Tuesday, August 19, 2008

“We Suck Less” is Not Enough

At Agile 2008, David Douglas and Robin Dymond described the current state of agile adoption and discussed what the legacy of agile will be. They mentioned Forester research from 2007 that says 17% of North American and European companies and are now using agile. They however noted that there is a lot of confusion on what agile really is and described the Nokia test to find out if a team is agile:

1. Iteration must be time boxed to less than 4 weeks

2. SW features must be tested and working at end of each iteration

3. Iteration must start before spec is complete

4. Do you know who the product owner is

5. There is a product backlog prioritized by business value

6. Product backlog has estimates done by team

7. Team knows there velocity

8. There are no managers disrupting the work

They then warned that the attitude of we suck less now than before sets the bar really low. The business will be satisfied and will stop when things get a little better than before, but they are not even close to how much better they can get. Moving from ok to great is a journey that takes time and effort. There are levels of agility that companies can get to based on their level of commitment.

Next they mentioned that there a perception that agile is just a set of tools and practices like Rapid Application Development or that it is cheap, easy, and runs on its own, or that it is a project solution instead of a system solution. Agile is an entire work system. It can produce 5x+ productivity gains, requires organizational redesign, requires significant change management component. We as agilest are currently feeding this perception by training teams on techniques and consciously encouraging growth over quality.

Next, they describe several large organizations that adopted agile and then moved away from it. There were early warning signs of agile adoption stagnation like early declaration of success, increased time slicing and borrowing developers for “important” project, lack of commitment or investment, flight exodus of change agents, executive support waning, continued emphasis on cost reduction without the corresponding ROI and continual disconnect between IT and business and a lack of understanding on how IT delivers value to the business.

They conclude that agile adoption without organization change is unstable and likely to regress. Organizations are currently setup by activities like business analysis, development, QA, and release management. These need to change to an agile organization where the business is organized around a scrum team metaphor (Not everyone on team is a developer. New roles for managers as mentors teachers and coaches), or a value stream organization where the business is organized around a value chain.

Next, David and Robin offer some predications and responsibilities:

1. A few companies will achieve incredible results

2. Back lash on agile

3. Large vested interest redefine agile (pmi, large service provider like Accenture or ibm)

4. Diet fad for IT organization

5. We’ll suck less


1. Recognize that we have a problem and begin collaborating to find a solution

2. Be transparent about levels of agility

3. Create a clear position on what agile is

4. Measure and quantify productivity and speed

5. Put organizational redesign on the agenda

They wrap up by having a discussion with the audience on what does “done” mean for agile adoption and emphasize that we need to look at whole process from customer need to customer fulfilled.

This presentation is available on InfoQ at http://www.infoq.com/presentations/We-Suck-Less-Douglas-Dymond