The Agile Tribe

Agile without a name – Agile by Stealth?

Author: Andy Marks

When a puppy is brought into a household, it is often blamed for any accidents around the house for some time afterwards. Some of these might be legitimate concerns – chewed slippers, strange puddles, etc. But many times the puppy is blamed for things just because it’s the new variable in the environment (e.g., offensive smells :-)).

I see the same pattern occurring in many organisations adopting Agile for the first time:

  • Drowning in technical debt? Blame Agile because it didn’t tell us to do enough upfront design thinking.
  • BAU team not happy using stories as support documents? Blame Agile because it says not to produce any documentation.
  • Personality issues causing friction in the project team? Blame Agile because we’re being forced to collaborate a lot more than we used to.
  • etc.

Whether or not Agile is really the culprit in these cases (you decide), it’s often the new element in the organisation that is the easiest scapegoat for any new issues. The new kid on the block is often the easiest to attack.

Which is where the notion of “Agile without a name” comes in…

A Melbourne-based organisation has been using Agile “covertly” for many years with some success. By covertly, I mean the practices and principles are never referred to as Agile publicly, just as “the way we do things”. I can see the appeal in this approach as not giving it a name makes it harder for people to pin down and associate blame.

Names provide identity.

Identity can be used to target.

Avoid a name… and reduce the ability to target.

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Let's start at the beginning – Testing and Agile

Author: Ben Arnott

Some random learnings from my experience of testing in an Agile environment –

  1. Quality is everyone’s responsibility
  2. Grey the lines of Developers and Testers
  3. Job titles don’t mean jack… it’s the role you play that counts
  5. Less focus on Defect detection rates and on quick to market software
  6. Advertise the “Sliders” and adhere to them
  7. Don’t be afraid to change the sliders, but make sure they are communicated
  8. Testers make great Interation Managers
  9. Automation isn’t a silver bullet, it is complimentary
  10. Tester and Tester pairing is great
  11. Tester and Developer pairing is great
  12. Tester and Subject Matter Expert (SME pairing) is great
  13. 80% of the Testing Effort is at the time of card elaboration
  14. Co-Locate wherever possible!
  15. If you are more than 10 metres away from a team member, you are NOT co-located
  16. It’s “Done” when it’s tested successfully
  17. Integrate Code Continuously and Continuously test integrated code.
  18. If Quality isn’t your number one slider… mitigate!
  19. If you smell a smell raise it
  20. If someone raises a smell, investigate
  21. Ask Why
  22. Ask Why again
  23. Communicate all changes with the entire project.
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Graduates provide a refreshing lens on life

Author: Fiona Mullen

Where to get your boost from when your energy levels start flagging? All of us from time to time need to surround ourselves with people who give us energy and inspire us to keep fighting the good fight.

For me I get my energy from the graduates in our organisation. They are new to the corporate hamster wheel and are not constrained by corporate thinking. They are happy to ask the obvious questions no one else will ask due to fear of being ridiculed. They don’t see problems, they see opportunities to improve. They provide a refreshing lens on life with their energy being contagious.

Our grad community have recently kicked off Gragile which is a combination of Grads + Agile coming together. They were hungry to learn more about Agile and wanted to start a movement amongst the grads to accelerate their learnings and to provide a supportive environment for them to share experiences. Gradgile is giving this to them.

I always feel inspired after spending time with the grads at these sessions and I know they will help spread the Agile message both inside and outside the company.


Agile – Nature Vs Nurture: It's all in the DNA

Author: Susan Akers

At the Agile Australia 2009 Conference in Sydney on the 16th October, Jeff Smith, CIO of Suncorp, spoke about the Agile journey that Suncorp has followed in the past 18 months. Jeff talked about the two main strategic levers that have been used and are continued to be nurtured to create a great people and technical environment for Suncorp employees to work in. These two levers are Living Agile and Inspired People. According to Jeff, the key to success behind these levers is a great culture where collective wisdom is utilised and constraint of thought is eliminated.

