Agile Adoption or Transformation?

Hey all!  This is a repost from my blog at MATRIX Resources.  Check out the original here:

Matrix Resources Professional Services Blog – Adoption or Transformation?

There is only one answer to this, isn’t there? Unless you do a full-on, top down, inside out, grassroots, executive-led, business-driven transformation, you’ll never experience the benefits of agile practices, right? If you would have asked me several years ago, I would have told you that there was only one way – a full-scale transformation. Over the past couple of years, however, I’ve worked with several organizations that, for some reason, simply could not commit to a full transformation.

Understanding Where We are Headed

Let’s first look at what is meant with agile adoption or transformation. I’m sort of a word guy -my background (and just my brain) tends to have me looking up the meanings and the origination of words. So, here we go:

Transform: make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of. Transform comes from the Latin word transformare which literally means “across form” or to change form. The Romans would have used this word to describe the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

Adopt: to accept or act in accordance with (a plan, principle, etc.). Adopt comes from another Latin word, adoptare (I am so glad I took two years of Latin – thank you Magistra Sullivan!), which means “to choose or desire for oneself.” Once more, the Romans might have used this when talking about bringing specific holidays, cultural improvements, or architectural techniques from conquered states into their own.

So, if we look at just the basics, agile adoptions mean that companies chose certain practices that are agile. They are, in this case, bringing these principles or practices or tools into their existing business framework. On the flip side, transformations mean that these companies are letting the principles, values, and practices change them. In some cases, organizations might view this transformation as opposed to their business models, their existing strategic goals, or even detrimental to their client relationships. Let’s look at a few navigational decision points that will help your organization decide which journey is right for you.

Organizational Strategic Alignment

That’s a mouthful! In essence, does your organization already have a strategic set of goals set up to achieve this value and is it static? We have worked with organizations that answer a resounding “yes” to this question. They have invested millions of dollars to make sure that their business processes, tactical and organizational frameworks, and strategic goals all align to their primary product delivery. To take on a full transformation, even if it is IT only (which is NEVER recommended), would require more than just a systemic change to their business model – it would possibly mean tearing it down and starting over. Adoption of certain agile practices, even at the executive level, simply mean increase the efficiency by which the organization can execute and deliver value.

For other companies, transformation is necessary. They might struggle with keeping up with their market’s vastly changing needs and when they do deliver, they are already behind the curve. They might even have no way of supporting or transitioning their existing products to 21st century products. These companies NEED transformation; adoption for them would simply be injecting chaos into an already chaotic environment.

“Championing” Agility

Another buzzword! A fancy way to ask, “who is going to run with this initiative?” I’m reminded of a customer where the sponsor of the agile initiative had a manager who was almost anti-agile. This individual, even though a vice president, had to expend additional effort just to counteract the challenges from the manager. In addition, the business didn’t engage fully. This left the IT manager only able to focus on targeted adoptions and tactical changes to delivery. Was this a failure? Not at all! While it wasn’t all that this individual (or we, to be honest) wanted, there were pockets of success and improvement in delivering working products. Adoption is not always transformation’s evil stepbrother! Sometimes the sponsor can only champion adoption.

Funding Models

How does your company fund projects or initiatives? This subject can get very complicated, but fortunately, we are not talking about the several different ways that organizations can improve their funding. We are also not talking about capitalizing or operationalizing work. We are simply asking here whether your company is at a place where it makes sense to address changes in funding. Why is this such an important question? Many companies have implemented very project-centric funding methods by which monies are allocated in very large chunks, sometimes into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Oddly enough, these same models require down-to-the-task level coordination and oversight from project and program managers. Agile frameworks at a program and portfolio level generally reduce the size of work, therefore reducing risk. Transformation seeks to tackle this issue by thin-slicing portfolios of work and providing autonomy to allocate funds as needed, incrementally. Adoptions, on the other hand, could keep a project-based funding model and simply improve the way we look at tracking the funds. Is your company at a place where finance should and could be addressed?

