12 Principles of Agile – Part 2

12 Principles of Agile – Part 2

Over the course of this three-part blog series, I will cover all of the 12 Principles. In this second installment I hope I’ve peeked your curiosity. As I said in Part-1, I believe following these principles is the core of being “Agile”.  Is your organization embracing the fundamental principles of Agile? Are you open to culture change?

5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. 

OK, we’ve hired good people, who want to do a good job. Now we just have to show them we believe in them. If it were only that easy. Too many times fear drives an organization. Too many project failures, a culture of distrust, or simply a mindset of “this is how we’ve always done it” leads to micromanaging and difficulty in enabling teams to take ownership of their work.

I’ve personally been a part of many organizations who falter when trying to motivate teams. Or, even worse they totally fail in the trust arena. Is it scary to start moving away from micromanaging and micro-reporting? I’m sure it is. With Agile we have built in controls to help us manage teams at “arms-length”. We can listen in on Daily Scrums, and must attend the Sprint Review to see the teams’ sprint accomplishments and provide feedback. Yes, a team may “fail”, but what have you lost? In a two week sprint, you may have lost a little time. Do you think the team will have learned from the Sprint? Will they try harder to succeed next time? Is a two week loss better than a year of micro-managing and still not getting the desired results? You bet!

Organizations need to ensure the teams are supported appropriately with dedicated team members, regular involvement by the business, access to information, and ownership of delivery. Motivate the team with small rewards and acknowledgement of successes, and watch them deliver!

6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation 

Most of us recognize that when we are together face-to-face communication flows. Spontaneous questions are raised, and connections are made.

This principle may not be so easy to follow if the teams are not collocated. Put a little extra effort into the use of technology to emulate face-to-face communication whenever possible. Team members will form stronger bonds. The benefits include stronger and more motivated teams, as well as reducing risk of miscommunication including errors regarding the intent of user stories and acceptance criteria.

Lead by example, and allow introverts to have their privacy, but don’t miss this opportunity to build team that becomes highly performing.

 7. Working software is the primary measure of progress 

I was once told “watch the runner, not the baton”. Too many times, organizations focus on hours worked (or sat in the office), rather than actual outputs. This principle reminds us that what we really want to watch is the outcome.

Agile measures velocity of the teams’ completed work. If a team is struggling to meet their commitment, then look at root causes. It is likely there are other issues that need to be addressed. Are the user stories actually “ready” to be accepted into the sprint? Is someone trying to get the team to commit to more work than they can deliver? Start with small steps and build on successes. It is a success when the team delivers what they commit to. Then ask the team to identify process or people improvements during their retrospective to help grow velocity.

Place your emphasis on seeing quality deliverables at Sprint Reviews, not on how long the team works, or how busy they look.

 8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

We’ve all had those moments where we feel staying just a little bit late at work, or skipping lunch will help us meet our deliverables. After all, it’s just “this time”… if only that were true! Instead, working late and skipping lunches becomes a habit. Next thing you know, it isn’t just one team member; it’s the majority of the team. While some leaders jump for joy, there are repercussions.

Even outside of software development workers engaged for more than 50 hours a week open themselves up for health issues, and may not actually be as productive as they would working a standard week. See http://www.cnbc.com/2015/01/26/working-more-than-50-hours-makes-you-less-productive.html

 When it comes to software, the idea of working at a sustainable pace originates in XP practices. Over time implementation of all the principles enable us to create an environment where all teams can work at a sustainable pace. See http://www.langrsoft.com/articles/sustainablePace.shtml

 Work-life Balance isn’t just a cliché. Put working at a sustainable pace into practice, and watch the results.

With just one more installment left, I look forward to your comments. Let me know how your organization incorporates the Agile Principles into their culture, or struggles you face in following Agile Principles.

In previous posts, I talked about what the “Get It Done” (GID) and “Just Do It” (JDI) patterns look like in organizations.  Today I’ll talk about another cultural pattern.

If you’re a fan of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, then you’re familiar with this phrase.  I can see it now….Captain Jean-Luc Picard standing on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, facing a situation requiring action.  He asks for options, listens to recommendations, and conveys a decision to move forward by telling the crew to Make-It-So.  His decision communicates “what” needs to happen, but he trusts the crew to figure out “how”.  This is the essence of a Make-It-So (MIS) culture, a pervasive attitude of leadership throughout an organization, resulting in an environment that supports growth, encourages exploration, demands excellence, and emphasizes accountability.

In an MIS culture, everyone has a place in the fabric of the organization….they are valued and valuable, and they know it.  Everyone has an important part to play….and they are expected to play it.  People are skilled and competent….and because they are, they’re confident.  People are empowered, they are “granted permission” to contribute ideas, to make decisions, to take risks…to “make it so”.

Ten characteristics I’ve experienced in an MIS culture include:

  • Possibilities
    “When nothing is certain, everything is possible.” – Margaret Drabble
    We are informed by, but not tied to, what was.  We are grounded in the here and now, yet remain open to what could be.  We don’t drag ourselves down with visions of doom, but maintain a sense of hope and optimism.
  • Focus
    “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” – Alexander Graham Bell.
    When vision and purpose are visible and shared, it provides us context.  We know the direction and why, so we can act and make decisions accordingly.
  • Interdependence
    “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” – John Donne
    We know it “takes a village” and we can’t do it alone.  Success depends on the combined strengths and contributions of everyone.
  • Trust
    “The key is to get to know people and trust them to be who they are.  Instead, we trust people to be who we want them to be, and when they’re not, we cry.” – David Duchovny
    We trust in each other’s positive intent, and believe everyone does the right thing at the right time with the information they have. We act, make decisions, and move on.  While we reflect on what we learn from experience, we don’t undermine confidence by second guessing ourselves or others.
  • Integrity
    “It’s not what we profess, but what we practice that gives us integrity.” – Sir Francis Bacon
    We seek to know ourselves, to be ourselves, to be proud of ourselves, our organization, our place in it, and our contributions.  Our actions are congruent with who we are, our beliefs, our passions, and our strengths. We own our decisions and choices, and their consequences.
  • Discipline
    “Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backwards, or sideways.” – H. Jackson Brown
    We strive for excellence, and excellence requires discipline in little things on a daily basis.
  • Encouragement
    “There is no such thing as a “self-made” man.  We are made up of thousands of others.  Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.” – George Burton Adams
    We grow through support and encouragement, which helps us spread our wings, improve, gain confidence, and reach our potential.
  • Diversity
    “We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.” – Max de Pree
    We know that too much sameness stagnates an organization, so we explore and leverage differences to open the door to possibilities.
  • Courage
    “Courage does not always roar, sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying “I will try again tomorrow.”” – Mary Ann Radmacher
    The rewards are greatest when we take chances, risk exposure, and step outside our comfort zone.  Leaders nurture and reward courage.
  • Resilience
    “The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times” – Paolo Coelho
    It’s not just a matter of having the will to get back up and keep on going.  We must also have the “health” to do that.  As an organization and as individuals, we take care of ourselves so we can continue to bounce back.

An organization which cultivates an environment like this, is one where people are important.  And when people are important, they collaborate, they innovate, they adapt quickly to change, they “dare greatly”…..and amazing things happen.

Gee, that sounds an awful lot like an Agile environment!

What do you think?