Today, we feature an essay titled, So I Asked What Is Agile. A simple question that yields interesting answers. One interesting outcome was that answers fit into three categories. We explore the process and people-oriented groups this week. I will come back to the rant category later this month.  

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If you ask the question what is agile in polite company you get a wide range of answers. I know because I have asked that question in polite and less cultured environments. Polite answers focus on ceremonies, people, mindsets, guardrails, or paths. The less than polite are usually a version that people are using the term agile as a form of gaslighting.  Pushing aside the last group, at least for now, we are left with two categories of answers. The first focusing on process and the second on people. Both are right because both reflect different real-world contexts and different personal and organizational needs. Perception of “what” is agile, how you define agile, is heavily influenced by what you want from agile; the why of agile. This is true for practitioners as well as organizations which is why specific agile practitioners are more comfortable in some organizations and vice versa. As a consultant, I have seen a wide spectrum of definitions — all tied to the reason the organization is interested in agile. 

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Until this week, Disciplined Agile was a topic we had not investigated on the Software Process and Measurement Cast. DA is an approach to scaling agile development.  Today, Jonathan Lee and I discuss Disciplined Agile and reinventing yourself to stay relevant in a dynamic world. 

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One of the most influential books in my career was Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister. One concept in the book was the concept of flow state, being fully in the zone so that a problem or piece of work can be focused on and delivered. Flow maximizes the amount of value delivered. Demarco and Lister’s introduction to flow paved the way for my interest in The Flow Framework. Chapter 3 of Project to Product introduces the Flow Framework.

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I deviated from the plan this week and recorded a conversation with my colleague, mentor, and friend Anthony Mersino (Anthony was last on the podcast SPaMCAST 583   http://bit.ly/3aJMw51 ). Our chat, titled, “Is Your Scrum Master The Problem?” Our conversation looks at transactive memory from the point of view of teams and Scrum Masters.  Is it a boon or a train wreck?  Anthony has also published a version of the conversation at https://bit.ly/3ux0Fge 

We also have a visit from Susan Parente who brings her I’m Not A Scrumdamentalist column to the cast. I have titled this conversation, “I Have A WIP Problem”. Ok so maybe both Susan and I have a lot on our plates, but we have the tools to tackle the problem. We talk about how to get your WIP under control. 

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In Chapter 1, The Age of Software, Kersten established that we were at or just past a turning point; those that do not embrace change will face grave difficulties surviving to the next cycle. As a consultant, I work with companies wrestling with trying to transform. Not all succeed for a variety of reasons. In this chapter, the author highlights and compares the lessons derived from his visit to the BMW plant, his study of the development of the Boeing Dreamliner, and the transformation failures at Nokia and a large bank. The first two examples reflect the pinnacle of a product view from the Age of Mass Production which preceded the Age of Software.

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Luis Gonçalves and I talked about his new book introducing the ADAPT Methodology. We discussed why using a framework can help leaders stay relevant. Our conversation dovetails nicely into the Re-read Saturday focus on Project to Product. There is a lot of synergy between the ideas of Kersten and Gonçalves. 

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Chapter 1 begins Part 1 of Project to Product (there are 3 parts to the book). This part of the book introduces the Flow Framework, the core of the book.  The graphic showing the whole model is the first thing you see when you open this part of the book which anchors the importance of the model for the rest of the book.

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If we agree that transactive memory is a common feature of teams’ institutional memory and accept the benefits, then we must address the risks. That should not be a major assumption. In many situations it makes sense. Knowledge can be stored in a single place and then accessed by the team as needed. The idea of having one version of data was one of the reasons I was taught normalization when I was working in the database realm. Transactive memory acts as a form of normalization so teams can reduce redundancy and conflicting truths. When the process works, a team will be more than the sum of its parts. While this seems very mechanistic, I would not suggest ignoring the idea in a fit of humanistic pique. I have not found a team or relationship that has been together for more than a few days that is not leveraging transactive memory. However, as described in our overview, there are two macro scenarios where transactive memory causes problems for a team adopting new approaches. They are:

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I spend a lot of time studying individuals and teams in a quest to help them learn how to deliver more value. One of the most common failure scenarios I observe is that once organizations have reached a decent level of effectiveness, someone will leave and the whole thing will come tumbling down. I am not trying to suggest that turnover and change should be stamped out (I actually think it is healthy), but rather something else is amiss. Several years ago I was able to study the implementation of an agile scaling methodology in a Fortune 100 company. The study looked at quality, productivity, and cycle time across 15 product lines. In every case, the metrics fell during implementation (this was expected) then improved spectacularly, over 80% improvement in every metric, the year after implementation. Unfortunately, things got murkier when the consultants supporting the change were withdrawn and sent elsewhere. The metrics fell by 30 to 50% from the high watermark. I am not arguing that consultants should be permanently ensconced in any organization – it is unhealthy but rather something else is amiss. Recently I forgot to call my father on his birthday. My wife remembers things like special events and then clues me in…if she is around. This time she was not. The whats amiss in all three of these scenarios is a reflection of the risks of transactive memory. 

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