The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

Observations from Houston

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The Houston chapter of APLN arranged an Agile track in the April 30-May 1, 2009 PMI Houston Conference. I had the pleasure of participating during much of the the first day. Following are my major observations from the conference in chronological order:

General: Agile awareness was quite broad amongst participants irrespective of whether they do or do not do software. Just about every project/program manager I had the opportunity to speak with was aware of Agile and anxious to learn more. Many questions to the panel were about Agile. Some asked specifically about applying Agile beyond software. For example, one of the questions posed was:

What does Agile have to offer to a major oil company?

Metaphor for the Agile PMO: Jochen Krebs compares the functioning of the PMO to that of the information booth in Grand Central Terminal in NYC. Hundreds of thousands of people go through the station every day on their own – they are motivated to reach their train and they generally do find their way. If they need help they ask for it, trusting the information booth to give them pertinent and reliable data.

Motivation for adopting Agile: AOL’s transition from a single brand to multiple brands (e.g. AOL Food, AOL Music) was a major factor in their going Agile. Pretty much every brand has its own Agile project team now. (Click here for details on AOL’s branding strategy).

Going live: The product owner at AOL makes the final call whether to deploy (or to hold off on deploying) new functionality or contents.

Agile training: AOL invests 5 days of training/consulting/coaching in each team converting from waterfall to Agile. Training is given in the organic project teams (as distinct from open courses to which anyone can enroll). Newly converted teams are expected to operate on their own (i.e. without consultants) after three iterations.

View from the panel on primary reasons for project failure:

  • Lack of alignment.
  • Folks do no tell the truth. To succeed, one must be brutally honest.
  • Poor expectation management.

View from the panel on ingredients in the ‘secret sauce’ for project success:

  • The project/program manager has to be both humble and willful.
  • Acting on insights gained in the retrospectives is critical.
  • Must know the real status at any point in time. For example, what do the employees think on the subject? What do customers say?

Visualization: Deemed absolutely critical to requirements management in any project of scale. It is the antidote to explosion of requirements data and confusion about requirements (Tony Chen, Seilevel).

Reconfiguring the Business: Readers of this blog are already familiar with many threads in the Reconfiguring the Business presentation I delivered. Click here to read it in entirety. Needless to say, comments on the presentation will be much appreciated.

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Written by israelgat

April 30, 2009 at 10:35 pm

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