Adopting Agile (The Art of the Start)

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.

-Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut

So you decided you want to be Agile, what now? First ask why? Do you really believe in the principles or has something else convinced you to become buzzword compliant? Have you read Fowler, Martin, Cockburn or Beck? Do you know the difference between XP and Scrum? Have you heard of Crystal? Do you know the pitfalls? Have you read the critiques? the rants? Do you know all the personalities involved and their biases?

How could you? Who has time for that? Oh, and the software project that the life your company depends upon can wait for you to sort it all out? Not likely. . .

While we deliberate about beginning it is all ready too late to begin

-Quintilian

A reoccurring theme for teams adopting Agile practices is what may seem like an overwhelming sense of chaos as the old habits and sensibilities collide with the new. The chaos can be real or perceived, but is most prevalent in teams where Agile is being adopted without a lot of experience, often without buy-in or organizational support and on top of a legacy code base. Furthermore, the fledgling Agile champions, while enthusiastic, are trying to balance the notion that the methods only work if they follow all the disciplines and the fact that there is no possible way a team can adopt all the practices instantaneously.

Let me be clear, I personally think Agile, as embodied by the values of the manifesto, is about as good a way to approach the problem as one can get, but transitioning a team can often be a source of pain. In fact, let’s remind ourselves what those values actually are, because in practice, I think people often lose sight of them.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

No river can return to its source, yet all rivers must have a beginning

-Native American Proverb

How to proceed? Well, that depends, where are you at now? and where do you want to go?

There are plenty of blogs and books and consultants, which offer appropriate advice, and depending on whether you have more time or money these can be great resources.

Here is my free unsolicited 2 cents of self referencing advice for teams who really want to deliver, take it for what it is. . .

Focusing on Trust and Results, a lot of problems will just melt away. Standups, sprints and software will just become byproducts of commitment and accountability. Honest conflict in retrospectives optimize the process.

I’ve got no science for you, just faith. (Unless someone can give me a way to measure ‘trust’)

Like I said, take it for what it is. . .

So where do you start?

Create trust, problem solved.


4 responses to “Adopting Agile (The Art of the Start)

  • Kevin S.

    you said —–
    So you decided you want to be Agile, what now? First ask why? Do you really believe in the principles or has something else convinced you to become buzzword compliant? Have you read Fowler, Martin, Cockburn or Beck? Do you know the difference between XP and Scrum? Have you heard of Crystal? Do you know the pitfalls? Have you read the critiques? the rants? Do you know all the personalities involved and their biases?

    How could you? Who has time for that? Oh, and the software project that the life your company depends upon can wait for you to sort it all out? Not likely. . .
    ———
    I guess I’m lucky, but yes, yes, and yes on Fowler, Martin, Cockburn (pronounced co-burn). Yes on XP, Scrum, Crystal. I’m not an expert, but I feel lucky to carry the instruction and experiences in Agile I’ve gotten in the past 4 years. So if you’re reading this and want to know how I did that, I’ll give you my secrets.

    1- Go to Agile 2008. It’s the one chance to see everything all in one place at one time. All those names will be there and be talking. The evolution of Agile will be clear as you have first-hand discussions with experienced people.

    2- Get training and read a pile of books. Don’t just focus on tech books about XP, good coding practices, and testing… but also read about teams, trust, culture, etc. (think Diana Larson and Linda Rising)

    3- work for a company that is committed, then work for a company that needs it (and has the right culture.) I got lucky and worked for a 3000+ person global 50 company that committed to agile. We brought in Beck, Schwabber, Martin, Fowler, Rainsberger, etc, etc…. they sat with us and showed us first-hand what to do, how to think, how to manage the culture around us. We learned how to DO agile, not explain agile. That 3 years was incredible.

    This post is a good post… but I didn’t want to let it discourage a potential newbie from thinking the first idea is a fact. It’s possible… I’m giving you some insight how to get there.

  • stochasticresonance

    Kevin,

    You wrote:
    “. . .but I didn’t want to let it discourage a potential newbie from thinking the first idea is a fact.”

    I’m unsure from your comment what you consider the first idea, but assuming you are referring to what I will paraphrase as ‘not likely to sort it all out’, your comment does nothing to refute it and essentially reinforces it.

    Starting with your third point, you give advice that has little value for those currently engaged in a project, particularly because even if someone wanted to move to a ‘committed’ company there is no good way to measure what level/flavor of Agile is actually practiced. Furthermore, not many companies are in the position financially or philosophically to parade Agilistas through the building.

    To your second point, I hope no one takes my position to be discouraging anyone from reading books or getting training, but to my original ‘first idea’, rarely is one in a position to withdraw from the world and perfect oneself. I’d love to spend as long as it takes in the swamps of Dagobah, but right now I have a wife, two kids and a mortgage making that slightly impractical (sorry Yoda). Sometimes the only answer is to ’embrace the suck’ and sort things out in the thick of it.

    Also, no matter what you read, or who you train with, there are going to be details that you didn’t absorb or that don’t apply to your specifics.

    Finally, Agile 2008 is going to be a good time, but it’s not going to fix your development team any more than reading books or getting training. At 3-5k a head once you factor in travel and accommodations, plus a week of not ‘working’, Agile 2008 is going to be a hard sell for an organization that isn’t already ‘committed’. Additionally, there are often internal politics which create stumbling blocks when one guy goes off to get ‘the truth’ and bring it back.

    I still think ‘building trust’ is the best way to start pretty much anything and if you do that while reading, getting training, and encouraging your team to do the same, everyone is going to be that much better at the end.

    Regards,
    Andrew

  • Daniel Pietraru

    Unfortunately most of the established companies don’t have a good environment for Agile development. Years of previous failed processes weight a lot. It so happens that somebody will see a career opportunity coming with the new buzzwords and the enterprise will plunge into Agile with no cultural shifting in advance: The Agile 800 Pounds Gorilla
    Agile is not just another process. It requires a shift in the way people think about development. It has to be flexible or it is anything but Agile. And this flexibility requirement conflicts with the culture of old big companies.

  • stochasticresonance

    Unfortunately most established companies don’t have a culture of trust and communication either.

    The worst is when you just superimpose the buzzwords and randomly adopt the most ‘delicious’ bits of Agile.

    You get scenes like this:
    https://stochasticresonance.wordpress.com/2008/04/06/dropping-hits-of-agile/

    or Le Patisserie
    https://stochasticresonance.wordpress.com/2008/04/27/shared-metaphor-gnome-cloud-meat-pastries-20/

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