The Agile Executive

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Posts Tagged ‘Agility

“Increase your own agility and stealthiness with this blog”

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The Agile Executive has been featured on Online Universities list of the Best Management Blogs. The referees cited the following reasons for picking the blog:

When it comes to streamlined leadership, the clunky and the clumsy don’t find much favor. Increase your own agility and stealthiness with this blog.

I feel honored and privileged.

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Written by israelgat

February 21, 2011 at 8:46 am

Late Night Thoughts on Stepping Into Cutter’s Agile Practice Director Role

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/holia/3204431590/

I have just stepped into the role of Director, Cutter’s Agile Product and Project Management Practice. It has been a long time since I felt so honored. Little had I expected that a friendly 2008 email from Brian Robertson suggesting I write an article for Cutter, and a later invite from Jim Highsmith to join the practice would lead to my heading it now.

My preliminary thoughts about evolving the practice are summarized in the Cutter press release. I view Agility as much more than a ‘mere’ software method. I envision the combination of Agile, Cloud, Mobile and Social as transformative in nature. Specifically:

It is not ‘just’ about doing one thing or another a little faster. Rather, it is about enabling new business designs that utilize the ultra-fast pace and flexibility of multiple links in the company’s value chain. [Excerpt from the Cutter press release].

An example of the transformation I foresee is given in my 2011 prediction:

The paramount need to deliver faster/earlier is, for all practical purposes, dictated by today’s markets becoming hyper-segmented. For example, my (or your) Twitter network today is an evolving market segment. My Twitter network in March 2011 could easily be a different segment than the segment it is today. The only way to penetrate such fluid market segments effectively is by following the classic Agile mantra “Release early and often.”

Viewed from such perspective, Agility is more than a strategic initiative. It actually becomes a philosophy of life in the best sense of the word:

The real challenge, however, lies in how to go about solving problems when you don’t understand them well enough to get to a viable solution … when you don’t have a clear enough understanding of the problem to create clear solutions, you have to iterate. [Interview with Russ Daniels]

I will be the first one to admit that I don’t fully understand various facets of what it will take to make the Agile practice most meaningful to current Cutter clients and highly enticing to future prospects. Just as Russ suggests above, I plan to iterate.

And this, in the final analysis, is all that matters in an Agile practice.

Written by israelgat

December 19, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Jim Highsmith on the Financial Implications of Technical Debt

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Jim Highsmith launched his new blog/website last week. I have no doubt whatsoever it will be a thought leadership blog. Moreover, knowing Jim I would expect the blog will address and integrate concepts and ideas from numerous disciplines, not “just” from software methods.

Jim’s first publicly available post  – The Financial Implications of Technical Debt – explores the impact of technical debt on capitalization. To quote Jim:

So the bottom line for technical debt. It’s expensive to fix, but much more expensive to ignore. Technical debt reduces future earnings, but even more critically, it destroys predictability which in turn impacts market capitalization in the near term, not in the future.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnwardell/80125882/

Figure 1: Loss of Predictability

Jim’s post nicely closes the {financial –> technical –> financial} loop. Ward Cunningham’s original debt metaphor borrowed the financial term to apply it to software development. Jim is now bridging from the technical arena back to the financial world.

If you are into any form of agility – technical, managerial or business – you owe it to yourself to follow Jim’s blog.

Written by israelgat

November 1, 2010 at 6:44 am

Cloud Computing Forecasts: “Cloudy” Future for Enterprise IT

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In a comment on The Urgency of Now, Marcel Den Hartog discusses technology assimilation in the face of hype:

But if people are already reluctant to run the things they have, on another platform they already have, on an operating system they are already familiar with (Linux on zSeries), how can you expect them to even look at cloud computing seriously? Every technological advancement requires people to adapt and change. Human nature is that we don’t like that, so it often requires a disaster to change our behavior. Or carefully planned steps to prove and convince people. However, nothing makes IT people more cautious than a hype. And that is how cloud is perceived. When the press, the analysts and the industry start writing about cloud as part of the IT solution, people will want to change. Now that it’s presented as the silver bullet to all IT problems, people are cautious to say the least.

Here is Annie Shum‘s thoughtful reply to Marcel’s comment:

Today, the Cloud era has only just begun. Despite lingering doubts, growing concerns and wide-spread confusion (especially separating media and vendor spun hype from reality), the IT industry generally views Cloud Computing as more appealing than traditional ASP /hosting or outsourcing/off-shoring. To technology-centric startups and nimble entrepreneurs, Cloud Computing enables them to punch above their weight class. By turning up-front CapEx into a more scalable and variable cost structure based on an on-demand pay-as-you-go model, Cloud Computing can provide a temporary, level playing field. Similarly, many budget-constrained and cash-strapped organizations also look to Cloud Computing for immediate (friction-free) access to “unlimited” computing resources. To wit: Cloud Computing may be considered as a utility-based alternative to an on-premises datacenter and allow an organization (notably cash-strapped startups) to “Think like a ‘big guy’. Pay like a ‘little guy’ ”.

