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This is part 2 of an essay based on a presentation I am doing Friday, June 5th at 9 EDT (sign-up: I am presenting as part of IFPUG’s Knowledge Cafe Webinar Series. The presentation is titled Software Development: Preparing For Life After COVID-19.

Management guru Peter Drucker said, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Benchmarking is a tool to identify work that should not be done or done better while continuous improvement provides a structure for improving the opportunities found in the benchmark. There are many approaches to benchmarking and I suggest combining qualitative and quantitative assessments.  The combination is critical for identifying how to improve effectiveness and efficiency. In a post-COVID-19 environment, all of us will need to answer whether how we are working is delivering tangible value in a financially sound manner. If you don’t know the answer to the effectiveness and efficiency questions leaders will be reluctant to spend money on you, let alone large scale improvement exercises. Once you know where you stand then begin to make changes using a feedback loop to know whether or not your experiments are working. (more…)

You Are Here?

Assessments provide teams and organizations with a line in the sand. To use the metaphor of a mall map, the assessment tells a team or organization where to point the “you are here” arrow.  How the arrow is drawn and what information it conveys depends on the focus of the assessment. Many assessments focus either on the mindset of those doing agile or on how agile is being performed. This dichotomy is talked about in the industry as the difference between being and doing agile. Assessing the two ends of this dichotomy yields very different information and requires different techniques.

Mindset / Being

A simple definition of an agile mindset is the set of attitudes and beliefs supporting an effective agile work environment. Attributes of an agile mindset include respecting team members and others, collaboration, continuous improvement, and the flexibility to adapt to change. A degree in psychology or psychiatry might equip you to measure the attributes that underlie the agile mindset.  However, since there are far fewer organizational psychologists than needs, most practicing assessors begin with the agile principles and then dive into questioning behaviors that enable the principles. For example, one of the principles in the agile manifesto describes teams working with the business on a daily basis. If the leadership of the team or the business precludes that interaction, there is a weakness in the agile mindset.   Another common angle used to evaluate mindset is to trace and observe how decisions are made. How different types of decisions are made and at what level of an organization those decisions are made are a window to the agile soul.

Activity / Doing

Frameworks and methodologies provide rules, deliverables, and ceremonies to compare against.  Determining whether a team or an organization is simple as looking (ok it never is exactly that easy, but in theory, it should be). If there a backlog or is a team doing stand-ups, even at its most basic level, in an assessment look at the framework, something is done or not. The evidence should be very deterministic. Effectiveness is more difficult to evaluate.  The process, in its simplest form, begins by selected a standard and then behavior as compared to the standard. If they match — you’re doing it, whatever it is. A formal example of this kind of assessment is the CMMI SCAMPI appraisal process which evaluates whether an organization was doing the CMMI. The theory doing assessments is built on is that there is a link between doing good work, following the process, and doing the work well.  

Assessing whether someone is doing something is easier than assessing their mindset. An old-time radio drama states: “What evil lurks in the hearts of men? Only the Shadow knows.”  The Shadow does not do agile assessments as far as I know. A process that I leverage works backwards by combining doing and being assessments. Start with doing and then use lean and agile principles to evaluate whether what is happening supports both an effective agile work environment AND delivers the value an organization needs.