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Breaking the Addiction to Process: An Introduction to Agile Project

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Breaking the Addiction to Process: An Introduction to Agile Project Management [Book]

Kanban Management Professional. Most leaders I work with have a common frustration they express to me: an inability to achieve significant gains in how quick and predictable they are in delivering work to their customers. In my work as a consultant, coach, and trainer, there is one strategy that I help them discover that results in dramatic change to their thinking and how they view work and workers within their organization.

So what is the strategy? Work is active when we are currently engaged in adding value to a work item — it has our attention and we are actively working on it. Work is in a waiting state when it has been started, but is then interrupted for a variety of reasons to address something else. The active time in relation to the total lifetime of a work item is a construct known as Flow Efficiency.

An understanding of this relation can have serious implications on how you view your work and the decisions you make. Here is an example. A user story has taken 26 hours to complete from start to finish. Out of that 26 hours, only 2 hours where actually spent working on the item and 24 hours of the total was in a wait state. That is a flow efficiency of 7. This means that work items spend their existence primarily in a waiting state.

So what are the implications of a low flow efficiency system and how might it change how we work and the decisions we make? Everyone must be busy working on as many work items as they can. This stems from a desire within us to measure what we can see, and unless we are in a manufacturing environment, what we can see are usually people! Yet managers consume themselves with ensuring that people are busy in the hopes that this will churn out more work in less time. In a low flow efficiency environment high-utilization of people is not the path to greater speed and predictability.

More work for individuals in a low efficiency environment only contributes to a degrading flow efficiency — particularly because of task-switching. Customers are not paying for key strokes. They care about speedy delivery, reliability, and quality. Idle work, not idle people should be the centre of your attention.

Thus begins the process of me helping them understand that if they are in a low flow efficiency environment they usually are focusing on improving the performance of individuals or hiring more of them is not really going to have much of an impact in addressing their pain points. Even if you make your development team 10 times faster, or double the size of your development team, you are going to have very little impact on the whole. In such an environment we need to help managers move away from managing and measuring people, and instead managing and measuring the flow of work.

Most organizations are horrible at estimating. But we are NOT estimating the amount of wait time that our work item is going to spend in its lifespan. No wonder we are so far off in our estimates. We can try and game the system by adding buffers to our estimates, but alas this tactic is often futile and detrimental to developing predictability. It has been my experience, that in most organizations of more than 50 people, the notion of self-organizing cross-functional teams is a fantasy. Time and time again, when I look at how work flows through an organization, it rarely exists within the boundary of one team and independent of any other teams.

If work is flowing through more than one team it usually is and that work is not arriving to the right-team-at-the-right-time then delay is going to be introduced — and with delay we have negative impact to our flow efficiency. Business agility is not achieved by how many high-performing teams you have, but rather, how well you manage the interactions amongst teams.

Russell Ackoff. Now that we are aware of some of the implications of a low flow efficiency, what practical and actionable guidance should we consider in order to improve our service delivery and deliver value to our customers when they need it? How can we do this in a way that favours managing and measuring work OVER managing and measuring people? Visualize work : Knowledge work and professional services are domains in which the work we do is largely invisible. We need to find a way to make this work visible so that we have something tactile that we can have conversations about.

We need to see how-our-work-works! Limit the amount of work in progress : If we are to catalyze improvements in how we work and develop a sustainable pace, we need to start limiting the amount of work we commit to at once. Predictability in our delivery is not possible unless we limit the amount of work in progress. Manage the Flow of Work : As we have discussed in this article, we need to focus our efforts on identifying those things that hinder the flow of work. We need to shift our attention from the utilization of people towards the management of work and how it flows.

Make Policies Explicit : Whenever we discover flow impediments we should strive to resolve them. Part of the resolution should include updating the policies of how work flows through our system and making them visible. Evolving our policies and making them explicit is a cornerstone to continuous improvement. Implement Feedback Loops : Business agility and continuous improvement are rooted in a desire to quickly learn and respond to feedback.

We need to establish mechanisms where we can collect and evaluate feedback so that we can maintain or correct our course. These mechanisms should foster an ability to gather meaningful feedback that we can act on. Collaborate and Experiment : An agreement to pursue evolutionary improvement by encouraging acts of leadership and collaboration at all levels of an organization are necessary if we aspire to a culture where change can flourish through experimentation founded on the scientific method.

