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Wrestling with Scaling Software Agility

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Software Development Times has just published Guest View: Wrestling with Scaling Software Agility by Ryan Martens and me. This Guest View is a little unique in that Ryan and I actually try to wrestle each other to the ground… Here is why we try to do so:

Agile champions spend a lot of time trying to communicate the agile premise to the executives in their organization. The difference in context between the champion and the executive often makes it a difficult conversation. A Scrum Master versed in behavior-driven design is not always able to relate to the frustrations of a sales executive who gets free advice on how to sell from everyone and his grandmother.

Conversely, a CFO does not necessarily understand why unit test coverage on the company’s legacy code is still inadequate after a full year of investment in agile methods that embrace refactoring as a core practice.

To bridge the chasm through this article, we resort to role-playing. Ryan Martens plays the Agile Champion; Israel Gat plays the Skeptical Executive. Metaphorically speaking, each one tries to wrestle the other to the ground.

Before you get into this Guest View, I would like to reinforce an important disclaimer:

A note of caution before Ryan and Israel make irreparable damage to their long-standing relationship: The two actually understand each other extremely well and rarely are they of different opinions on the fundamentals of agile in real life…

Enjoy the article!

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Teach Your Boss to be Agile with a Social Contract – Guest Post by Alan Atlas

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When I [Israel] joined BMC Software in Fall 2004, I made a promise to each and every one of the hundreds of employees in my business unit:

I commit to read and respond within 48 hours to any email you send me. My answer is not likely to be long as I am drinking from a hose right now. But, it will be substantive.

Till this very day, various ex-employees of mine tell me that this simple statement was actually the first step toward our adopting Agile – it created mutuality in our relationships. A few months later, when we started discussing the ground rules for Agile team empowerment, I was credible with respect to adhering to voluntary “contracts” due to the mutuality established in the “email policy” cited above (and other “it cuts both ways” steps we as a management team have taken along the way).

Fast forward five years to today. How delightful it was to get the guest post below from Rally coach Alan Atlas. His post has taken me all the way back to the very gratifying experience of starting the enterprise-level Agile “adventure” at BMC. Furthermore, Alan’s post made me realize I need to add mutuality as the fifth ingredient in my ‘secret sauce’ for large-scale Agile implementations.

Here is Alan:

Hey, how’re you doing? How’s the new Agile thing going? What? Oh, yeah. We had that same thing. The manager thing. Yep. It can be a killer! Wanna know what we did?

Dan Rawsthorne first introduced me to social contracts. He had put together an example that was called something like “Contract Between the Team and the Organization”.  Israel Gat’s work on Agile Social Contracts gives perspective on using them at the enterprise level.

I have put social contracts to good use more than once, and I am convinced that they are a tool that has much to offer to coaches, consultants, and maybe most importantly, internal Agile champions at companies around the world.

Most of us are familiar with the idea of Working Agreements. Working Agreements are a form of social contract that is often used to help a self-organizing team to establish behavioral standards without having them imposed from the outside (e.g., by a manager). Working Agreements are:

  • Established and changed by mutual agreement
  • Enforced by mutual agreement
  • Outside of established corporate legal structure, and
  • Made between peers.

A social contract, at least the way I have seen them created and used, is essentially a Working Agreement between non-peers.  In an Agile context, social contracts are written between a team and its management, or a team and its encompassing organization.

Of what use is an agreement in which each clause can be summarized as “I promise to do something that you want until I change my mind”? I think there are two really important benefits to be realized by using social contracts:

  • They codify and externalize the agreement, making the substance of the agreement clear, and
  • They form the basis of an “interaction between people” (i.e., a conversation).

Here’s an extract from a hypothetical Social Contract:

  1. The Organization and the Team agree that:
    1. Customer satisfaction is our ultimate goal
    2. Mutual respect will be the foundation for trust between all parties
    3. The Team promises the Organization that:
      1. It will develop the most valuable software, as defined by the Organization through the Product Owner, at all times
      2. It will provide transparency in all things related to its activities
      3. The Organization promises the Team that:
        1. The Team’s success will be judged by the production of working software
        2. The Team will have a Product Owner and a Scrum Master and a reasonable expectation of team stability

Yes, it does seem a bit idealistic and maybe even unrealistic. Yet, it is invaluable when used in the following way:

“Hey Boss. One part of launching the team on Scrum is to sit down with you and go over our social contract. Let’s take a look and talk about the things that are in here.”

The social contract is, above all things, a means to direct a conversation with your manager about roles and behaviors in the new world of Scrum. If you can all actually agree on one, and even sign it, Wow! But if you can’t, you can still use it to begin to teach your boss (I bet she wasn’t included in team Scrum training, was she?) how to be a good boss in an Agile world. If you are afraid of broaching certain subjects, arrange to have a neutral Agile coach supply you with an Agile contract, in which case you can’t be blamed for the content.

“The Organization promises the Team that impediments raised by the team will receive prompt and thorough attention at all levels.”

“The Team promises the Organization that it will adhere to all corporate quality standards when building software.”

“The Team promises the Organization that it will maintain the highest possible level of technical rigor through design and code reviews.”

And on and on…

Don’t be too disappointed if it never gets completely agreed and signed and put on the wall. Use it to open up a dialog with your management that you can build on over time.

