The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

The First Decision to Make

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The Choosing Between Two Disruptions post highlighted the fundamental predicament one faces with respect to large scale Agile deployment – Is an in-house Agile disruption initiated by you preferable to a market disruption through Agile which you will need to react to? I trust you will decide to give Agile a try even if you are concerned about a possible in-house disruption. This being the case, you will need to make numerous decisions about the way you will roll Agile. This posts deals with the very first decision to make with respect to so doing: Choosing the Agile learning paradigm which will be most effective in your company.

Learning and Thinking

Years ago, when I was a student at the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion), we had a quip about the learning paradigm: “In the second year you understand what you were taught in the first year; in the third year you get what you learned in the second year”. The quip captured the essence of the de facto learning paradigm that largely prevailed at the Technion back then. The Technion probably aspired for a very different learning paradigm, but circumstances in Israel during these years dictated a different pattern. As many of us were called to reserve army service for 30-60-90 days a year, we did not usually have enough time on our hands to think deeply about what we were studying. We absorbed a lot of information quickly in a somewhat mechanical way. Only over an extended period of time were we able to generate sufficient cycles to think deeply about what we were taught. This later thinking eventually led to understanding. We assimilated the curriculum with an average one year lag.

How will your Company Learn?

Business realities these days might force you to introduce Agile in a “Technion style” manner – you introduce Agile as a recipe. You do your best, of course, to explain the deeper thinking behind Agile, but you focus on the “How?” You bet the Agile roll-out on getting results through applying Agile practices. Once you have a couple of Agile success stories under your belt, people will naturally get curious about the underlying principles. They will rediscover them, assimilate them and propagate them.

The other way to go is to start with the deeper truths – software engineering laws, anomalies and trends that over the years led to the rise of Agile. You start with the “Why?”, bootstrapping your way towards the “How?”

The Reengineering Alternative

William E. Schneider’s book The Reengineering Alternative is a must read prior to making the decision how your company will learn Agile.

Schneider characterizes four core organizational cultures and provides the tools to self-determine your corporate culture and to assess the strengths and weaknesses that go with it. Each of the four core cultures – Control, Collaboration, Competence, Cultivation – has its own characteristic response to change. Choosing the learning paradigm best suited to your company is largely a matter of cultural fit.

For example, according to Schneider, the Control culture mandates change. Hence the “Technion style” approach discussed above could be quite appropriate if your company is of the Control ilk.

Time for Thinking

Reducing the pressure on a software team to the point at which thinking can be done in parallel with coding and testing is of immense value. Higher levels of quality and innovation are visible pretty quickly. Longer term, code adaptability and the ability to evolve the code pay off big dividends. These benefits are particularly important for teams who incorporate bleeding edge technologies in their product. You must have the time to think about such technologies and how to utilize them.

The pain of having an Agile project team gated on the availability of some feature from a Waterfall team can be significant. Painful though it may be, such a situation could actually be seen as a blessing in disguise. The team members have time to think. And, they have the time to refactor their code.

The Agile Leader

In addition to helping you make your first decision with respect to the Agile roll-out, Schneider’s book will give you a precious clue as to your role as an Agile leader:

A leader’s effectiveness can be measured by the degree the leader’s approach is integrated with the organization’s core culture.

A fascinating aspect of this sound advice is the culture within a culture situation. As Agile tends to create its own culture, the Agile leader often needs to align the Agile culture with a broader corporate culture. To succeed, the Agile leader needs to create such an alignment while protecting the Agile culture. Various means for so doing are described in the presentation Leading from Within.


Written by israelgat

January 19, 2009 at 4:14 pm

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