Follow The Agile Brick Road!

Several years ago when I first began this blog, I wrote an essay entitled “When Good Numbers Go Bad.” I’ve been excerpting and re-editing that essay over the last two weeks. The original essay took a very top down view of developing a measurement program. In the light of newer management practices that have entered the workplace, the essay screamed to be revisited.  Interestingly, the reason for revisiting the essay is not that the central measurement issues that I exposed are different now, but rather, it was due to the influence of Agile and Lean on how we work in information technology today.  The principles that underpin Agile and Lean are significantly more collaborative and require a transfer of control from the classic middle manager to the team. This change has driven home to me by three effects (if this were Christmas you would suspect that I had been reading too much Dickens) that have hastened my “agilification.” The three effects are:

  • The Podcast Effect
  • The Consultant Effect
  • The 600-Hour Effect

The Podcast Effect: As many of this blog’s readers know, I edit the Software Process and Measurement Cast, a podcast about software development (in its broadest sense) and measurement.  Over the past 7+ years I have interviewed nearly 200 practitioners, authors, academics and consultants covering the entire gamut of the software development landscape.  The prime criteria I have for selecting interviewees is that they are trying to expand the knowledge base of the IT community.  Much of the exploration and expansion of knowledge in IT has focused on Agile and Lean; and as a result that storm of ideas and concepts has had an impact of how I think and practice.  Recently as I completed an interview with Tobias Mayer, author of The People’s Scrum, I told Tobias that reading his book and talking to him had left me just a bit more radicalized (in a good way).  The techniques and practices of Agile and Lean not only make sense, they evolving quickly just like the technology landscape which has hastened my “agilification.”

The Consultant Effect:  I am a consultant, please don’t hate me.  As a consultant, I get to see and interact with many organizations and personalities. Measurement is at the core of many of the practices I am involved with, which allows me to combine observations with data.  It is a powerful tool for defeating many of our natural biases.  One simple observation that became apparent to me very early in my career was that I did not like to be told exactly how to do my job (this goes back to when I was a paper boy in Edina, Minnesota).  Additionally, most IT practitioners are problem solvers that enjoy finding the solution rather than being told. Collecting measurement data in IT organizations has allowed me to conclude that command and control management does not perform as well as collaborative/team-based methods for the effective delivery of software.  My hypothesis is that collaborative methods of team leadership will become more dominant as new generations enter the workplace. Seeing results in the workplace has hastened my “agilfication.”

The 600-Hour Effect: During a process appraisal I was participating in several years ago, the assessment team’s process lead told us that the basic project work breakdown structure (WBS) had over 600 hours of overhead built in just to support the process. I expected that this was a hyperbole.  Being a “show me” kind of guy I had to look.  The WBS did have 600 hours of overhead built into the template across the life of the project.  Whether the project was delivering a small change or a large release did not matter, all projects had to absorb 600 hours before the first requirement was understood.  That level of overhead will make most projects overly expensive and inefficient.  This level of inefficiency can only hasten the dislocation of work (read that as outsourcing) for all of the wrong reasons. Agile and Lean practices provide practitioners with the tools to challenge and reduce the burden on projects through continuous improvement.   I became a believer in the power of continuous process improvement applying and studying the practices of W. Edward Deming back in the ‘80s.  The burden we have applied to delivering value to our customers has hastened my “agilfication.”

Why has my perspective changed? It boils down to continually sharpening the saw, while observing and measuring real work in the real world.  The 600-hour effect was merely the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Embracing Lean and Agile principles which lead teams toward self-organization, self-management and continuous improvement shifts decision making closer to the work, which increases efficiency.  Lean and Agile might not be the only or final answer for delivering the maximum business value, but it works while we look for something better!