Our approach needs to move towards a non-deterministic probabilistic way of thinking, and away from a speculative and wishful mindset. Helping organizations develop an understanding of the implications of poor flow efficiency and then using these practices to help overcome that challenge is a strategy that has proven very effective for myself and my clients.

My premium management training classes provide in-depth practical guidance on how to apply these techniques. However, even an approximate understanding of your flow efficiency, or being on the lookout for interruptions of flow blocked items, items aging in queues, dependencies, etc.. Focus on eliminating wait times of your work items! Strive for flow that is smooth and fast! Spend more time managing and measuring work, less on managing and measuring people.

Why is it so hard for some people to find employment with Agile teams? The problem is entirely predictable. And for those eager to work in Scrum teams, the answer is also predictable. I have struggled to understand this dilemma because my experience was very different — I learned of Scrum in and simply asked my workmates:. That is not the common experience. I opened my inbox today to a question from a former student of my Scrum class. What advice do you have for me? Jane is not alone. Do jobs exist for enthusiasts with no prior experience?

You may recognize his theory by the following bell curve:. Worldwide, a few thousand had learned of Scrum; in Canada, perhaps a hundred or so. By , awareness of Scrum was spreading. It was a buzzword among start-ups and software development firms and a few brave souls were socializing the practice in large enterprises.

By , I noticed 2 patterns emerge. They considered Scrum expertise or willingness an obvious requirement of all new hires — like table-stakes. That is certainly true and awareness and demand for Scrum continues to grow. It also means I see a vast landscape of opportunities, but Jane sees closed doors — unfortunately for her.

They are risk-averse, but not so much that they ignore market opportunities. Scrum is one of those. These organizations are doubling-down on Waterfall right now and sending their staff to PMP exam-prep courses. They still think Scrum is a buzzword. Our product happens to be banking. They will believe and trust deeply that the community has developed well-established and standard methods which can be taught and learned systematically.

Look for those enthusiasts and visionaries! So, what if Jane herself is not ready for that level of risk? But I understand not everyone starts there. Jane might seek the sense of job security and stability common in large enterprises. That is, after all, the type of pragmatism the enterprises early majority appreciate. This article is adapted from a session proposal to Toronto Agile Conference Everyone has the ability to carry out acts leadership. Therefore, everyone is a potential leader.

Agile Project Management For Dummies, 2nd Edition

For leadership to be appropriate and effective, acts of leadership need to be tuned to the receptivity of those whose behaviour the aspiring leader seeks to influence. Tuning leadership requires the ability to perceive and discern meaningful signals from people and, more importantly, the system and environment in which they work. As leaders, the choices we make and the actions we carry out are organic with our environment. That is, leaders are influenced by their environments often in ways that are not easily perceived , and on the other hand influence their environments in ways that can have a powerful impact on business performance, organizational structures and the well-being of people.

Leaders who are conscious of this bidirectional dynamic can greatly improve their ability to sense and respond to the needs of their customers, their organizations and the people with whom they interact in their work. The following list is one way of describing the set of capabilities that such leaders can develop over time. If you live in Toronto, and you would like to join a group of people who are thinking together about these ideas, please feel welcome to join the KanbanTO Meetup.

Register here for a LeanKanban University accredited leadership class with Travis. These thoughts come from a humble place and is very open to feedback, differing opinions, or just comments in general. On the surface of what seemingly looked like 3 very similar practices—after careful deliberation—turned out to be 3 unique approaches to creating high performance teams that deliver quality services.

The objective of my article is to share some of the key differences that I uncovered after reading about each practice. All 3 agile practices rely on iterative development and continuous feedback to optimize the delivery of products and services. However, the difference I see is in the structure of each. Scrum is a defined framework with a set prescription to maximize the output of software delivery and product building. Whereas, Kanban is a flexible method that uses evolutionary change and self-organization as a way to continuously build out value and services, without overburdening the team.

OpenAgile uses self-organizing behaviour that allows team members to commit to tasks based on capacity while prioritizing tasks with the highest value drivers. All 3 agile practices stress the importance of reflecting and receiving feedback, however, each one implements this important event at different times. Kanban on the other hand, incorporates seven specific opportunities for feedback loops i.

The team as a whole, works collaboratively and self-organizes on their own. Similarly, OpenAgile does not concern itself with defined roles and is also made up of a self-organizing team or individual. However, OpenAgile does speak on the importance of team members stepping up to serve their teams in necessary capacities in which they name as the process facilitator and growth facilitator. These values and principles, written in , became the focal point of a revolution in how software developers work.