Written by israelgat

November 5, 2009 at 7:46 am

More on the Social Contract

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The posts A Social Contract for Agile and Additions to the Social Contract established the dire need to reconstitute the social contract at a time when software development and test jobs migrate off-shore in an unprecedented manner. As stated in the first of these two posts:

My sense in 2005 was that the social contract between employers and employees in the software industry was broken. Without a working social contract, the friction and antagonism can bring a system down. For example, in 1942 – the turning-point year of WWII – 833,000 days of coal mining were lost due to strikes in the British coal industry.

Colleague and friend Ryan Martens has just published an article on the subject in Dr. Dobb’s. Ryan examines the Agile Social Contact in the context of what it really takes to get Agile rolling. To quote him:

Can you see the simplicity of Agile Adoption when you apply appropriate commitment and structure? A truly effective Agile Social Contract that creates true trust and commitment requires clarity and discipline. With the transparency of a clearly communicated Agile Social Contract, you will establish a strong leadership mechanism that aligns all the stakeholders and teams within your Agile adoption. Of course Enterprise-scale agile adoptions take place in a larger context of the business and market. As Israel Gat stated in his personal Agile Social Contract, we cannot guarantee lifetime employment in this globally competitive world. But, by making a clear commitment to win-win agreements, we can change the conversation into a motivating one versus a de-motivating one. Don’t try to scale Agile without a real and personal commitment or without a clear rollout structure.

The fascinating thing to me is that Rally’s own social contract seems to have developed completely on its own. Best I know there had never been a conscious attempt to develop a social contract. Yet, the company is well-known for the strong affinity of its employees.

I will leave it Ryan to comment on this riddle…

Written by israelgat

October 27, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Paulo Coelho’s Good Counsel to the Agile Champion

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I am already used to the way things are. Before you came, I was thinking about how much time I had wasted in the same place, while my friends have moved on, and either went bankrupt or did better than they had before. It made me very depressed. Now, I can see that it has not been too bad. The shop is exactly the side I wanted it to be. I don’t want to change anything, because I don’t know how to deal with change. I am used to the way I am.

This magnificent paragraph from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, captures the nature of the Agile transformation better than any Agile book, article or presentation I had ever read, seen or listened to.  The issue for the team the Agile champion works with is not objectify-ing Cobol, calculating Cyclomatic Complexity or learning how to play Planning Poker. The heart of the matter is members of the team struggle with the innermost feeling “I am used to the way I am.”

I very much doubt that I can summarize Coelho’s counsel on the subject. It would be like trying to capture the wisdom and charm of Saint-Exupery‘s The Little Prince in 500 words or in 140 characters . To fully grasp Coelho’s good counsel, you will need to read The Alchemist cover to cover.

Role of the Agile Leader in Reconfiguring the Business

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Click here for the slide deck from my Agile 2009 presentation. 

Abstract: The presentation applies Agile thinking to critical aspects of strategy and execution at a time of uncertainty and disruption. The essential point is simple and logical: Agile values and principles are indivisible. To succeed, they must be applied not just to R&D, but also to customer and company, simultaneously. This requires reconfiguration of customer relationships, employee policy, software development, and the relationship that binds the three. The resulting paradigm shift could lower the cost of software and produce prosperity similar to the one induced by ultra-cheap oil in the 50’s.

Perspective: In addition to being a ‘think-piece,’ the presentation offers pragmatic recommendations for the Agile champion in three critical areas:

  •  It explains how the Agile champion can cross three chasms that tend to form in the course of large scale Agile rollouts.
  •  It explores how to apply Agile priciples to software deployment and operations.
  • It shows how earned value management can utilize ‘real time’ customer feedback in companies that embrace end-to-end Agility.

Using a Combat Metaphor to Apply Agile Principles to the Company

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The Cutter Edge has just published my article Using a Combat Metaphor to Apply Agile Principles to the Company. The metaphor draws from Britain’s struggle for survival during WWII:

The agile team goes through psychodynamics similar to those of the combat unit when it expects “casualties” in the form of forthcoming layoffs. A record-breaking Scrum implementation 12 months down the road is not too meaningful for an employee who suspects he or she might not be with the company in six months. Under such circumstances, you must satisfactorily answer the question on the minds of employees, “What is in this agile rollout for me?!” Agile team dynamics are likely to be jeopardized unless this question is answered.

What is needed under such circumstances is a reconstituted social contract between employers and employees. Without a working social contract, the friction and antagonism can bring down a system. For example, in 1942, the turning-point year of WWII, 833,000 person-days of coal mining were lost due to strikes in the UK coal industry. Even a world war in which the UK was fighting for its life could not compensate for a broken social contract.

They did not do software in 1942 – all they had were Alan Turing‘s code breaking Bombe machines. The core issue – broken social contract – applies however to software development, particularly these days. Scholars such as Correlli Barnett attribute much of the post war decline of Britain to the failure to reconstitute the social contract.


Written by israelgat

July 28, 2009 at 8:35 am

Continuous Improvement is Always the Glue

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Corey Ladas makes an interesting observation in Scrumban, pp. 73:

Continuous improvement is always the glue that binds the social contract of the lean organization. Everybody is expected to improve, at all times.

Corey’s observation is quite relevant to the commitment proposed in the posts A Social Contract for Agile and Addition to the Social Contract:

Commit to invest in Agile training ; apply the training to employees who  might be affected by forthcoming layoffs just as you apply it to those likely to be kept with the company. 

The commitment discussed in these posts is an ingredient of the glue Corey writes about.

Written by israelgat

July 1, 2009 at 9:39 pm