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Making Agile Work

Archive for May 2009

We have Come a Long Way

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I am involved these days in a bid to develop a suite of applications for a few inter-related data centers. There is nothing extraordinary about this bid. I have no doubt quite a few readers of his blog are routinely involved in similar undertakings.

Two stipulations, however, impressed me in the RFP:

  1. Explicitly stated preference for choosing a vendor who uses Agile methods.
  2. Requirement to have working code drops every week.

Both vendor preference and the working code requirement have been documented in writing as well as stated verbally in face-to-face meetings.  Moreover, best I can tell most other stipulations in the RFP (other than the functional requirements and a clause about location of the team) are about characteristics of the operating environment in these data centers, not about how the “sausage” should be made.

I have been doing Agile since 2003. I do not recall seeing such Agile stipulation at the heart of routine RFPs.

Written by israelgat

May 28, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Posted in Agile Contracts, The Agile Life

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It is a Team, not a Clinic

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We have by now held three sessions of the Agile Austin “Ask an Expert” service. The thing that impressed me most in these three meetings is the effectiveness of the the team discussion modus. Rather than make the clinic a series of 1-1 consultations, we followed Scott Killen‘s good suggestion to conduct it in the manner articulated in the statement of purpose:

Team discussions with any Agilists attending the program will be encouraged to maximize the sharing of experience and draw out the wisdom of crowds.

It is starting to become evident we enriched the experience and made it more gratifying by moving away from the {professor –> student} modus. The sessions are kind of everyone singing, everyone dancing. Rather than a plain answer for a plain question, we get much richer threads. Moreover, it is obvious the experience one clinic “patient” shares with another is as valuable as the expert advice.

We are starting to see repeat “patients.” It is really becoming a team more than a clinic.

Written by israelgat

May 21, 2009 at 9:00 pm

A Note on the Standish CHAOS Reports

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In his recent seminar Advanced Agile Project Management Workshop,  Jim Highsmith made the following comment on the interpretation of the Standish CHAOS Reports:

The Standish data are NOT a good indicator of poor software development performance. However, they ARE an indicator of systemic failure of our planning and measurement processes.

Jim is referring to the standard definition of  project “success”:

One time, on budget, all specified features

Jim elaborates on this key point in the forthcoming second edition of Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products. Stay tuned…

Written by israelgat

May 21, 2009 at 4:03 pm

It is Not What It is that Really Matters

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Rob Bowley wrote a thoughtful post entitled Kanban it just a tool, so why is it being treated like a methodology? To quote Rob:

The thing that’s making me itchy is how Kanban has somehow been elevated into a methodology unto itself… I’m sure proponents of Kanban will say no one is suggesting Kanban is a methodology and I would agree I’ve not seen anyone say it is. The problem is interpretation. People have a habit of focusing on rules and methodologies because they’re a lot more easy to tackle than the problems they we’re created to solve… Kanban is a small part of something much, much bigger, see the whole.

While I agree with just about everything Rob writes, I would like to point out two aspects of Kanban that are of great importance in the context discussed above:

  1. Kanban seems to have an effect on individuals, teams and organizations. The case studies in the LK2009 conference proceedings document some very interesting dynamics.
  2. From a marketing standpoint, Kanban is a fantastic sound bite. I am hard pressed to recall when I last heard such a catchy sound bite.

I have no doubt that additional case studies on the effects of Kanban will be very beneficial. I also know that sound bites can lose popularity faster than you can say “Kanban.” Finally, I wholeheartedly agree with Rob on the importance of setting realistic expectations around  the tool.

Having said that, I would refer the reader to Dean Leffingwell’s post on the LK2009 conference in which he gives the overall lay of the land from multiple perspective. The picture might, of course, change. However, Dean provides a summary that integrates all important aspects of Kanban as we experience and know them now.

Written by israelgat

May 20, 2009 at 8:48 am

Posted in Kanban, Lean

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Recipe for Success in 2009

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Colleague Annie Shum sent me the following excerpt from Slate’s Daniel Gross article on P.F. Chang’s spectacular performance in 2009:

The reason: mainstream mall appeal, affordable offerings, and especially good management – based heavily on the principles of “kaizen” or continuous improvement pioneered by Toyota and other Japanese manufacturers. P.F. Chang’s made it to $1 billion in sales by taking cues from successful Asian businesses. Now by focusing on process improvement rather than helter-skelter growth, it seems to be doing so again. Continuous improvement, the philosophy pioneered by Japanese companies such as Toyota in which managers and workers relentlessly seek out small modifications that add up to big profits, seems to be the recipe for success in 2009.

I don’t really know that the excerpt above has any relevance to software engineering. Gross, however, proposes a potential linkage at the end the article:

Low-end standardized service jobs make up more than 40 percent of all U.S. employment. Imagine if more restaurants and service companies started to act like P.F. Chang’s. Innovation and rising productivity are the underpinnings of higher wages, and happy and engaged employees the key to more continuous improvement.

Written by israelgat

May 19, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Posted in Lean, Macro-economic Crisis

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More on Kanban from John Heintz

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Colleague John Heintz posted today on the Kanban board he and one of his customers implemented in a few days. John describes the economy of so doing in the following words:

Some of the tools that we use include sticky post-it notes and Stikky Clips. (Note: We found the Stikky Clips at a teacher supply store, not a big office supply store.)

I am impressed: John seems to hit the ground running immediately after the LK2009 conference.

Written by israelgat

May 19, 2009 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Kanban, Lean, The Agile Leader

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Questions from “Ask an Expert”

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I had the pleasure of participating in the May 7 and May 14 sessions of the Agile Austin “Ask an Expert” Service. You can read the questions/topics brought up in these sessions by clicking here. Following are two observations from the questions cited so far:

  • Enterprise readiness issues are rarely understood, let alone addressed in advance of an Agile roll-out. The focus on the “hows” of the process seems to consume the energy of the Agile practitioners. Precious little is left for the “whys.”
  • Many questions (and the discussions that follow) are actually about the software engineering fabric, not about Agile per se.

The two are actually related. It is too easy to try to boil the ocean if you do not think of Agile as a single “layer” in the overall software engineering fabric, pretty much along the lines one thinks of a layer such as Transport in the OSI Model. Needless to say, trying to boil the ocean can consume you to the point nothing is left for the deeper understanding of the “whys” of Agile.

The reader is encouraged to take a look at the post entitled The House Jim Built. The two views of Agile given in this post by Cutter consultants Jim Highsmith and David Spann capture the essence of Agile in a lucid manner. You can start with either of the two views, using the one you prefer as a guide to placing Agile in the bigger picture.

(Please note Anne Mullaney‘s kind offer in the thread accompanying the post to send the full copy of Jim’s E-Mail Advisor to readers of the blog. David’s Research Report is in the public domain).

Written by israelgat

May 18, 2009 at 4:51 pm