Lean Thinking

Tuesday, 05 September 2017 17:33

Why Do Agile Teams Slip?

Published in Agile

"Come and have a look at my team" says my new stakeholder. "We have been doing agile for a few years now and while we started well, I think we have slipped back to old habits". How often have you heard this when starting a new engagement? Quite often? What do you see when you take a look? It's usually lack of planning, absence of meaningful retrospectives, ineffective standups, lax WIP limits, poor metrics, mini waterfalls. Yep. They have slipped all right.

When you ask the team why they think they have slipped, you will usually get answers like "we scaled up and things went wrong" or "the rest of the organisation is pulling us back" or "some key people left" or something like that. In my experience these are never the real reason. They may have contributed, but the underlying problem is something else entirely. That underlying problem is almost always the same - they never had the basics right in the first place.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016 17:42

Coaching vs Capability Building

Published in Agile

If you work for a large organisation and you want to transform the way you work to be more agile, what's the first thing you do? Chances are it's hiring a coach or two. That's not a bad way to start. Experienced people to guide the transformation make things much easier. But what do you do once the first pilot is done, you have proven that it works and demand is growing? More and more people are wanting agility. Your current coaches can't handle the load. What do you do?

What most organisations do is here some more coaches. And some more coaches, and more coaches and more as demand continues to grow. Now, as an agile coach, this has kept me in work for many years so I may be shooting myself in the foot a little when I say that this is a really lousy way to do an agile transformation. Yes, that's right. You heard it. An agile coach says that hiring a bunch of agile coaches is not a good way to transform an organisation. Let's look at why and then look at how we can do things better.

Tuesday, 04 October 2016 14:09

Principles Part 5 - Self Similarity

Published in Agile

We have now covered six principles -
They are built around small, self-organising teams

  • The team has a clear vision of what they are doing and where they fit into the bigger picture
  • The team has a well defined backlog of work
  • There is a content authority responsible for making sure decisions are made quickly
  • There is a clear bidirectional service agreement between the team and the rest of the organisation
  • There is a fast feedback loop that allows the team and organisation to optimise both the process and the product.

At this point we have everything we need to enable a team to operate in a really agile way. The team doesn't need anything else. So why are there seven principles?

The seventh principle isn't a team principle. It's a scaling principle. Very few organisations are able to deliver real value with a single team so the last principle kicks in when you don't have just one team but a team of teams, or a hierachy of teams all working together to deliver value. The first 6 principles define how you should set up your teams, the seventh principle defines how you should link them together -

  • The organisation should be self similar at scale

There are two ways an organisation can handle scale. They can do what most organisations do and add extra complexity to their processes to handle the extra complexity of scale or they can develop a simple pattern (like teams operating under the first 6 principles) that works and iterate that in a self similar way to operate at scale. Add complexity through extra processes or iterate simplicity through self similarity.

Published in Agile

Last post I put forward 7 principles that I think every agile methodology should have. In this post, I'll be explaining (hopefully) what each of those principles means and why I think it is important. To recap, the six principles for a succesful methodology are -

  • They are built around small, self-organising teams
  • The team has a clear vision of what they are doing and where they fit into the bigger picture
  • The team delivers a regular flow of value via a well defined backlog of work
  • There is a content authority responsible for making sure decisions are made quickly
  • There is a clear bidirectional service agreement between the team and the rest of the organisation
  • There is a fast feedback loop that allows the team and organisation to optimise both the process and the product.
  • The methodology is self-similar at scale.

So, let's start looking at these in more detail.

Published in Agile

Take a thin steel rod. I'm sure you have one handy. Clamp one end in a vice (which you also have handy...I know I do) so that it's sticking straight up in the air. Now move the free end of the rod to the side a little and let it go. What happened? Did it spring right back? OK, now move it a little further. Still springing back? If you keep going, moving it a little further each time, you will find a point where the rod no longer springs back but bends permanently. Materials scientists call this the elastic limit. Below this limit, materials experience elastic deformation - they spring back to the way they were before once the force is removed. Above this limit, they experience what is called plastic deformation - they no longer spring back but permanently change shape.

So why am I giving you this lecture in materials science? Because organisations behave the same way. When you apply a force to them - when you change something - the organisation is very good at snapping straight back to the way it was before.  As soon as you stop pushing the change, the change disappears. We've all seen it happen. As soon as you relax, the change evaporates and within a short time the organisation is happily doing what it has always done.

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