Starting the Agile Dialog
A question I always pose to executives who seek my advice on rolling Agile in their companies is “What would you like to accomplish?” I ask this “trick” question as the first step in a dialog aimed at developing a deeper understanding of rolling Agile at the enterprise level versus rolling it selectively in pockets. I usually consider the dialog successful when the executive has thought through the various possible foci for enterprise roll-out and is comfortable enough to start setting expectations with his teams, peers and superiors.
I find quantification extremely effective in cutting through the mystique of software engineering, enabling executives from all walks of life to put their hands around a topic which might not be in their domain of expertise. As I said in my recent Cutter essay, I usually point out three “axes” of quantification, as follows:
The three “axes”, of course, are not absolutely independent. For example, improvements in time-to-market could be very hard to accomplish if quality is not adequate. However, these kinds of dependencies are better explored at a later point in time. In the initial phases of the dialog, my objective is to simplify things to the point the executive and I can jointly think of the Agile roll-out as a one axis thrust. A dual axis thrust, e.g. simultaneously improve both time-to-market and productivity, is definitely feasible. However, I do not generally recommend doing so before an organization reaches an acceptable level of maturity using Agile methods.
Simplistic that the “one axis thrust” might seem, it actually leads to examination, and sometime reexamination, of fundamental tenets of operation. For example, an executive considering the time-to-market axis often needs to determine whether increasing market share through fast delivery of products should indeed takes precedence over improving cost structure through higher productivity. An executive considering the quality axis often starts looking into life cycle costs of software versus “just” R&D cost. It is a small step from here to debating whether a company should focus on growth through acquisition of new customers or on customer retention.
Questions like those listed above are characteristic of roll-out of Agile at the enterprise level. The scale adds questions of strategy to the customary Agile business value considerations. Large scale Agile deployment is likely to transform the company’s R&D organization as well as other functions in the company’s value chain. For such a transformation(s), intentionality is critical: the goals you’re accomplish need to be stated up-front and made clear to the organization, esp. those who’ll be part of this transformation. This seems obvious – people should know why they’re going through all this trouble to transform – but simply getting everyone on the same page is too often overlooked.
Hence my simple question: “What would you like to accomplish?”