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Agilify

Agile Australia 2011 Series - Prioritisation

Prioritise everything you do. Accept that there’s not going to be enough time to do everything you want to do. Simple.Think about the prioritisation choices you have made today in selecting what you worked on, what you logged onto, what you decided to read. In my job and in my personal life I prioritise all the time in order to get through the work and living I need to get done. I prioritise my children’s food and ask myself if they have eaten healthily enough to give them a treat after dinner, I think about what family and friends I want to catch up with on the weekend and I organise my priorities to include exercise. It’s this very human characteristic of making fast choices of priority without the complete picture of information to hand, that makes Agile such a comfortable and easy fit for people when it comes to building software. When we apply prioritisation in agile projects we need to be ruthless; time is money and we can’t do everything. If we needed to complete everything in …

Agile Australia 2011 Series - Incrementality versus Quantum Leap transformation

‘Incrementality’ is a key concept we applied to our agile transformation. Incrementality, I define, as the ability to make small changes, monitor the effects and feed the results into the next decision to make a small change. This is the underlying concept that allows retrospectives to produce very effective outcomes for agile teams. To illustrate I use my swimming analogy. I’m a pretty good swimmer, or at least I thought I was; I’ve been swimming for a long time and was able to swim far distances, get good exercise and even compete in amateur events such as mini triathlons, using my long practiced swimming skills. I had never had formal tuition in swimming, post the usual childhood swimming lessons that every kid in Australia - a country girt by tempting and dangerous beaches - seems to receive as a baseline. I decided to get some swim coaching at the pool over the road from my workplace. Every lesson I would get in the pool and my coach Laura would make tiny adjustments to my swimmi…

Agile Australia 2011 Series - Tackling Technical Debt

I love the topic of technical debt on agile projects and how it’s the cause of much debate and discussion. It seems destined to trip project managers up and cause massive amounts of project manager stress . I think the angst is around the seemingly unpredictable nature of technical debt, and how it has the potential to result in project blow outs, and how unsettling that can feel when we have faith that agile projects will bring us efficiency and yes, predictability. Maybe if technical debt didn’t exist Agile would really be the silver bullet that everyone seems to be looking for, or insisting that Agile isn’t!When I was a project manager on agile projects it used to drive me crazy whenever my team doubled their story points in an iteration by finding tech debt here there and everywhere that they stated MUST be attended to. It’s really hard to contradict developers on this topic, they make a compelling case for tackling debt that will slow you down the more you want to extend your sof…

Agile Australia 2011 Series - Free Consultancy!!

You will find the Agile community is a very sharing one, it’s very giving of it’s time and advice. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t. Sometimes I feel like if Agile consultancy was a MS licensed term then large enterprise IT departments would have shelled out for it already and the constant debate over whether Agile can work or not would not need to be had. At my current company we partner with ThoughtWorks. I use the term partner lightly as I’m sure they would consider me and my department very small fry for the amount of money we have spent with them, but I have to give them credit there have been plenty of freebies and extras.It’s my experience that the individuals who work there give of their free time as well as the organisation as a whole. I’ve included free consultancy as a topic in my Agile Australia 2011 series because I think it’s a really important tip that anyone embarking on an agile journey, big or small, begins to tap into the agile community, the earlier the better. It was ea…

Agile Australia 2011 Series - Skunkworks budget

This is a teaser topic to tell you that some things will be easier if you get some budgetary discretion. You can then try some neat agile stuff like tackling some technical debt, training some of your allies in Agile or sending them on courses or to conferences. You might find your skunks budget is in fact your training budget. Perhaps your IT team work on a utilisation rate that means that you have some discretion to work on personal interest projects or self development; can you harness it with some like minded folk who want to try agile? If you have formed your agile interest group, can you gather them together for some extra-curricular work and try some new practices, TDD or continuous integration for example? You could shell out and start agile on your own home grown project by investing $25.82 on system cards, sharpie permanent markers and Blu Tack. Who in your department will wander over to your card wall and start asking questions about what you are trying?In my experience wor…

Agile Australia 2011 Series - Restructure for Agile, Really?

What resturcturing for agile means to me is taking out needless hierarchy and placing delivery responsibility back at the team level. This topic in my Agile Australia talk is probably the one I am most conservative about. Restructuring a department that involves changing people’s roles is very disruptive. That’s good if you want to disrupt, if you want to signal that some radical change is necessary.However I would advise if you are going to do it, do it in a well managed way.Restructures that are a veiled excuses to get rid of people perceived not to ‘think like you’ have an impact, not just on the victim, but also on the people left behind; in the end someone has lost their job which creates a sick feeling in the people left around you. Perhaps more importantly, what does it say about me as a manager if I need a set of agreeable people to my views in order to create a successful software delivery capability? Why would I deny myself the challenge of creating a new changed vision we c…

Agile Australia 2011 Series - Agile Governance

If you are in an industry that is heavily into governance you need some structure and process around your projects or you could find your Agile projects getting usurped by the culture of command and control. So it’s important not to shy away from the topic but to work with the entities that enforce and monitor governance. In this way you can create something that is fast and easy and not laborious to work with.I work for an Apra regulated organisation and we made keenly aware of our obligation under Apra to evidence documented change when audited. However in all organisations I’ve ever worked in, there are boundaries that bend quite a bit, ways to change things and ways to get by that satisfy governance process without crippling your agile process.There’s almost two alternating schools of thought here which are ‘work within process’ and ‘decide to change the process’. It’s actually pretty easy for my team to work within process. Project approvals, mandates and PIDs that are important …