Staffing and Team Components

How much does your organization rely on offshore, nearshore, or vendor-delivered solutions? Please hear me out on this one! I am not saying that an organization cannot “be” agile if they have offshore teams or work with vendors for their supporting products. I am saying that the questions must be asked to see what makes sense. Several of our customers have a large offshore component with one company having approximately 75% of their software development occurring offshore. Another client has a dependency where they rely on mostly external vendors (some of them rather sizeable) and simply cannot say, “hey largest-provider-of-CMS-products, we want you to change the way you deliver software!” Understanding the trade-offs (needs of strategic partners vs. the company’s direction) is key to deciding whether agile practices are adopted or whether the organization looks at a full-scale agile transformation that could impact how the work occurs with partners.

Size of the Company

I can hear it now! “Joshua, are you saying that big companies should not think about transformation? Are you saying that agile is so delicate that only certain practices could be adopted by our Fortune 100 organizations?” Absolutely not! This question, just like the funding model question is based on what the organization is willing to do. There are companies that are big and act monolithically and there are those that still have the flexibility (and agility) to respond to change. There are companies that see change as the only constant and those are the ones where transformation aligns with their core values. But let’s also be very transparent – size of the company does play a part. We must ask ourselves, if we are in a large organization, what is the appetite for change? As some companies grow, their desire and will to make changes that keep them on the cutting edge can dim. In this case, there is still hope of agile practices, delivery, and even skunkworks-type scenarios where agile can be adopted but the thought of a full-scale transformation is more challenging.

And in closing…

As you have read this way-too-long blog, I hope that it has at least sparked questions and even help expose some of the hidden challenges that your organization may face. This was not meant to dissuade anyone from transformation or, worse, shame organizations that haven’t been able to punch through. This hopefully highlights the concepts and ideas that need to be made transparent to make a good decision!

Agile2016: Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation

Technically, Agile2016 is not software, BUT, Agile2016 is about product delivery.  It is a product of hard work of countless volunteers, track and submission reviewers, sponsors, companies, and the people who attend.  And while I know that there was probably copious amounts of documentation and communication in paper form, the end game is not and will never will be about the documentation.

To dig into this further, I went to the principles behind the manifesto to get more understanding on this key pillar of Agile and how it applies to the actual conference.  If you peruse through the principles, there are key phrases related to the actual software product such as, “satisfy the customer,” or, “deliver… frequently,” or that the product is, “the primary measure of success.”  Each of these could be asked as questions in regards to the success of Agile2016 so far.

Is the customer satisfied?

As a customer (and no, I will not format this as a user story) – yes!  The way that the hotel staff has been attentive, the quality of the company booths, the attentiveness of the volunteers, the excitement and energy exuded by the attendees.  The answer is a whole-hearted YES!  Add to that the camaraderie of even competing organizations and the people focused on skills improvement and relationship building and Agile2016 is a resounding success.  I wish I could find the picture of one of our competitors chatting it up with us in booth – sharing stories, or seeing the two name sponsors’ staff hanging out in each others booths.  It is a sign of success of not just the conference but the movement.  Customer Sat? Check.

Is there frequent delivery of value?

Again, absolutely.  In 1:15 increments, speakers are delivering value.  In 3 hour bursts, the exhibit floor is bursting with value!  Even the breaks where one can chat with other agilists is a sign of creating instantaneous value.

Is the customer satisfaction and product delivery the primary measure of success?

This one adds to the first.  Not only do we recognize the need to create satisfied customers, but for our growth and for our validation of abilities, we need to actually deliver something.  What is the “product” that Agile2016 delivers?  Strategic and tactical agile transformation concepts, relationships, and vendor solutions.

On that note, welcome to Agile2016 day 2!  We look forward to more “quality product delivery” today!


Agile 2016: The First 12 1/2 minutes

I might be going a bit overboard on Agile this week with blogs, primarily because I’m at Agile2016, one of the largest gathering of us weirdo, hippie agilists – along side some still buttoned up folks – in the United States.

Upon walking in I was met by a wonderful group of volunteers; ready and eager to help as well as to laugh at my silly jokes.  I was also faced with my company’s competitors but this week we are not mortal enemies, but fellow agile journey-takers on a mission to get more info, sharpen our skills, and most of all meet more agile folks.

There is excitement in the air; a sense of urgency as people make their way to the keynote speaker session.  Others are headed down to put the finishing touches on booths or just talking with people they haven’t seen since last year.  All this excitement could also be because of the copious amount of coffee available to the attendees!