Forward-thinking organizations should not lose sight of the vast potential of Cloud Computing that extends well beyond short-term economics. At its core, Cloud Computing is about enabling business agility and connectivity by abstracting computing infrastructure via a new set of flexible service delivery/deployment models. Harvard Business School Professor Andrew McAffee painted a “Cloudy” future for Corporate IT in his August 21, 2009 blog and cited a perceptive 1983 paper by Warren D. Devine, Jr. in the Journal of Economic History called “From Shafts to Wires: Historical Perspective on Electrification”.[1] There are three key take-away messages that resonate with the current Cloud Computing paradigm shift. First: The real impact of the new technology was not apparent right away. Second: The transition to full utilization of the new technology will be long, but inevitable. Third: There will be detractors and skeptics about the new technology throughout the transition. Interestingly, telephone is another groundbreaking disruptive technology that might have faced similar skepticism in the beginning. Legend has it that a Western Union internal memo dated 1876 downplayed the viability of the telephone: “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communications. The device is inherently of no value to us.”

The dominance of Cloud Computing as a computing platform, however, is far from a fait accompli. Nor will it ever be complete, a “one-size fits all” or a “big and overnight switch”. The shape of computing is constantly changing but it is always a blended and gradual transition, analogous to a modern city. While the cityscape continues to change, a complete “rip-and-replace” overhaul is rarely feasible or cost-effective. Instead, city planners generally preserve legacy structures although some of them are retrofitted with standards-based interfaces that enable them to connect to the shared infrastructure of the city. For example, the Paris city planners retrofitted Notre Dame with facilities such as electricity, water, and plumbing. Similarly, despite the passage of the last three computing paradigm shifts – first mainframe, next Client/Server and PCs, and then Web N-tier – they all co-exist and can be expected to continue in the future. Consider the following. Major shares of mission-critical business applications are running today on mainframe servers. Through application modernization, legacy applications – notably Cobol for example – now can operate in a Web 2.0 environment as well as deploy in the Cloud via the Amazon EC2 platform.

Cloud Computing can provide great appeal to a wide swath of organizations spanning startups, SMBs, ISVs, enterprise IT and government agencies. The most commonly cited benefits include the promise of avoiding CapEx and lowering TCO to on-demand elasticity, immediacy and ease of deployment, time to value, location independence and catalyzing innovation. However, there is no magic in the Cloud and it is certainly not a panacea for all IT woes. Some applications are not “Cloud-friendly”. While deploying applications in the Cloud can enable business agility incrementally, such deployment will not change the characteristics of the applications fundamentally to be highly scalable, flexible and automatically responsive to new business requirements. Realistically, one must recognize that the many of the challenging problems – security, data integration and service interoperability in particular – will persist and live on regardless of the computing delivery medium: Cloud, hosted or on-premises.

[1] “The author combed through the contemporaneous business and technology press to learn what ‘experts’ were saying as manufacturing switched over from steam to electrical power, a process that took about 50 years to complete.” – Andrew McAfee, September 21, 2009.

I will go one step further and add quality to Annie’s list of challenging problem. A crappy on-premises application will continue to be crappy in the cloud. An audit of the technical debt should be conducted before “clouding” an application. See Technical Debt on Your Balance Sheet for a recommendation on quantifying the results of the quality audit.

Agile Across the Enterprise: Prioritizing Value in Support and Training – Guest Post by Anne Gentle

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If I could choose a subtitle to Anne’s guest post, I would pick How to Produce a Book in Five Days. While this subtitle does not take into account preparatory work prior to the five days, it captures the essence of the revolution in social publishing. The  intensive collaborative authoring that takes place during book sprints leads to hyper-productivity that transforms the economics of various classes of books.

A thread of particular interest in the post is the path innovation took. Anne walks us from Cote‘s simple question “Why does it take three days to get a PDF out for review?” all the way to producing over 250 pages of documentation in a book sprint. Her story is a great proof point that Experimentation Matters.

Here is Anne:

One of the Agile Manifesto’s basic balance equations is valuing working software over comprehensive documentation. This line of the Agile manifesto can be confusing to some supporting roles in an Agile development enterprise. As technical support staff, trainers, and content creators, what are we doing to fit into this Agile methodology, and what’s working well? Let’s explore some old habits that need to die, and some new rituals to fill that space.

Nowadays, Google’s search power offers software users access to documentation through forums, mailing lists, even through blogs and wikis maintained by the developers and authors themselves. These new conversational methods for documentation, support, and education have opened new opportunities for those groups to add value to software adoption. Ways to provide additional value to the working software include helping people learn the software, troubleshoot the software, or do their job with the software. Education, uptake, and support are all integral to the overall value of a software product.