He felt that the secret to Suncorp’s success is the genuine interest, passion and belief of its people, that problems can be solved in significantly better ways. As Suncorp continues to mature its Agile practices and increases their collaboration, it will learn “not to settle”. Jeff emphasised that while Suncorp reaches its ongoing Agile milestones, there will always be another level of potential where there will be a need to continually stretch their thinking and vision. Two of the main lessons he felt that he has learnt from this experience is that any Agile implementation to be successful should aim at course correction over perfection, and clarity over certainty thereby creating a success driven culture rather than one focussed on momentary failures.

Good communication, active contribution and listening and taking on board feedback are also the keys to other successful companies eg. E-bay and wikipedia. He sees Yammer (Suncorp’s in-house Twitter) as being able to meet this communication need as well as having the ability to cut through the level of decision making and authority. It has proven to be a great leveller where ideas and opinions can be freely given without censure. It is all about giving power back to the people – listening and learning through collaboration.

Jeff is also a great supporter of using open source technology and methods in Suncorp’s development projects. In keeping with this focus he actively supported the creation of the Agile Academy. The Agile Academy is designed for IT professionals, as a knowledge hub that promotes Agile related learning, knowledge sharing and capability development across the IT industry. It also offers an integrated curriculum of leading edge Agile courses for the 1600 IT staff across the country. Suncorp has also invested both time and money into e-learning as well to empower and energise its people with a passion for ongoing learning and continuous improvement, so living and working Agile.

I’ll leave you with a couple of thoughts that Jeff felt were the most important to Suncorp’s success so far in the Agile journey – 1. Never give up your thirst to learn new things and 2. Never give up your right to be wrong – it’s the single biggest mechanism, in learning new skills and moving forward.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences about Agile.


Agile Australia Conference – Unplugged

Author: Byron Costas

I attended the first Agile Australia Conference last week. It was brilliant.

It was certainly a great forum for seeing the successful transformation of Agile theory into Working Agile. This was demonstrated in John Sullivan’s (Sensis) presentation, ‘People driven Agile transformation’. We tend to focus on the process and miss the very real people aspect of Agile. He explained that the Agile transformation is more about cultural change, managing people and personalities than process.

Also Phil Abernathy’s session on ‘Agile Governance’ was extremely insightful. The session talked about the misconception that Agile is light–on in governance and structure. He explained how governance is present throughout the entire process. Also he gave great insight into workflow management. As a PMO, this can be applied not only in advising CoEs in project prioritisation, but it tackling our team’s day-to-day tasks.

‘Build me the money, honey’ session by Julian Boot and Marina Chiovetti was awesome. Their customer-focused value matrix example with the I-Phone has given our team a new approach to designing reports. We are now more conscious of the effort expensed on particular product features, namely less effort on basic features and more focus on the exceptional features/value add. This was a great takeaway.

My only real criticism would be the availability of the session slides. It would have been great to have the material available to you during the conference. Apart from that, the conference was well organised.

Overall, besides taking some great working Agile examples and principles away, it was the opportunity to be surrounded by fellow professionals who are also inspired by Agile. I certainly came back from Sydney transformed. Looking forward to the next instalment.


Agile leadership

Author: Fiona Mullen

I recently had an issue and in my unusual ‘fix it” fashion I slipped into “how am I going to fix this”. I tossed and turned that night worrying about how it was going to be resolved quickly with minimal impact on people.

The next day a colleague kindly pointed out to me that I don’t have to have all of the answers and no one expects me too, so why do I expect that I should know it? I know this sounds pretty basic but as leaders we do put a lot of pressure on ourselves to solve all the problems.

Once I got over the initial light bulb moment I did engage all those who I knew could help me. And as you would expect they all bent backwards to assist. They just needed to know there was a problem then they could help.

