Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gorillas can be Agile with any project

Some days I was so thankful for the fact I worked in a three story building. It made the urge to toss myself off it, to end the misery, so much less. Unless If I  was really lucky I'd just end up hurting myself and that would just add to the miserable condition I was in.

Hogarth was right... Oh how I hated to think those three words. It was becoming such a common occurrence that I was considering adding to the law's of nature. The sun comes up in the east, politicians are lying when their lips are moving and Hogarth is always right. This time it had to do with my implementation of Agile. Agile may be the silver bullet of development but I hadn't had the first idea how to properly implement it.

So I'd swallowed the pill and went out and figured out just what Agile was. Leaning back in my chair I took in the remains of that discovery. Highsmith was leaning on Adkins and the two were threatening to push Cockburn off the desk. Larsen and Cohn were glaring at me from under the coffee cup perched on them. The books stared back at me mutely, mocking my pain and despair. Tilting my head back to stare at the ceiling I moaned. "Kill me now..."

"What and miss all the fun?"

I kept my eyes closed and used every ounce of my will to imagine away the voice that had spoken.

"Not gonna work," Hogarth replied. "Your subconscious really likes me, so you're stuck with me."

Pulling my gaze from the acoustical tile I fixed Hogarth with a baleful gaze. "Remind me to schedule myself for a lobotomy."

Hogarth was perched on the large window ledge. His black fur shimmering in the afternoon sunlight and his face was split with a contended grin. "Now why on earth would you want to give up all this?" His huge paw swept in an all encompassing arc that took in my cube and then the rest of the office beyond.

"Because there is no way on earth I'm going to get the company to adopt Scrum for real!" I poked at the stack of books. "It’s a far cry between some structural artifacts and the real meaning of Agile and the company is about as unagile as you can get."

Hogarth nodded, "Well yeah, I think we covered the whole artifacts part already" He snaked an arm out the open window and broke off a branch from the tree outside. Snacking on the branch he said, "You've recognized the real problem so what's the issue?"

"There is no way on earth I'll ever get this company to go agile."

"Agile or Scrum?" Hogarth asked.

"What's the difference?" I shot back.

"A single sapling a forest does not make..."

Scrum is an Agile Framework - Scrum is not the only way to practice Agile.

When these kind of comments are thrown out, the typical response is something like "Well of course, there's Kanban, Lean, or XP."  And those folks are right, these are other frameworks or methodologies  of Agile. And at the same time I think we end up missing the bigger picture. To understand this, we need to look into the roots of Agile.

Agile has two foundational roots. The most obvious is the gathering of software luminaries that created the Agile Manifesto. Agile wasn't some earth shaking new concept. What it was, was the joint thinking of seventeen software developers who had been practicing various lightweight development methods and how what was the common, foundational values of these methods.  At its heart Agile was a new language to explain long standing best practices, values and principles. If you think about it, in a light weight Agile way, it is the Agile PMBoK. (Remember that the PMBoK is also not a methodology, but a set of standard terminology and guidelines for project management.)

The other foundational root goes back to the precursors of Lean manufacturing, to the Toyota Way. Like the Agile Manifesto, it was not until 2001 that Toyota published the "Way." But in Toyota's case it was not for lack of use. Toyota revolutionized automotive manufacturing with their unique style and for decades US companies tried to match it. It's not as if Toyota was a walled garden. They cheerfully gave tours of their plants to any and all comers. Why? Because they knew the artifacts of their process were not the key. The key was their six underlying principles, such as "Respect for People," and "Add value to your organization by developing your people and partners."

So what's your point?

Ah yes, this is not a history lesson and I am trying  to make a point.

Today I read a great blog that sums up my point nicely. Ben Horowitz wrote about Lead Bullets, on TechCrunch. The kernel of this is to not go looking for the silver bullet solution, instead use the bullets you have and shoot better.

I've heard stunning success stories in the use of Agile Methodologies (Scrum, XP, Lean, etc.) In nearly all of these instances, the support and engagement was across the board high. It was the right time, the right people, the right need and so on. The Perfect Project Storm. In these cases the silver bullet was the only bullet and it was a dead shot.

And I've seen people try and use the Agile silver bullet and have the organization smother them alive. I like to remind people that silver bullets only work against werewolves. If you are facing a ghost, you're kind of out of luck. When faced with an organization that is highly resistant, highly process driven, highly dysfunctional, etc. trying to dive into the deep end of the Agile pool tends to only end up in the Agile project and team being drowned.

I'm even more depressed now, wasn't there a point?

Yes! The point is Agile isn't just an umbrella over methodologies,  like Scrum and Lean. Agile is a set of guiding principles that can be used ANYWHERE. Where is it wrong to have good teamwork? When is it wrong to make sure the customer is getting what they want? If the process plan says to roll the parts cart around the outside of the building twice, before entering, is it wrong to ask "Why?"

Enter the Agile Manager. You don't have to be using Scrum to be Agile. You can use the principles of Agile anywhere . You can make any team better, if you try.

In short, don't let bad methodology get in the way of good management.

Focus on the team and the project will improve. That's Agile.

Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP