Seven things that you should know about Agile

Here are some thoughts I keep having about Agile which I don't think I've written down anywhere.

1. Agile Moves Difficult Conversations: Agile moves difficult conversations - it doesn't remove the need to have them, or the need to know how to have them. We're in the uncertainty and ambiguity business. If it was certain and unambiguous, there'd be a macro to do what we're doing and we'd be out of a job. Management of digital projects happens where the rubber of software development hits the road of actually business requirements, this is always going to be a point of friction that smells a bit of burning.

2. Agile is more convincing when it's running: Agile is much better when it's running, but a lot of the training, documentation and persuasion is (and has to be) focussed on what it's like to start up an Agile project. People are never really going to go for Agile until they "get" what it feels like to be in the middle of a well-functioning Agile project. One way of getting people involved in the Agile process is to ask them the favour to suspend judgement, or perhaps work against their better judgement. Not forever, but for an iteration or two(I wrote a bit more about why Agile looks better once you're actually doing it here).

3. Yeah yeah Agile - it's a People Problem: Talk all you want about processes, but in the end, it's always a people problem (I was reminded of this reading Gerald M Weinberg's "Secrets of Consulting").

There is an oh so seductive little delusion that almost everybody is susceptible to - if we talk about people using systems language and mechanical terms like "man month of effort" and "design resource" we can somehow magically get over the fact that our star Java programmer has BO and our lead designer needs to up his anti-depression medication. Sorry, not going to happen.

4. Agile isn't permission to start speaking Klingon or Elvish: If you start talking an entirely new language to your customers and your managers you're going have problems. Agile might show you that there's a way of writing software that really works. Great. That doesn't mean that you're not going to have a gargantuan task communicating this to other parts of your organisation and to your customers. This is an important part of your job as a project manager. It's no good giving people who want a planned project a "if you want a guarantee buy a toaster" attitude. To a large degree, you're going to have to at least *start* making Agile work within the terms that they already understand. You have to square this circle. That's your job - if it was easy, there'd be a macro for it and you'd be at home in your boxers watching daytime TV.

5. There is no problem: Everybody and everything works perfectly already. Yes, you heard me. Yes, I know, I know, I know. Shut up and listen! Deep breath. Imagine what I've just said is true. What are you not seeing, if it is true that the mess you find every morning in the office is the best that all those people can do when they're working perfectly? The status quo is some kind of equilibrium between a whole bunch of powerful forces. In many ways that are invisible to you, it's probably the best and safest deal that the people working within it can get (read some John Nash before you start arguing with me). When you start to change things you're going to find out what some of those powerful forces are. You're maybe going to find out why what looks like poor performance isn't so bad after all.

6. You're a Knowledge Worker - and you don't know what you're doing: If you're talking to me, you're probably not a designer, or a programmer, or a project manager, you're probably all of those things and none of them all at once. All that posturing about how you're not going to do something because it doesn't fit with how you see yourself or how you were trained or what your job title is is really tiring (although part of being a project manager is probably to have those conversations). You're a knowledge worker - which paradoxically means that you spend most of your time doing things that you're not trained to do and have no idea about. That's what modern work is like. Read some Peter Drucker.


7. If I hit you hard enough, you will cry: You are not Chuck Norris - and will therefore get your ass kicked, in difficult conversations, in your attempts to introduce Agile to your organisation. Your success will not be measured by the number of times that you got your ass kicked, but by how quickly you recovered from said ass kicking and what you learned from it.

For further information, contact Mark@agilelab.co.uk (07736 807 604)

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