In the last several years, that revolution has spread beyond software development to encompass other aspects of technology, and beyond technology into operations, management, engineering, business development, sales, marketing and even outside of for-profit organizations into education, health, government, community and charitable organizations. Originally written in the context of software, we can easily generalize the values and principles to other types of work.

As the revolution has spread, unfortunately, the values and principles have also become compromised or selectively applied. The irony of this substitution seems to be lost on those selling and buying these tools. Both are negative in the sense that they are criticisms without a reasonable solution to help an organization out of the situation into a better situation.

As a consultant seeing many organizations, as a trainer hearing about many organizations, and as an active member of the global community of Agilists, I hear these criticisms quite regularly. The first approach to understanding this partial agility is by comparison to the cargo cult mentality:. A cargo cult is a millenarian movement first described in Melanesia which encompasses a range of practices and occurs in the wake of contact with more technologically advanced societies. The name derives from the belief which began among Melanesians in the late 19th and early 20th century that various ritualistic acts such as the building of an airplane runway will result in the appearance of material wealth, particularly highly desirable Western goods i.

The critic continues to compare this approach to Agile as a belief in magic: that the benefits of Agile can be gained through an application of the rituals without an understanding of, and more importantly adoption of the values and principles. And, not particularly helpful for the executives who often do not have the skill to support such a deep change. This is a bit more challenging to describe because it is actually a criticism of other critics. Wikipedia describes No True Scotsman this way:. No true Scotsman or appeal to purity is an informal fallacy in which one attempts to protect a universal generalization from counterexamples by changing the definition in an ad hoc fashion to exclude the counterexample.

The starting point of this criticism is actually the reciprocal of the cargo cult criticism: the critic conflates true agility with the compromise happening at an organization and then accuses agility of being a failure. This criticism is often brought up in the following style of discussion:.

Person A: Agile sucks because Big Corp is trying Scrum but it is really just an excuse for executives to micro-manage every little bit of work. Person B: But Scrum and Agile are against micro-management! Agile is what people are actually doing, therefore Agile sucks.

Interestingly, this argument style is often used between competing brands of agility. Like the cargo cult criticism, the no true Agilist criticism does not offer a solution, other than reverting to a non-Agile approach to work or more rarely, another approach that suffers the same imperfect implementation in organizations. And, like the cargo cult criticism, there is some truth in the no true Agilist view: legitimately, many organizations are doing a very very poor job of applying the values and principles and associated practices.

Both criticisms, reciprocal as they are, leave a gap. For that, we need to change our perspective just a bit. I have been working with Agile methods for over 20 years. I mention this not to tout my expertise or even my experience, but rather my perspective. How does this compare to other management philosophies? The history of the Toyota Production System and Lean manufacturing, at least 50 years in the making so far, has shown us that revolutionary changes in the way work is done, can take many decades to become normalized. We saw a swift rise and then fall in the popularity of lean.

But the core principles and ideas of lean survived, and have continued to spread throughout many industries. Human society at large is learning about agility though many many experiments run in thousands of organizations. Sometimes these experiments are motivated by wise and considered thought, but often, they are motivated by the faddish popularity of Agile methods such as Scrum, SAFe, and Kanban. Regardless of the motivation, the compromises organizations are making as they attempt greater levels of agility are part of a larger process encompassing all of human society in which knowledge generation is the primary outcome.

There is still one more problem to address: that individuals and organizations continue to try to improve agility even when they have experienced it done badly or seen it fail to take hold. One of my favourite authors and a prominent figure in the Agile community is Ron Jeffries. So again, why do people keep coming back to these methods? If you have read them before, even many times, I encourage you to read them again, slowly, and savour them:.

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:. This beauty is the source of the motivation to try again. This beauty is the source of the influence of the manifesto. And, this beauty, while it is constantly struggling against corrupting influences, is powerful enough to inspire people to come back to it even when they have seen the dark side of agility. Real agility is a culture founded on the beauty that inspires these principles.

Rather, this beauty is inspired by the Spirit of the Age in which we live. And as that knowledge grows, our patience for the partial, incomplete agility of many organizations will also grow for it is the source of our new-found knowledge. In Part I, I highlighted the basic importance of proper preparation in anticipation of an impromptu CxO meeting.

