The Agile Executive

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Posts Tagged ‘System Management

Extending a True Epiphany

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In Agile Software Development with Scrum, Ken Schwaber describes a true epiphany he experienced as a result of his 1995 meetings with DuPont’s process control experts:

They [DuPont’s process control experts] inspected the system development processes that I brought them. I have rarely provided a group with so much laughter. They were amazed and appalled that my industry, system development, was trying to do its work using a completely inappropriate process control model. They said system development had so much complexity and unpredictability that it had to be managed by a process control model they referred to as “empirical.” They said it was nothing new, and all complex processes that were not completely understood required the empirical model…

… I realized why everyone in my industry had such problems building systems. I realized why the industry was in such trouble and had such poor reputation. We were wasting our time trying to control our work by thinking we had an assembly line when the only proper control was frequent and first-hand inspection, followed by immediate adjustments…

Based on this insight, I have since formulated with others the Scrum process for developing complex products, particularly software systems.

Fast forward to November 2009. During a lovely dinner in Boulder with Dean Leffingwell, we got into the subject of connecting Agile with ITIL. This conversation really registered with me. I actually recalled how years ago Ray Paquet characterized IT as a “continuous manufacturing” process. If you accept Ray’s premise, the chain {DuPont –> Scrum –> IT} is quite intriguing.

Re-reading Software Evolution recently, I was struck by the observation Tom Mens makes in the Introduction:

… due to the fact that the activity of software evolution is a continuous feedback process, the chosen process model itself is likely to be subject to evolution.

I can’t help wondering whether Tom’s observation applies to IT. If so, what are the implications with respect to IT operations and system management?!

Opinions please!

A Single Point of Accountability

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Lack of executive support is often flagged as a major problem for Agile adoption. Jean discusses “checkbook commitments” from executive management in a recent post. Christophe Louvion has highlighted the issue during the Rally event in Los Angeles. I certainly have for quites some time been (and still am) of the opinion that executive support is critical for Agile success.

In the course of working on my forthcoming presentation at the Agile Roots conference, I took a fresh look at quite a few of the convictions I hold, including lack of executive support. Having such support, of course, is awesome. However, is the difficulty in securing executive support the fundamental problem or is it a symptom of an underlying problem?

A couple of years ago my colleague and friend Yechiam Yemini made a very astute observation on accountability in system management. Yechiam observed that system management applications of the “You got a problem on your hands” variety generally don’t get endorsed by IT executives if they do not indicate clear accountability. The last thing in the world an IT executive wants is finger pointing between his/her network management folks, the storage management team and the help desk expert. A lot of time and effort is wasted in resolving such situations. IT executives hate them with a passion.

I am starting to think a similar phenomenon might be manifesting itself with respect to  Agile adoption. For example, if things do not go well for a Scrum project, is it a matter for the Scrum Master, the Product Owner or the self-organized team? From an enlightened Agile perspective, the whole thing is about the wisdom and commitment of teams. It might however be seen in quite a different light by the executive who has not had the opportunity to immerse himself/herself  in Agile.

“We are all in it together” is a quip frequently used by executives in time of crisis. When the quip is sincere, it can provide the underpinnings on which to develop a deeper understanding of accountability in the Agile context. Part of being in it together is the executive’s accountability to follow Agile values and principles. The house metaphor Jim Highsmith proposed can be used very effectively in the context we are discussing . One starts building a house by laying the foundations – Agile values and principles in Jim’s metaphor. Pillars and roof come later.

Written by israelgat

April 27, 2009 at 12:54 pm