Overall, I’m looking forward to a week of getting to know a new set of people, talk “shop” for a full week, and listen to some thought leaders in the space.  Watch for Facebook Live, Periscope, Live Tweets, and other nonsensical stuff coming from me this week from Agile 2016.

Kings and Priests and Representative Republics

Today I heard a young lady call into a talk show and state that our government leaders are the result of divine providence.  While this sounds absolutely fine and great, there are some problems.  One of these problems was outlined as the follow-up from the show host that, using her thinking, God “put” President Obama in place.   For the sake of this post, I am not going to argue the “is he good or evil” of our current president.  But what the talk show host was insinuating was that for one to believe that God has full control over our leaders, we must fully accept that He has placed evil people in office simply to do His will.  As I listened and, more accurately, yelled at my radio, I realized that we might need a different perception on this topic.

First, let’s set up some basic theological context.  This post is not against the thought that God is in control, but rather strives to remind us all that part of Jesus’ mission was (is) to bring restoration to the Adam to God relationship.  Romans 5 tells us, “just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Jesus’ death and resurrection] resulted in justification and life for all people.”  Justification here doesn’t just mean “sin is covered now” – it actually means a realignment in our relationship with God and His original intent for us.  God has realigned our relationship and given us this “new” relationship through Christ Jesus.  What was this realignment?  Well, to go along with what he told Adam to do in Genesis, He also reminds us in the book of Revelation that He, “has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”  For those who remember me teaching on this a long time ago, the greek there speaks to how we are all kings under and deriving our power from the Great King (that’s God for those who are concerned about my theology).  So, what we have established so far is that Jesus came to realign us to the Adamic calling, which was to be both Kings and Priests.

Second, Fast forward to the 1740’s and such.  There was a spiritual uprising that started in Great Britain and moved its way to the American Colonies that we refer to as “the First Great Awakening.”  I almost feel terrible summarizing this amazing movement of God and His people by saying that it focused on one thing – a return to a personal relationship between a person and God the Father with the only mediator being Jesus.  Before this time, most leaders in the Church taught that a person’s relationship with God was through another appointed man on the earth.  Catholicism (and not knocking our wonderful Catholic brothers and sisters) at the time taught that this salvation was only available through the Pope and his Priests, and the Church of England taught that this was through the King of England.  The First Great Awakening reminded every one of the difference between what should be accountability of the saints to one another and our ultimate need for a personal, one on one relationship with God through Christ Jesus alone.

Ok, now we are getting to the good stuff.  Third, as we look through history, Spiritual Awakenings always precede governmental or social responses.  In this case, the response in the Colonies was that the King of England was not to be our master in all things, but rather was a man just like the rest of us.  He was not in fact given to us by God as the ultimate Physical, Spiritual, and Governmental Father figure, but rather we, as “kings and priests” and those in alignment with God were directly linked to God the Father.  Ultimately, we are able to govern ourselves (or elect people to govern as we empower them).  This, my friends, is the basis for our representative republican government – “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” That is why the Declaration also talks about the colonial individual’s equality with the king of England!  Can you imagine such a thought?  That American Colonials believe themselves to be Kings?

And we circle back around to the scripture quoted this morning by this wonderful millennial sister – Romans 13:1 – “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.”  With all of this context, who actually is the governing authority in the U.S.?  That’s right friends, we are; “We the People.”  We have this wonderful experiment which calls each and every individual in this great country the authority!  While we still need to submit ourselves to one another as Paul states to the Ephesians (for this is the reason, as our founding fathers stated, that being founded in christian morals is a must for our government to succeed), it is important not to just put our responsibilities aside and let others take that which was gifted us through Jesus.

Again, this is just a different idea/concept.  God values our partnership and our relationship with Him.  He has set us up to be leaders in this world.  And in the U.S., we have the opportunity to exercise that leadership as individuals through the roles established by our founders.  Please do not sit idly by and wait for others to govern you!  Submit to one another, but also know that you are called to lead!  What do you think?

Agile Lessons from a Southern Cafe

Meet “Jerry’s”

Since starting down the agile road 11 years ago (twas a two-track back then compared to the I-75/I-85-esque super interstate it is now), I have found that I can learn from or find coaching examples from some of the most unexpected and interesting places.  It is these constant reminders of the journey, the culture, and the commitment to a return to our natural state of agility that keeps me pushing for new ideas and for the culture change needed to improve.

