describe the dangerous precedents and practices that it sets. Artificial velocity can affect an Agile team in a number of ways, by reducing morale, and losing focus and creativity. Some examples of behaviour that promotes artificial velocity, include working long hours to finish a vastly underestimated story, or not realigning expected velocity when reality is not reflected.

Reduced Morale
One of the results of artificial velocity is reduced morale, which can come in many forms including: workaholics, old-school management styles (such as McGregor’s Theory X), and comparing yourself unrealistically to your colleagues.

For example if two kids are asked to mow the lawn, one sits down for 5 mins to work out whether going back and forth or going around in ever smaller circuits is quicker, and then finishes 15 mins before the kid who jumped straight in, is he lazy cause he’s now watching TV? No, he worked smarter. He’s achieved the same outcome in less time, meaning he has more time to do what he wants to do. People jump to conclusions when they look at the boy who is now relaxing. They assume he is being lazy, but he’s actually done the job much more efficiently.

We believe this is a result of misconceptions stemming from old school management techniques, thinking that the work we do in an office can somehow be related to the hours spent on the production line. In the office environment where a lot of our work involves cognitive thinking instead of brute force, there is a much bigger variance. Because of this mind set, some people try to emulate workaholics to “impress” the boss. This can lead to a loss of focus and creativity, because everyone is trying to look busy, as opposed to actually doing useful work.

Lost Focus and Creativity
We also believe it’s important to recognise the power of a fresh and focused mind. Tired minds are more likely to make or overlook mistakes which will put yet more pressure on the time it takes to complete a Story, or heaven forbid adding to the Tech Debt. You don’t need to continually wear yourself out by staying back late or losing sleep, honestly, are you really going to get much work done past 5pm? And if you think you are, where did you get the energy to do this, if you were working “hard” for the rest of the day? We need rest and time to relax. And it’s when we are relaxed when we are most likely to be hit with inspired ideas. So other than having a good night’s sleep, what are some practical ways at work to avoid artificial velocity?

So what can be done?
First off, believe in Agile! Agile provides some excellent practices that encourage the right behaviour, however, we would like to focus on a few established practices and a new one that might help avoid artificial velocity:

  1. Social contracts – These might be one of the greatest Agile tools with respect to avoiding artificial velocity. Incorporating expectations around what is and what is not acceptable behaviour in terms of supporting sustainable development is what is needed. Identifying instances where a different approach to a task resulted in a story point saving and sharing it with the team should be codified.
  2. Points bank – Another possible behaviour driving device might be the story point bank. A team member can ‘bank points’ when they can show that a smarter approach resulted in a point saving. Using a Big Visual Chart that team member can be recognised for the point saving. As an option the IM could spend the saved points by letting team members go early, or allow time to work on something different (Google time). In addition to this, the time saving approaches would be great to be fed into retrospectives.
  3. Working smarter – Setting the right expectations, not just for the core project team, but for everyone involved in the project (including upper management, and our project sponsors), should be equally encouraged. As Agile welcomes changes to the software or product, we need to be equally welcome to change in expectations on the project team. This requires you to be open and honest, even if it can be difficult. If an 8 point card turns out to be an epic, is it still reasonable to maintain the same expectations of time, cost and quality? We think not! You should revaluate the card and then revaluate the expected velocity for this iteration.
  4. Conclusion
    Artificial velocity is misleading to all. It places unnecessary pressure on the team, sets unrealistic expectations for the customers and reduces the creativity of individuals. So we would like to put it back to the reader, what do you think about artificial velocity?

    Inspired by

  1. The Creativity Formula, Dr Amantha Imber ISBN-13: 978-0646509624
  2. Rework, Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson ISBN-13: 978-0307463746

“10 + 1 pointers to a more innovative Agile journey!”

Author: Chris Zaharia

Someone suggested that I write a blog on my top tips for using innovation with Agile to make great things happen.

From Flickr - Cayusa.

This got me thinking about Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. In it he explains how start-ups have taken over previous market leaders across many industries, time and time again because they chose to introduce “disruptive innovations”. What this means is that it may be better to release a product or service that would cannibalise or even replace your core business than to wait for a competitor to beat you to it! Sounds like Agile to me. You collaborate with and learn from your customers what they really want. Most people will accept the less than perfect if they can see that at each step it is fulfilling one of their needs.

A success story that reflects this is Atlassian, one of the most effective adapters of Agile in Australia. I was fortunate enough to meet Mike Cannon-Brookes, the co-founder, back in 2008 when he explained how they identified that their existing customers found enterprise software much too complex to use. So they listened, developed and delivered an innovative suite of products which gave customers a simple, easy to use group of solutions, resulting in taking market share from previous leaders who were ineffective at innovating and turning an initial investment of $10,000 into over $75million in revenue business. We now see some of these products (Jira, Confluence and GreenHopper) being used by the likes of companies such as Macquarie, BMW and Adobe.

I’m not in the same league as those innovators at Atlassian but I am an innovator and offer a few words of advice from my own experience.

