Agile is Not Just Flexible!
Maarten Bordewijk / 30 September 2014
I heard it just recently:
we tried Agile, but people were all over the place and we totally lost control. Organizations with bureaucratic frustrations, caused by a misinterpretation of frameworks such as ITIL®, often assume total freedom based on another misconception:
Agile is all about power to the professional, so we don’t need any process or control…right? The only right answer is:
No! Misuse of the Agile concepts often takes place against a background of a lack of knowledge of what it is and how it can be used effectively. Below, I will introduce the background against which Agile frameworks emerged and describe the benefits to project management.
One of the problems lie in the fact that people don’t understand what the word Agile means and think it’s
flexible or something… I am not yet talking about the approach to project management, but simply the word! Let’s take a look at dictionary.com: Agile –
quick and well-coordinated in movement. There we are! So let’s take a look at what
quick and well-coordinated means in the context of projects.
In my opinion, many organizations applying project management methodologies find it difficult to sell the idea that their deliverables will not be available until the very end of the project. I have spoken to many business managers who often complain that the project they champion was a black box… Sure, they did not need detailed information about how developers did their work, however, no visibility, and a late product that was difficult to operate—was certainly not what they wanted! Against this background of dissatisfaction a new approach was introduced.
So, let’s re-iterate observations above into more positive notes. What do customers, waiting for project deliverables, want? I think it is this:
- Highest priority requirements delivered on time
- Visibility into the progress being made
- Quality and the ability to provide feedback to prevent issues
Professionals running projects have similar needs. I have met many developers that told me, they know really well how to plan the production of software…simply because they have done it so often. If only they got the chance to decide on the planning! The customer should set priority and the professionals should do detailed planning. Experienced developers like to have responsibility over their daily work. Not to mention the pride that comes from rapid feedback after your work is done and the customer has a working product in their hands!
So what do we need to be able to coordinate and yet still be quick? Scrum, the most widely used practice in Agile frameworks, is built on three pillars: Transparency, Inspection and Adaptation. This means that users of the outcomes of a project should:
- Understand where the project is heading at any time
- Frequently inspect their quality (functionality, efficiency etc.)
- Be able to adjust the deliverables to absorb new requirements
By managing four events with a strict time-box, this can be achieved:
- Planning event: all stakeholders agree within a day when outcomes will be delivered in the next iteration of a maximum of four weeks
- Daily stand-up: the professionals get together daily for a maximum of 15 minutes to tell what they did yesterday, what they will do today and what obstacles they need help with
- Review: at the end of the two-to-four week work cycle, the professionals meet with the customer to show working products
- Retrospective: the project team will get together to learn from the past iteration and use this in the new one coming.
Understanding what Scrum means and that agile is not just ‘flexible’, but rather ‘quick and well-coordinated’, helps in my opinion in putting it to practice effectively. In the upcoming posts I will dig deeper in the four events, what they mean, entail and drive and how they relate to ITIL.
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