Along came a (Agile) Spider

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This article is part of a series titled A brief History Of The Organization

Oh that word, Agile.

A word that has been a rallying cry for action for those seeking a better way of working.

A word that brings derision from an equal number of skeptics.

A word that can create reactions of excitement, horror, or perhaps, just mild disdain and annoyance, depending on who you ask.

A movement, a method, a mindset, a framework, an approach, a community.

Like it, love it, or hate it, Agile has had a profound impact on the way many organizations deliver value to their customers. For the most parts, agile has impacted the way we bring software related value to customers, but Agile has made it’s way into all kinds of other other domains as well.

Since everyone has there own definition, I’ll share my take on this thing we call Agile.

Agile for me is a set of shared values and operating principles, that among other things, helps to describe what one could expect to see when visiting an organization that says they are moving in an agile direction.

The core of agile, one that people still seem to miss on occasion, is that agile implies a structural organizational transformation. We take people out of departments and group them into cross functional teams. We want team to have everyone and everything they need to achieve the outcomes they are trying to achieve. The team is made of full-time members, and we keep the roster stable. We do this so teams can effectively self-organize with a minimum of management intervention.

Teams use feedback to make sure they continue to deliver value. Agile thinking asks us to get customer feedback by delivery smaller solutions more frequently to customers, so we can learn if what we are building has value, and make any necessary adjustments as we go.

Another form of feedback comes when teams examine the way they are delivering value. When we hear the word agile, we often think of teams frequently examining the way they work, with an eye towards adopting improvement that adapt constantly over time.

Given Agile’s root in software, it is hard to think of any serious agile adoption taking place without adopting what have been shown to be some really excellent engineering practices. From test driven development, to continuous deployment, to full blown DevOps. Agile technical practices show us how to write high quality code in a way that is faster than writing crappy code.

A truly cross functionality team will be made of not only the people responsible for doing the work, but also have presentation from people who represents the customers of the work. In the software world this means at a minimum, the someone from the business is on the team. Better (much better) is when we structure agile teams so that they have frequent interactions with real users!

Humanity, at the team level

Agile Has Been A Positive Force For A More Human Work Place

It can now be safely said that most technology organizations are well into adopting some variety of agile. Despite the flaws (which I’ll get into later) it can be safely said that Agile has had a positive benefits on the organizations have strived to embrace it.

Amazing! But did we really improve agility?

With the introduction of Agile, teams are building better quality software, and they are delivering more frequently than they were. More importantly teams are able to respond to changes in priority and direction much better than they could before. Most important is that employee morale tends to go up (with some notable exceptions) and business partners are happier with their IT counterparts.

Adressing The Cynics

I am sure there are many that will dispute these benefits. I could cite data, I could quote case studies. But data can be used to tell what ever you want. Case studies are so often polished that they can be hard to take at face value.

Instead I will say this. When I walk into your average enterprise. I often see what I can only describe as a lack of life. The space feels neglected, derelict, even abandoned

Abandoned Office Building Hazardous Materials | FREAKTOGRAPHY
Is there anybody out there?

I see cabinets crammed with decades of paper documentation that will never be found, much less read, I see whiteboards scrawled with notes months, (or years) old. I see endless rows of cubicles, with narry a conversation going on, surrounded by closed offices.

I see a place that looks more like a kind of waking death than a place with any kind of real life.

It was a client of mine who commented on how different it felt after only a few short weeks of starting down the agile road with a couple of their teams. Cubicles were re-arranged into team spaces, filing cabinets were removed. Team members literally engaged in their surrounding as walls became adorned with kanbans, story maps, domain models, backlogs and all kinds of information radiators. My client saw active discussions between team members. And word got out, stakeholders came to visit, the business started showing up to team events.

It’s Alive!!

My client saw the space become alive before his eyes. He saw life return to this small part of the organization.

Whatever it’s limitation, what ever the detractors will say, Agile has helped me bring more humanity into organizations. Organizations that are often suffocating from a lack of it.

Up Next: The Very Real Limitations Of Agile

In Summary

  • I think Agile is about self-organizing teams that work closely with customers to constantly adapt as required to continuously deliver smaller increments of value through engineering excellence
  • Agile, while an overloaded term, has brought about real benefits to teams of software professionals trying to deliver value to their customers
  • The biggest benefit, in my opinion, is how Agile, when done well, has a resulted in workspace more fit for awake, living, human being

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