July 22, 2020
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Last Fall, Southern Fried Agile hosted its annual Agile-focused conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. Southern Fried Agile is an event aimed at bringing together those in the Agile community to engage, learn, and encourage. Many large organizations struggle to adopt Agile; however, it’s important to understand and adapt to become a better business.
As we enter into another technological revolution by way of Elon Musk and his vision for the future with technology, more and more innovators will need to forward think about how their company evolves along with the technological times. Productive Agile is a set of principles. It is an attitude shift from the individual contributors all the way up to the C-Suite. This shifted mindset fundamentally affects how everyone perceives their duty and contribution to a company vision. To be Agile means that your company is ready to invest in the organizational, cultural, and leadership actions that enable everyone to become a factor of change.
Fast forward through a fruitful opening lecture, three subpar presentations, one pertinent workshop, and we land at the closing speaker, Dave West, current CEO and Product Owner at Scrum.org. He opened his talk with a short comical vignette to get the audience engaged and laughing. I thought the humor was appropriate because some of my fellow conference attendees definitely needed an afternoon pick-me-up, myself included.
As he moved from side-to-side on the stage, he spoke at great length about the importance of the creator in the new world of Agile. We are no longer in the industrious realm of factories and assembly line production, where management reigned supreme. Instead, we are entering a world of exploring how to take advantage of new opportunities, while adding more value to customers with less work. In other words, the creator movement is on the rise, and the phrase “work smarter, not harder,” couldn’t be more real. More specifically, West opined: “Creators are a part of what we do; creating value, creating new capabilities, creating functions, creating services, creating ways to deliver importance to customers. This is the heart of the new age.”
Organizations that want to exist on the side of the creator must adapt and be successful at scaling in a way that promotes self-organization and trusts the competency and clarity of its employees. Organizations that rely on predictability and trickle-down management without inspiring innovation and enabling people to thrive will surely sit on the wayside and watch as the rest of the world succeeds without them.
So, how does a business know they are ready for Agile? First, you have to ask yourself and your team: are we going to be just doers, or can we be thinkers? If the organization is ready to embrace variables, then one is ready to examine the key elements in revolutionizing how a company manages projects, determine what is viable in a marketplace, and ultimately grow the business.
Not all businesses are created equal, which is why some organizations have the readiness to change to Agile, and some do not. Truly, the first step in agile operational readiness is determining the value. Regardless of the framework you are working in, Scrum being a more popular one, the business needs to clearly define the value delivery to its stakeholders and the fulfillment of their needs.
Also, there needs to be alignment. There needs to be alignment between your customers, the value stream, and the overall missions of the company. Once the business determines how to deliver value and has a clear vision for its customer centricity, it can then begin the transition to agile operational readiness.
Having an influential product owner is important. Creating a foundation of trust and support can be easily established by someone who can influence, and the product owner is the one to do it. Flexibility and compassion are the necessary traits of a great product owner. They are responsible for maximizing the value of the product, as well as clearly understanding, articulating and driving towards the product vision.
They should be dedicated to making well-thought choices about what to build and what to shelf. It is imperative for the product owner to communicate transparently with internal and external stakeholders in order to make the direction of the strategy clear and how to approach accomplishing the project. This role is paramount in the Agile process. It helps streamline the execution of the project and ensures the return on investment from the project is maximized.
Often times, organizations want to get the most out of their employees, thus placing one person on many different projects. If Michael Jordan played only a few minutes for a bunch of different teams, would the Bulls have won back-to-back championships, multiple times? Not even.
In Agile, businesses need to have dedicated resources on a software project. Productivity can be lost, and team dynamics can be hard to adjust to when people are spread thin across various projects at one time. Due to the long length of most software projects, people are quicker to understand and adapt to their teammates’ strengths and weaknesses when all of their time is committed to a single, dedicated team. When a software project has a devoted delivery team who is focused and present, anything is possible!
Setting up a time box to deliver increments of the project is critical. No one wants to find themselves with too much work on their plate and not enough time to finish it successfully. This is what can happen when time is left unstructured and unmonitored. By establishing a schedule, expectations can be easily set, and the scope can be determined for the specific duration.
The product owner and tech lead can also review velocity and capacity data to accurately measure the rate at which the development team is delivering business value. The ability to time box also reduces risk. If change is needed, the product owner then has the ability to pivot before the next iteration. Having a fixed duration and having a clear plan on what can get executed within that length of time is key for effective scope management and risk reduction.
Enable people to thrive. We all know that information is power, and the ability to share information is powerful. Organizations need to lean in and collaborate with internal and external stakeholders in order to deliver the value they once set their eyes on. Teams often feel more empowered when they are not siloed and have the ability to respectfully listen and respond during the project build process. Fostering an open-to-feedback type of environment will lead to change and significant results.
The David would not be considered a masterpiece if Michelangelo didn’t take the time and resources needed to create such a stunning piece of art. The same goes for Agile. A lot of diligence, introspection, and willingness to be vulnerable goes into a successful software agile project. Cutting corners, while tempting, does not produce the value needed to hit the project out of the park. A triumphant agile project requires discipline to change fundamentally held beliefs and challenge the response: ‘that’s how it’s always been done here.’
Fighting for change can and will construct high-quality results. The idea of “failing fast” should be a familiar concept for those looking to keep up with their competitors. While the organization is working to perfect the solution, customers may have already changed their minds on what they want, making the solution irrelevant.
To combat this, focus on the ‘good enough.’ Put the ‘good enough’ product out there and make iterations based on feedback. Through constant, incremental improvement, business value-based planning, and open conversations, the project will be well-placed to not only meet, but exceed the expectations of the customer and reach that desired value.
Dave wrapped up the show just as he had opened it, drawing laughs from the crowd. As I left and conversed with other attendees, I felt they were eager to implement the Agile way in their respective organizations as soon as they returned to the office. Fortunately for myself, I am part of an organization that has already adopted the new world of Agile.
At Levvel, we work to establish an agile environment not only for ourselves but also within our client engagements. While the majority at the conference had spoken about the greatness of Agile and how to do it the right way, no one provided the yin to the yang. In a world of unlimited resources, how do people fail at executing the agile playbook?
Agile has proven to be successful when all principles are followed and has catapulted numerous companies into foam ball pits of success. So why are some organizations afraid or failing at implementing the shift from reactive to creative mindsets? If we can survive Y2K, surely we can transform, and even thrive, through the journey of the rise of the creator in the new world of Agile.
Business Analyst Consultant
As a Business Analyst Consultant at Levvel, Ashly Sheild works with clients to bring their product vision to life. She has worked as a Scrum Master, Business Analyst, and Project Manager on various Levvel engagements. After living through 30 years of Wisconsin winters, Ashly is enthusiastic about taking advantage of the southern heat and participating in anything outdoors such as sports, music, nature hikes, and lounging.
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