The aim, of course, is to move up the organizational structure to the decision-makers who are most likely to require a greater portfolio of my services. My background is rooted in helping organizations achieve business agility so that they can better provide services that their customers desire. Next steps are obvious — it is imperative for me to speak with Christine, preferably face-to-face. Positioning the conversation is key now. Prior to that face-to-face, I need to prioritize my talking points, which should be as follows :.

In addition to this, I believe that in building better business relationships, the road goes both ways. I try to equally be that champion for my client. Because it serves so many purposes to do so, and it is the right thing to do as it aligns to the deeper principles I believe in, which are:. To create unity in diversity, and to help people orient their work lives towards service. To engage with people, and customer-focused organizations that seek to continually learn and grow. To work in the spirit of truthfulness, teamwork, and transparency, as this is the foundation of improvement.

Affiliated Promotions: Try our automated online Scrum coach: Scrum Insight - free scores and basic advice, upgrade to get in-depth insight for your team. It takes between 8 and 11 minutes for each team member to fill in the survey, and your results are available immediately. Try it in your next retrospective. Learn more about our Scrum, Kanban and Agile training sessions for your team or organization. Preamble Is there such a thing as a perfect Scrum Master? How can some of these soft skills be taught? Try our automated online Scrum coach: Scrum Insight - free scores and basic advice, upgrade to get in-depth insight for your team.

My first question is always this: How much does the customer pay for tests? So why write them? How do we do that? Clearly identifying commitment points. Two-phase commitments: a commitment to start and a commitment to deliver. Mechanisms to funnel options pay our insurance before we choose to convert them.

Shaping Demand — a way to balance demand with capability by allocating capacity to certain types work and risk. Enabling a responsible approach to the discarding of options so that we can avoid aborting after commitment. A practice of limiting the amount of work in the system so that we do not make commitments that exceed our capacity and make our delivery unpredictable. Visualizing the flow of work and the policies around our work — so that when we do commit, we can meet our promise to deliver.

Visually seeing the interruptions to the flow of work in a WIP limited system encourage us to have discussions and evolve our policies. Think about that! Implication 1: How busy people are is largely irrelevant. Implication 2: The performance of people is largely irrelevant. Implication 3: Your estimates are doomed.

Implication 4: Focusing on team performance is not the path to business agility. I believe so. Those pragmatic habits of the early majority adopters make it difficult for them to hire Jane. I promised good news. Happy job hunting! Thanks to Brian. Thanks for Valerie who reviewed and helped improve the article. Leadership occurs as conscious choice carried out as actions.

Focus on Customers: Real leaders help everyone in their organization focus on understanding and fulfilling the needs of customers. Cultivate a Service Orientation: Real leaders design and evolve transparent systems for serving the needs of customers. Limit Work-In-Progress: Real leaders know the limits of the capacity of systems and never allow them to become overburdened.

They understand that overburdened systems also mean overburdened people and dissatisfied customers. Manage Flow: Real leaders leverage transparency and sustainability to manage the flow of customer-recognizable value through the stages of knowledge discovery of their services. The services facilitated by such leaders is populated with work items whose value is easily recognizable by its customers and the delivery capability of the service is timely and predictable trustworthy.

Let People Self-Organize: As per 3 above, when people doing the work of providing value to customers can be observed as self-organizing, this is a strong indication that there is a real leader doing actions above. Measure the Fitness of Services Never People : Real leaders never measure the performance of people, whether individuals, teams or any other organization structure.

Performance evaluation of people is a management disease that real leaders avoid like the plague. They understand the nature of the enterprise and the risks it takes in order to pursue certain rewards. With this understanding and the transparency and clear limits of the system in which they work, they are able to take initiative, run experiments and carry out their own acts of leadership for the benefit of customers, the organization and the people working in it. Fear of failure finds no place in environments cultivated by real leaders. Rather, systematic cycles of learning take shape in which all can participate and contribute.

Feedback loop cadences enable organic organizational structures to evolve naturally towards continuous improvement of fitness for purpose. At this level, it can be said that the culture of learning has naturally evolved into a culture of leadership. Stay Humble: Real leaders never think that they have it all figured out or that they have reached some higher state of consciousness that somehow makes them superior to others in any way. They are open and receptive to the contributions of others and always seek ways to improve themselves.

Such humility also protects them from the inevitable manipulations of charlatans who will, form time to time, present them with mechanical formulas, magic potions, palm readings and crystal ball predictions.