  1. Don’t let others knock your ideas down even if they think it could never work. Gather Energisers around you. They will provide support for your ideas and constructive criticism when appropriate as opposed to Energy Sappers who will say NO to all your ideas until you are discouraged to bring any more up.
  2. Go to GenY employees for ideas, and graduates who have recently finished University, as they usually have the latest perspectives on the most current trends and technologies and are more than happy to share their ideas. Consider giving them the time to develop their own side-projects too, possibly even create a graduate innovation initiative for them to conceptualise and deliver projects with formal teams and budgets. Similar initiatives have been a great success at companies such as Suncorp and Deloittes.
  3. Even go as far as to approach the younger iGeneration and children for ideas. Their perspective can bring surprisingly blunt and down-to-earth approaches that might jumpstart innovations. Don’t dismiss the GenXs and Baby Boomers either, as they can give a more realistic perspective which can enhance ideas to become feasible products. In fact, Deloittes has an effective method of hatching more realistic innovative solutions by pairing up a junior and senior employee to come up with ideas.
  4. Don’t leave innovative features that come up in a forgotten backlog due to the difficulty in estimating them. One way to address this is to perform a spike. Another method is to develop a throw-away prototype and demonstrate it.
  5. Allow customers or work colleagues from other parts of the business to take a look at the product. You can gain a variety of ideas which can introduce new approaches you may have forgotten or not even thought of by giving access to the product’s current iteration or via an communications channel like Yammer to get feedback from a much larger internal audience.
  6. Implementing an idea management system where anyone within your department or organisation can share ideas or challenges and vote on the best solutions.
  7. Bringing people in from outside your core team to take part or at least observe parts of your project. This may result in more efficient methods/processes being identified and taken up by the team.
  8. Have team members participate in industry workshops and events and then present what they have learnt to the rest of the team.
  9. Don’t limit yourself to only looking at competitors. Look at industries which are at the forefront of the technologies you are adapting. For example, in the insurance industry, a market leader in online retailing may have features that no other insurance website has and adapting it would bring in efficiencies in navigation that translate to increased business value.
  10. Actively follow the latest trends and technologies in as many industries as you can, and consider using a checklist of these when brainstorming at the concept phase of your Agile project.
  11. Finally, you can look at brainstorming sessions or even creative-thinking techniques for individuals such as SCAMPER. I found “Thinkertoys” by Michael Michalko to be a great book with lots of techniques to help you come up with ideas in the first place.

My final word of advice is this:
I see many people come up with great ideas and say they will do something but never drive themselves enough to act on it. You have to do something about it to really make it happen. Don’t just keep your ideas to yourself, otherwise you may be living with regrets about what might have been. Apple’s Steve Jobs once said “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” so be a leader and make those ideas come true.

You CAN change the world!


The Power of One: Along the road to Leadership

Author: Ryan McKergow

Taking a leaf from Fiona Mullen’s earlier blog, I too was inspired by “Liquid Leadership” by Damien Hughes, the next book in the saga after “Liquid Thinking”. Its focus is on how everyone should and can take the leap to become a leader.

Recently I presented to other graduates at our organisation and called on them all to aspire to be leaders and proposed the self-realisation that I too was a leader.

So… what is it that makes a leader?

Personally I see a leader as someone who gives direction to others, while leading by example. What do I mean by this? I mean that they have to:

  • Be bold and courageous, but also vulnerable at the same time;
  • Be optimistic and/or energisers;
  • Have a clear vision of where they are going; and
  • Continue to communicate and reinforce why we are going there!

I also think that to just get by in this world, you should:

  • Value your family, friends, and yourself first!
  • Always be polite and respectful; and
  • Do some good by changing the world, even if it is only in a small way.

Now you might be asking yourself, why should I bother to be a leader?

To put it plainly, this world needs leaders! You don’t have to be in a leadership position at work to be a leader. You could be a leader at work without the title, a leader in your home/family life, a leader when you’re playing sport or in a band, or a leader at your church!

Let me paint you a picture of a time when leadership is needed and how it applies to this world needing leaders.

Imagine that you are walking down the street with one other person. This person suddenly falls down and you rush over to help them. But what if there were 40 others in the street and that one person collapsed?

Everyone starts thinking to themselves, “Oh it’s ok. Someone else will help.” No one took the lead to help this person and that person could have been YOU!

This is why we need leaders in our world.

Ok, what can you do to become a leader?

I have two suggestions on what you can do, but obviously there are many more:

  1. Tell someone that you see as a leader, that you want to be a leader and ask them how they have became one! You’d be surprised what they will do to help you if you just ask.
  2. Make yourself vulnerable. Make the humbling realisation that there is always room for self-improvement and to learn something new. A good starting point could be to read “Liquid Thinking” and “Liquid Leadership”.

Let me leave you with a parting quote (from Damien Hughes book) about leadership and why you too can become a leader, even if you don’t think you have the influencing power….

“If you think that you are too small to make a difference,
try going to bed with a mosquito in your room!”