Agile In A Non-Agile Organization

I hesitate to say Agile in a blog as, these days, it sounds like I’m mentioning C or Assembly in a programming discussion. That’s not to say it’s old but more that it has been commented on so many times, it’s not worth mentioning. But too often, Agile is described as an “all or nothing” choice. It’s not and my experience has bore this out.

Every organization is different. While businesses may be one type of organization, government is another kind. Small businesses are different than large businesses. Small businesses, for example, will gladly take a chance on open-source software and new tools. Their IT infrastructure can be easily modified to handle it. Larger corporations and governments balk at switching approaches, regardless of benefits. It may be tolerated in smaller groups, but not as a corporate standard.

So when “we’re going agile” were the first words mentioned at a project kick-off meeting a few years ago, I was optimistic but not convinced. This was a large organization, full of politics, waterfalls and LCMS. Did they even know what going agile meant?

What does going Agile mean?

In its most basic premise, going agile means focusing on individuals and process more than tools, working software rather than PowerPoint slides, customer collaboration and responding to change rather than a schedule. The scrum approach puts this into real terms:

a. Individual responsibility and processes. Everyone is responsible for something and the process around it makes it happen. This works best with small teams.

b. You deliver and show working software for meetings, rather than vague PowerPoint slides.

c. You work with the customer, rather than against them, showing them where you’re at and having realistic conversations with them.

d. You deal with change, not as a crisis, but as the norm, knowing that three or five year plans are rarely, if ever, going to be met.

Wait. Stop the Bus.

If you’re a small business or a consultant, you may read this and say “duh!” Change is part of life, customers drive business and you have to deliver things (shipping IS a feature) to stay in business; but more than 20 years after the fact, corporations are still figuring this out. This is the first part in a number of posts about how this came about and how it’s worked out in my experience.

Proper scrum and agile also usually involves hiring an agile consultant (more $$) to tell you how it’s done and perhaps more, how you’re doing it wrong. In an organization where politics rule, getting a process consultant hired and more, sharing it with others, isn’t a realistic prospect.

In the end, the project that started as agile really came back to a handful of working ideas. I was lucky enough that the PM did like to have small teams. When they tried to make it larger, everyone could see how the wheels fell off the bus. In the next few posts, I’ll talk about each one (and possibly add some) and provide the link to the post. But they were:

1. Daily scrums/stand-up meetings focused on current activity.

2. Iteration Cycles were geared towards delivering Working Software.

3. The Retrospective fixes process problems.

And then there were some things in Scrum that simply took people down a long, never-ending set of discussions:

1. What’s a Story Point?

2. When does our test team get involved?

3. When do you do a code review?

We found solutions for these too but the path to get there was a bit harder than the others.

We also used Team Foundation Server for the whole thing and while I’ve worked with Trello, KanBan and other tools, TFS worked REALLY WELL.

If you have comments or have gone through your own experiences on this, please share them in the comments.