Thursday, 20 June 2013

Don't worry, it'll hold together. You hear me, agile transformation? Hold together!

Things are getting interesting. 

Your organisation has been transforming itself to an agile way of working for, say, a year or so now. Now comes the critical moment, which I will hereafter refer to as ‘The Wobble.’

‘The Wobble’ is a series of questions and searching of souls. ’Is this transformation really working?’ and ‘Are we working on the right features, at the right pace, with the right value, at the right level of quality?’ are common. Now, here’s the trick and it sound a little woolly but bear with me, if your business sponsors don’t know that its working, then I’m afraid that this confusion is trying to tell you something. That something generally is that something is wrong.

Like most of life’s wobbles, ‘The Wobble’ itself not the key, the reaction to ‘The Wobble’ is critical. So what are common reactions?

Abandon Ship! Liberally distribute yourselves overboard and revert to chaos. By which I mean your previous methodology, which wasn’t even waterfall, just old fashioned chaos.
Measure everything! Try and enforce blanket metrics across teams which mean little to the business and try and ‘standardise’ progress across teams. Think back to why you wanted to transform your organisation. The prison of meaningless metrics probably had something to do with it.
More Resource! Forget you ever read the Mythical Man Month and fully embrace the law of diminishing returns in all its glory.

So, I hear your brains ask, smarty-pants, what would you do?

Don’t panic and add more process – making your teams ‘heavier’ only alienates them, and the business representatives just see more processes and less building of stuff they want. This cycle repeats itself until the team’s produce beautiful reports and documents but no working software. Sound familiar?

Cash Value. In Moolah, Dosh, Wonga, Sterling. In Production - Its time to get honest. It doesn't get more honest than cash. Its honesty tells you where you really are, in your transformation. A lot of features built but still takes two months to put a release together? £0. Building lots of technically interesting features but not what the business wants? £0. I am aware however; very few organisations are willing to be this honest. However, without acknowledging this, you limit your progress and strengthen the power of ‘The Wobble.’

Putting a monetary value on something that is yet to be is hard, but it forces you to ask a great question. If I don’t know what this is worth, then why am I building it. For me the key to agility is honesty, with your team, with your wider project community, with the business. Without it, ‘The Wobble’ becomes more earthquake than minor tremor and may be more than your agile transformation can withstand.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

What do I want? Everything to change! When do I want it? Yesterday!


It has been said have very little patience, which is mostly accurate. I think I can be both extremely patient and massively impatient across different issues of different magnitudes at different times.

That said I like to think I have gained a more considered perspective in the last year or so, particularly in relation to the issue of organisational change. During that process, I have noticed a trend in some of my interactions with others. 

Change, and the demand for it, is being used as a weapon. ‘If things don’t change around here then I’ll be on my way’ and ‘things would never change, so I gave up and left' are statements I’ve heard.

Even in my variably patient/impatient state my recent experiences have taught me that change is an ebb and flow process. The rate of change can be easy and fluid, or hard and unyielding, but never, ever, linear.

This rate of change versus the amount of patience is never more prevalent than when an organisation is in the process of agile transformation. Across various organisational levels, from directors to developers, patience is a rare commodity.

I believe the source of this trend of impatience is the innate human inability to see the bigger picture over longer periods of time. We simply struggle to see beyond our immediate situation, and the pain of change is often underestimated.

For example I have consulted on agile transformations in recent years, where my own and others frustration with progress grew over time. However when I look back I realised that the organisation had come from a state of:

  • Multiple projects in progress for each team, most of which never finished.
  • Uneven team skill sets; some with no test, analysis or deployment focused individuals at all.
  • No test automation or continuous integration/delivery.
  • Long, drawn out projects, which sapped morale and encouraged attrition.

To, in a relatively short space of time:
  • Each team worked on one project until it was done.
  • Each team had a blended skill set.
  • Almost every team had continuous integration and delivery integrated into their processes.
  • Testing individuals had 3 or 4 tools in their locker for testing at DB, Service and UI levels, plus an appreciation of the subtler arts of exploratory and context driven testing.

There were still issues to be resolved, but I know which the more desirable state for a working environment is. 

In short, when it comes to change, I find that many cannot see the wood for the trees. Next time you get frustrated, remember where you began and try look at the bigger picture.