So the big lesson for leaders is, the weight of the world does not have to be on your shoulders. Look to your people and ask for help, they will give it. They just need to know there is a problem that needs to be fixed.

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The Gallipoli Matrix

Author: Christian Scheiber

After many years working in IT, either as a member of a project team or managing a team delivering a project, I made a discovery. My “a-ha” moment if you will; I call it, the Gallipoli Matrix. For those that don’t know what I’m talking about here’s a short lesson. To shorten World War 1, the British decided to isolate Germany and open a second front, they would force the Dardanelles. First with a naval force, and once that failed, a land and sea invasion. The rest, they say is history and the Anzac legend was born.

So, what does this have to do with project management I hear you ask? Well everything and it all comes down to planning! The maps of currents and topography that were used to plan the invasion were seriously out of date. The people planning the invasion were nowhere near the area of operation. In fact they were in London thousands of miles away! So when the troops landed, they knew their objective and how to achieve it, but the landscape that confronted them was nothing like they expected. They became lost, confused and leaderless very quickly; communication broke down and it was very difficult, if not impossible to achieve their objective. Eventually they ceased operations and withdrew. The only saving grace from this abject failure was the decision to withdraw. It was executed brilliantly without loss of life, because it was planned effectively.

In my humble opinion if the core project team;

  • Plans all phases and iterations effectively
  • Has the right resources
  • Understands the risks involved
  • Knows what can be realistically achieved
  • Has, effective, open and constructive communication
  • Reaches consensus by engaging regularly with all stakeholders, including the project team, management and customer
  • Understands the environment in which they operate, and then ..

They can avoid the Gallipoli Matrix!

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Agile in non-development environments

Author: Christian Scheiber

As strange as it sounds, the challenge for me at the moment is to help imbue Agile techniques into non-development environments within IT! This can be especially difficult in operational roles such as Finance where these departments are removed from the software development coal face. But, the most important element for any budding Agilist is to approach ANY task that they do and ask, “How can I perform this task, easier, cheaper and more efficiently”. That is the Agile difference.


How Open Source Software Facilitated our Agile Journey

Author: Colin McCririck

Reflecting back on our recent Agile journey it occurred to me that despite the many roadblocks and cultural fronts of resistance we hit, open source software was a great enabler on our journey.

We started adopting a number of open source tools at about the same time that we started rolling Agile practices out to our teams. Two things I love about open source software:

  • The freedom it provides. It’s not about being free (there are costs), it’s about allowing developers the freedom to download, install, play and use at their discretion without the need to ask for budget, approval, finance and so on. There are still restrictions but the freedom provides software engineers much greater speed and productivity to do the job they’re paid to do and it removes much of the bureaucracy (eg. funding approvals) that software engineers hate.
  • Our software engineers love open source software because the skills and experience they gain in the open source tools is more portable and long lived than what they were used to with proprietary tools. There is also a greater feeling of community collaboration and the ability to work with like minded engineers in other organisations.

So what has this got to do with agile?

Agile promotes principles of simplicity, speed and collaboration. The ability of engineers to make decisions and solve their own problems in the software life cycle certainly facilitates these principles. Probably the other theme for us has been around culture and staff empowerment. Collaboration has been key, engineers are collaborating with each other to find the right open source tool and collaborating with the business day to day via standups, retrospectives and showcases. The results are faster cycle time, happier customers and more satisfied staff.

Our world is far from perfect. There is always room for continuous improvement. But the use of open source at the same time as the cultural change from Waterfall to Agile has helped with staff motivation and the reduction of resistance to change.

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Welcome to the Agile Tribe blog site. The purpose of this blog has been to provide a forum for multiple authors from practitioners, coaches, Agile novices, business people and leaders in the Agile space. Their willingness to share their experiences and stories about Agile and related approaches is the reason why we have recently been listed as one of the world’s top 200 popular Agile blogs for 2011.   Thank you for your contributions either as authors or commentators.