Value proposition

First, a discussion on the value added by good websites, updated and relevant training materials, and a helpful support staff.  Those departments want to avoid the continual cost center perception. To do so, they find ways to add to the bottom line, such as:

  • increasing sales (enterprise) or increasing adoption (open source)
  • keeping users happy and satisfied
  • adding contributors to the community, whether helpful troubleshooters or prolific coders
  • decreasing support costs (in time and money)
  • converting participation into value
  • increasing positive perceptions of the software

In my experience, these values are universal to both enterprise software and open source software. Let me share my story.

Wikis are an Agile tool

I have been a technical writer on Agile development teams, and working in tightly collaborative environments has taught me a lot about adding value in the customer’s perception. I still remember being challenged by Michael Cote when we were at BMC Software. He asked, “Why does it take three days to get a PDF out for review? Why aren’t technical writers using wikis for documentation?” Those questions prompted quite a bit of research that finally resulted in my book, Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation.

I had a lot to learn to answer Cote’s questions. What to do? I decided a wiki apprenticeship was the answer. At the time, wikis seemed to be the realm of open source software. I was nervous about approaching an open source project with so little experience in open source to draw from, but when a former BMC director sent out a call for help with the One Laptop per Child project, I responded. They had a draft started and we put it on the wiki.laptop.org wiki to start with, as a too-long single article on the wiki. Soon after, FLOSS Manuals approached OLPC to see if they would like to have FLOSS Manuals host the wiki on their wiki site at www.flossmanuals.net. Adam Hyde, the founder of FLOSS Manuals, had built a wiki tool that allowed multiple chapters to be output as HTML or PDF. When I saw what the tool could do, I jumped at the chance. We copied and pasted the entire manual into the FLOSS Manuals site. Yes, copy and paste. But it got the content into a platform that enabled much more agility for the content.

Book sprints are one Agile method

After that initial content seeding, we discussed holding a book sprint to create a better book for more audiences, especially since SugarLabs had formed an organization separate from OLPC to work on the operating system separately from the hardware. A book sprint, much like the Agile sprint term, is intensive collaborative authoring in a week’s time. We run sprints as a five-day event, and use real-time collaboration tools, and sometimes bring all the authors in to a single location and have a bullpen of sorts. Lots of planning goes into a book sprint prior to the actual sprint, such as identifying sources of content that can be repurposed for the sprint, agreeing to the audience for the resulting documentation, and writing an outline for the deliverable, whether it’s intended to be a textbook, a curriculum workbook, an online help system, or a website.

After a sprint planning session on the Sunday of the sprint week, authors are ready to start writing immediately because the outline for the book is set in the wiki. Often we outline with Post-it notes on the wall to start, a familiar sight to many Agile practitioners.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are heads-down writing days from about nine in the morning until an enforced stop time at six each day. Just like a stand-up meeting, we use a daily conference call to stay in touch with the handful of remote contributors and find out if anyone is stuck or has questions. Thursday is a day for assessing how much we have so far, and what final tasks should be done to make the sprint a success. Thursday night we intentionally plan for a fun event, as the writers certainly have experienced an intense effort like no other and need to have some fun and allow for a release of built-up pressure! Friday is a clean-up and review day, and the final PDF is uploaded to Lulu.com for creating a bound book. We can also export the wiki content to HTML, and either embed it on a website or ship it with the software product itself. In the book sprint for OLPC and SugarLabs, we produced over 250 pages of documentation. You can learn more about book sprints (including examples of the budget for this sprint) by reading the free chapter from my book, or by reading the book about Book Sprints hosted on FLOSS Manuals.

In my journey towards Agile value-add across the enterprise, I learned that wikis are much more likely to be used internally for collaboration, and that there are far fewer examples of wikis where customers and Agile team members are collaborating on training materials, tutorials, reference information, or strategy guides for enterprise software. To shift that adoption rate towards external collaboration, I’m interested in book sprint experiments in the enterprise, as well as additional collaboration methods. Along the way, I’m finding ways to transfer lessons learned in open source to corporate environments. I offer this story as one way that Agile methods applied to other departments and their processes can increase overall value to the software developed.

About the author: Anne Gentle works as a senior technical writer at Advanced Solutions International in Austin, Texas on an Agile development team. She just finished a book with XML Press about using social publishing techniques for technical documentation titled Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation. She volunteers as a documentation maintainer for FLOSS Manuals, working on manuals for One Laptop Per Child and SugarLabs, both education projects dedicated to providing technology for children in developing countries. She writes a blog at justwriteclick.com and welcomes feedback and conversation there. As the mom of two young boys, she loves to be busy while upholding the value of an Agile principle of individuals and interactions (and sometimes refereeing battles over toys).