Agile Australia 2011 Series - TDD and ATDD

In my Agile Australia 2011 talk I placed these in my 'hard and expensive' quadrant. These are my ‘don’t even bother trying without help’ topics.My somewhat tarnished ray of hope is that you can be agile without doing both of these, or even doing one of these. This might be a bit controversial to say to purists I guess.To start practicing Test Driven Development or Acceptance Test Driven Development you need help from someone who has done it before, even then I would say you need several people. This is one that needs support from management to try it, and consultants to coach in the practices, also some really keen technical folk that can see the sense of it and want to give it a bash.For ourselves we tried ATDD after we had my development manager bought in, a new QA Manager who was agile and supported this change and several developers and QA champing at the bit, and we used ThoughtWorks to come in and coach the team.It’s been a pretty challenging time however it has reaped s…

Agile Australia 2011 Series - Sustain your Agile Transformation

Move at a pace you can sustain, and a price you can sustain. It’s much easier to take baby steps then make a wholesale radical shift and zap your organisastion into Agile overnight, but it does come at a cost. The price you will pay is that during your slow and steady change program your software won’t be cheaper to build and your efficiency won’t be optimised. So you will carry some costs of inefficiency while you are in a transitional phase. Why not make the move to Agile Transformation in a radical wholesale manner if it would maximise your efficiency and give you best possible return for your money in the shortest time? Well there are many reasons, and it saddens me to say I’ve experienced all of them in the past. In many ways this is a very sad topic for me as it encapsulates all of the frustrations and limitations I’ve felt in our own agile transformation. Reasons not to blast through with radical transformation can include:Your management doesn’t believe in the empirical effici…

Agile Australia 2011 Series - Agile Repository

Creating an agile repository is pretty cheap and reasonably easy. This is not for managing your individual project, rather it's purpose is for communicating ‘The Topic of Agile in General'.
Why should you have an repository for agile Information as part of your Agile Transformation? I think a killer reason to have an agile repository is to refute any accusations you may attract that Agile means ‘no documentation’. This is a very common criticism leveled at Agile Methodologies and is simply not fact. Having a response to this with a simple statement “We have documentation! We have a repository!” will put paid to that distracting blocker.
We got this started up pretty early on our agile journey and created an outline of topics we wanted in it. The high level topics on our agile repository are principles and practices. We prioritise them against what we believe are MUSTs SHOULDs or COULDs of our process. i.e. we give an indication of what we MUST do on agile projects as oppose to…

Agile Australia 2011 Series - Agile Interest Group

This Topic is all about nurturing your agile workforce and wheedling out and identifying your biggest allies.Why it’s really important is because it’s great to identify your pals in your quest for doing more Agile projects; who is interested? who is curious? Equally, it can be telling to see who doesn't join up. It’s very easy to start an Agile Interest Group:-just book a meeting and send it out to your organisation to find out who wants to come.To optimise this opportunity I would give you these four tips for your agile interest group: Email distribution list, or bulletin board, or blog; you need some way of keeping the discussion alive post any meetings. Encourage subversion on this electronic media, edgy new ideas and radical thinking. This encourages contribution and a noisy chat forum is alive and energising.Advertise outside the group often; to capture new members early and often as new people join your organisation. It also gives you an opportunity to extend the group into …

Agile Australia 2011 Series - Acquiring Agile Skills

There are many ways to tackle acquiring the skills you’ll need for an agile transformation, and any way you play it it’s likely to cost you something. If you had bucket fulls of money you could skill up using an Agile Consultancy. Those guys make it pretty easy for you to engage with them, and a very effective way of piloting agile at your organisation is to do it side by side with Agile Consultants. Effective, and yet expensive. Realistically people with agile skills are small pool at the moment in Australia and you have to pay a baseline cost that’s over the average cost for the same resource.At my organisation we haven’t been too radical in our approach and now we have a decent spread of agile capable people across the department. Initially it started with me. Hopefully experienced, ex ThoughtWorker and obviously an evangelist of sorts, however I also have a day time job of running the department. We also had a smattering of people who had been swept up into agile projects in their…

The sophistication of simplicity

One of the great observations of agile tools and techniques that was made by a stakeholder during our first Agile pilot project a couple of years ago, was how refreshing it was to use simple child-like notions such as hand-written coloured cards and marker pens to identify categorise and prioritise work.As I plan out my Agile Australia presentation I find it a much less daunting task now I have it carded up on my wall, I can grab one at a time to work on them, I can see a visual representation of the work I need to get done, and I can mark cards when they are in draft, review or complete. These simple activities supported by low fidelity tools that can be purchased for dollars from a newsagency, have the benefit of familiarity for new-comers to agile, and also lend themselves to collaboration in the most natural way; anyone can pick up a card and scrawl a few thoughts down to generate a discussion.Even your most experienced agile consultant will not scare a business stakeholder as the…