Tips On Implementing Agile: Part Two

the agile atmosphere

This is part 2 of the series “Tips on Implementing Agile.”

I have worn the hat of ScrumMaster for several months now, and in this capacity I’ve facilitated planning meetings, held pointing parties, maintained ticket boards with swim lanes, and played the role of “information radiator.” In my experience many companies pay lip service to Agile, implement some elements of it, or implement it 'whole hog' only to see it sputter and eventually set aside. At Caxy we made several attempts at implementation over a five year period. In May of 2014, our efforts gained significant traction.

At the beginning of 2015, we have a solid Agile practice driving all our major, multi-person projects. The basics and details of Agile and Scrum covered elsewhere. These are part 2 of my tips on getting the rubber to meet the road with Agile in your organization. Read part 1 here.

5- Plan from the ground up

A criticism I’ve heard of the Agile process, from colleagues outside of Caxy, is that it is used to nickel and dime team members into doing extra work. I suspect this comes from an implementation of Agile colored by a “top-down” approach of imposing plans and deadlines on a team. At Caxy, we’ve found it very productive to work in terms of the “ground up” approach to planning. This is where the team, as a group, signs off on what can and cannot fit into particular sprints (in terms of completing our process and delivering a quality product.) As a result, we’ve found it essential to have regular team meetings to help finalize the contents of particular sprints.

6 - Remember what a team can do best, and what it cannot

Extending the previous tip, while team meetings are important, it is important to remember what tasks are most effectively done as a group, or most effectively done by an individual in a specific role. On the one hand, team meetings are inherently expensive, costing both the time of all involved plus the time lost to not getting development work done. On the other, specific tasks such as appraising tasks in pointing, appraising the workload for a sprint are done many times better by a group of minds, than by one person. The trick is to have clear and defined agendas, or better, clear and straight-forward tasks for when a team is brought together. At Caxy, we do not gather the team for planning until the Product Owner has produced an initial set of stories for the team to digest, flesh out, and appraise.

7 -Realize what you are doing: genetic engineering

The process of implementing Agile methodologies will get to the core of how your organization plans, deploys resources, and interfaces with clients. By implementing a process like Agile that is different from what has been done before, you might quickly encounter pushback from stakeholders who wish to preserve the status quo. The key is to first be aware that you are attempting to change the very DNA of your organization, and second, be sensitive to this in how you go about implementing Agile. To mitigate pushback,  engage stakeholders in conversations about your processes and planning before attempting to introduce elements of Agile. In doing so, it should also be helpful to remember that you are not doing Agile for Agile’s sake, but doing it as it is an effective and tested framework to execute increasingly reliable planning in a variety of arenas.

8-Expand your mind

The final tip is to remember that Agile does not stand alone. Agile principles and methods overlap and complement many other planning frameworks. For example, Agile’s use of backlogs and sprints (in a team context) overlap a lot with David Allen’s Getting Things Done framework and how it employs projects, weekly to-do lists, and weekly reviews. The concepts of sprints and velocities can fit well into Eric Ries’ Lean Startup methods. Other overlaps exist with Kaizen and Continuous Improvement. Remembering this and reading up on complementary ideas can energize your own Agile engagement and may be grounds for building bridges with other interested parties in your organization.

We hope these tips are helpful and useful to your organization. We’d love to hear your feedback and stories from your Agile efforts.

Stayed tuned for Part 3 of this series by our CEO, Mike LaVista.