Saturday, June 25, 2011

Agile adoption is not just about sprints and user stories.

I've been involved in several agile implementations where the company's management have failed to see the widespread implications of an agile adoption. Agile isn't just about the development process, it's a value system, a way of thinking, and as such it affects many areas of the company. Management should support and promote these changes but unfortunately are all too commonly not even aware that this will happen. Today I'd like to focus briefly on three of these areas: project management, rewards, and talent management.

One really obvious area is project management and "resource allocation". By the way, I hate the term "resource allocation" as it's people we are talking about. The attitude of thinking about developers in the same way as $$ signs is why many companies are so unproductive. If an agile adoption is to succeed and mature then all the management tools must also be agile ones. It's no good trying to follow up an agile project with old projects management tools. Key indicators, milestones, etc. all have to be in an agile form. And be aware - you change what you measure! That is to say the behavior of your teams will change depending upon the measurements and key indicators you use so try to keep these to a minimum and select the things you think need improvement.

Rewards are another area that is heavily impacted by an agile adoption but which all too many companies forget. We seek now to reward new types of behavior. Previously the employees that followed the agreed process and were reliable were rewarded. However, now it should be the employees that think critically and creatively. That aren't satisfied with the status quo and who always seek to improve the tools and methods used. We should also seek to change our methods of rewards, expected if-then rewards do not function as expected and should be replaced by direct and peer related rewards. Allowing the employees to distribute rewards has two effects: it increases the amount of positive feedback in the organization which will improve moral and productivity enormously, and it makes sure that the right employees and behaviors are rewarded.

Talent management is also something that a company adopting agile should be thinking about. Talent should be cultivated and invested in and this requires processes and training. All too often companies employ talented individuals only to then leave them sitting in their teams with no kind of talent management or cultivation. After several years of neglect these individuals will either have lost all of their talent or left the company!

Agile adoption is an adoption of values and thought patterns and therefore will spread and affect many areas of the company. If the management do not sufficiently understand the value systems behind agile, or simply do not promote these sufficiently then they run the risk of damaging their agile implementation.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Poll: why projects fail?

New job new challenges

So much of my perspective is dependent upon the projects I have and the problems I am struggling to solve within them. Hopefully, challenging projects give me brief insights into previously hidden relationships - which I can then take with me and use to expand my understanding.

I am about to swap jobs, and countries. So, now I sit here wondering how my new role and assignments will affect my perspective. How the culture in my new company will change my position on certain issues. It will be interesting in a year or so to go back and read my blog posts and see if I still agree with myself.

Ubiquitously Apple

So, Apple launched iCloud which is to be a central feature in iOS5 and Lion. And it's really gotten me excited, not that my PC hugging friends can understand why, after all there's nothing actually new about iCloud. Or is there? Basically you can summarise Apples solution as being ubiquitous. It's there all the time in the background or as Steve Jobs put it "it just works".

In order to accomplish the same thing in a PC environment you'll have to download, install and configure a bunch of software. Hardly the same experience. And that's what the PC geeks miss - Apple is all about the experience. On paper Apple's platform provides perhaps no better functionality than any other platform. However in the real world, where ease of use is king, the experience is quite different. It's the experience that I buy. It's the experience that adds value. And, in the end, it's the experience that gets ordinary people to use a product or service.

Until iCloud came along syncing the many kinds of information on all of my devices was a nightmare. It took effort and knowledge and time spent Googling for answers and products, and it still didn't work 100%. Now it looks as though Apple have solved this and that this will all happen in the background, as if by magic, ubiquitously, just the way I want it to happen.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Getting things done

One of the toughest challenges in any organisation, regardless of methods and processes, can be converting knowledge or intentions into actions. Sometimes organisations, or rather the people that make up them, appear paralysed - like rabbits in the middle of the road staring at the headlights whilst frozen in place. In fact, I think that one of the main components of my job is helping organisations move from thought to actions. There's probably just as many causes for this inaction as there are people but I think they can broadly be placed into several categories:

Fear of reprisals.
Organisations that punish mistakes end up stagnating as the only way to avoid making mistakes is to do nothing. People are very adaptive and tend to "game" any system to their own advantage. If those that make a mistake are seen to miss out on promotions, pay rises or future assignments then people will spot this very quickly and react accordingly. This isn't always easy to avoid - if you are a manager do you really want to give challenging assignments to people that have previously failed? I think the solution here is to give people assignments that challenge them, and that have an inherent risk of failure, but which are at a level of difficulty suitable for the employee and level of their experience/skills. And, of course, to remember that to err is human.

Fear of failure. 
Some individuals have a built-in fear of failure. Regardless of the organisation they work within they have - based on prior experience - learned to avoid failure at all costs. This prior experience can be a previous organisation or even their childhood experience. It is important for managers to spot these people and to coach and develop them allowing them to relearn and break this behaviour pattern.

Illogical hope.
It is not only fear that can cause inaction. Some organisations face problems by maintaining some kind of illogical hope. In the face of seemingly insurmountable problems they react by burying their heads in sand and hoping that the problem will somehow go away all by itself. Of course, usually, the problem tends to just get larger and more difficult to solve. Encouraging a culture of communicating transparently and giving honest status updates goes a long way to helping guard against this. It's harder to ignore a problem you have to give updates and reports about than one nobody talks about.

A feeling of despair or hopelessness.
Some problems seem so large, so insurmountable, that we lose al l motivation and drive to solve them. We don't know where to begin and cannot comprehend a solution to the whole problem. I think an important solution here is to encourage baby-steps. That is instead of trying to solve the problem completely we should try to find some small activity that we can do to start to improve the situation or to solve a part of the problem. By breaking the problem down into bite size pieces we can remove a feeling of hopelessness and see real progress which gives vital positive feedback.

Whatever the cause, getting people to take that first step can be frustratingly difficult at times. I can certainly feel that my creativity, my drive, my enthusiasm and my teaching abilities are all pushed to their very limits and wonder on occasion why I didn't pick an easier job. However, the buzz of helping an organisation or team achieve real change and real goals is a hard habit to kick.