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“Agile” Is Much More Than a Software Development Process

I’m intrigued, bored, encouraged, and discouraged all at once: not to mention optimistic and sceptical.  How’s that for a confused and mixed up kid?

“Ok matey! So what the heck are you going on about?”

“Well it’s this agile, agility, Agile, Agility thing.”

“Okaaaay so what is it?”

“Blowed if I know!”

I’m not at all sure that I know what Agile / Agility is.  I think it has its roots in software development approaches including Extreme Programming, which I think I first heard about more than a decade ago.  Does anyone remember the even older RAD or RIP or JAD from the 1980s?  The idea, then, was to use a collaborative, non-bureaucratic, approach to quickly produce software that was seen as fit-for-purpose by its users. Well I think the present agile methods have their roots in that RADish JADish idea of getting software cheaper, quicker, and better by minimising the time and money consumed by the older stage and gate (often misnamed “waterfall”) methods.

From my standpoint, anything that reduces the power of bureaucrats has to be good — just so long as we avoid devolving into chaos.

That’s how I read Agile / Agility: it’s an antidote to toxic bureaucratitis.  It has become much larger than a software development method.  When the principles are applied organisation wide we can expect the following results:

  1. A significant reduction in the use of top down command and control management methods leading to a reduction in toxic bureaucracy
  2. The evolution of collaborative self-managed teams with a skilled project manager as the effort coordinator but not necessarily the commander:  the “commander” is the demands from the work that must be done
  3. More positive pushback through questioning the corporate worth of any project: the catch-cry is “Demonstrate that this idea will give an appropriate, measured, return on investment.”
  4. Through collaboration, the “Them versus Us” syndrome reduces
  5. Products will be fit-for-purpose rather than compliant with out-of-date prematurely frozen requirement specifications
  6. Silos will have holes blasted in their walls: collaboration kills silos and that is a very good thing.  The best way to encourage projecticide is to build silos: so avoid silos
  7. Improved Enterprise Architectures should result from less silo thinking and more integration.  An oft heard question will be “How does/should this product integrate with product x?”
  8. The possibility of continuous process improvement will increase.  Agility requires that we use retrospection: lots of reviews asking, “Is our process working?” as well as “Is the product (heading toward) fitness-for-purpose?”

The points above sound good to me.  In fact compared with the state of most organisations today the points sound positively utopian to the point of being fantasy.

So how do we achieve our utopia from our current dystopia?

Clearly two major factors apply: Cultural change and training. The whole organisation has to change and the staff members will have to become highly trained: not educated: trained.  Out of training comes increased discipline.  Without discipline Agile becomes Tragile.

Without cultural change and training Agile / Agility will remain forever Tragile / Tragility.

Where do we go to find the change agents and the trainers?  I know a terrific bunch of people who can help.  They all work with Software Education Associates Limited.

Posted by John Watson

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2009 in Agile, Culture, Project Management, Quality, Testing

 

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