If you in a small southern town like we do, you have a favorite breakfast spot.  Ours is called “Jerry’s Country Kitchen.”  My wife and I have began making it a tradition to frequent this eatery at least once a week, mostly Saturday mornings, upon moving back from the Chicago Northshore Suburbs.  Something in us became enlivened by the interaction of regulars and community folks and simply had to find a way to fulfill this part of our life (even though we love our less urban proximity).  On a recent trip, we had the opportunity [read: the whole place was full] to sit at the bar.

As with northern diners, the layout of the such a restaurant is basically some tables around the outside surrounding a central core which is kitchen, pay station, and a bar stool equipped place for lone eaters looking for a bit of early morning centering, information absorption, and simple “bull-shooting” over healthy sized sorghum-topped biscuits.

Anyway, back to the story…  So, in this visit, we sat center of bar – center of the restaurant.  This allowed a full view of the kitchen (upon swinging, saloon-style door opens), the workers, the “boss,” the customers, and the facilities.  It became obvious that this trip was going to inspire a new view Agile Principles and I thought I would share those with you.

Focus on what you do well and do it better

There was no Steak Tartar here; no one would have ordered it if there had been.  There was not even any “southern breakfast deconstructed” or other nuevo-southern cuisine that is making its way to the deep south.  This place knew what they did well – biscuits, grits, eggs, hash browns, and an assortment of true southern breakfast meats.  They weren’t trying to “macro-evolve.”  One could also tell that the way they interacted and the food they delivered had been honed to a fine edge over the years – a true sign of microevolution or continuous improvement – so that they were better at what they did well.  Oddly, there sits a circa-1995 cappuccino machine off to the side as well as what looks to be the remnants of some other commercial kitchen gadgetry that was, no doubt, the thing that would bring in the bigger crowds (like they needed it).  But, alas, it wasn’t their strength, so over time it was discarded for a return to what made them great.

When you are in plain sight, no one asks for proof any more

This isn’t as groundbreaking as it once was.  My wife and I were no more than 10 feet from the kitchen, though.  I could see through the doors (again saloon style), the serving window; I could hear everything going on.  There was no privacy, no personal space.  They were here to do one thing – cook a really good breakfast.  And guess what?  I didn’t ask to go in and review their processes or their methods.  The proof was not only in the delivery of high quality product, but also in the fact that there was nothing to hide!  We could actually hear the eggs crack, the rolling oven sound, the hash browns flip!  Now, I completely understand that time to time, there are professionals that evaluate cleanliness and health guidelines, and that is fine by me, but the point is that because 1) the product was released quickly, 2) I had information radiators to key me in on what was going on, oh and 3) someone was asking, “hey, did you send out those grits yet? Table 3 is still waiting” when there was a miss, I didn’t need proof that things would be delivered.

Team cohesion and longevity trump process every time

As we sat there and watched (me in awe, really) at the interaction of this 5-6 person team, it became evident that they didn’t sit around and plan out their process.  Yes, I know some of you hard-core people will tell me that this is simple repetitive tasks unlike the “unknowing” of software development.  I will tell you that you have never tried to bake, keep warm, and deliver the perfect southern biscuit in the variable conditions and environment of Georgia before!  It is science and art, my friend.  But, what I found is that they operated based on the fail fast, fix fast process.  Servers and busboy were constantly in and out of the single point of entry to the kitchen without so much as one dropped dish.  Also, there was minor correction going on even in middle of orders – specifically around foods to deliver first when it exceeded a single trip.  All of this pointed at the fact that the delivery of a product was primary – all other processes were learned through mentoring, retrospective, and honest failure.  It was also evident that this had been going on for a while.  While I couldn’t say that the entire team was together as long as the establishment was around, I can tell you that the core was a consistent group that was excellent at knowledge sharing and corporate product ownership.

Bringing it back around

We should all be lucky enough to be on teams like these folks.  In this one visit (of many), they exhibited at least nine of the 12 principles behind the agile manifesto.  But it was about interactions, not processes.  It was about working software above documentation.  It was about a valuable and working product!  And it was about adapting to changing conditions.

If your agile teams are struggling, take them on a trip and let them see the parallels between themselves and this kind of place.  But if you are a leader, let me also fill you in on this one last point – the owner only shows up to help out on the floor when things get busy and they need an extra hand.  Just something to think about!