Few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Agile 2014 Conference in Melbourne. With the overall title for the conference being “embrace disruption” I was naturally excited about the opportunity to hear from various thought leaders of their take on the tools we can positively use to deal with the inevitable change we are all facing.
In what to follow I will summarize my key learning and observations from some of the sessions I have attended:
In a talk titled “Unleashing the Full Potential of Your Agile Teams”, Dipesh Pala made the observation that the conditions necessary to achieve a happy team are similar to those needed to keep individuals happy. Those, he asserted, are dependent on a sense of achievement and this does not necessary require massive, gigantic, overreaching ones as small wins are sufficient to foster this sense of achievement. But making progress, while important, is not – on its own – sufficient to guarantee this sense of achievement. This needs to be associated with progress achieved via the execution of meaningful work. It is this combination of progress and meaning that fosters the sense of achievement, and it is this sense of achievement that is the pre-requisite to the emergence of happy teams.
John Sullivan, a Product Delivery Manager – Business Division, MYOB, spoke about the Agile journey of the development team in MYOB. The core question he addressed was the challenge of transforming their development team to Agile just to confront a degradation in the quality of the product delivered to the market. Or more succinctly, what do you do when you follow the Agile principles but your product delivery if lacking to the point where the market is voting you out of business? The answer, a la John, is simple: Change the focus of your teams from Agile to Delivery. The purpose of adopting agile practices is just the means but not the end. If you focus on the ceremonial aspects of Agile and forget that these are just there to support your end goal – that is the delivery of quality marketable products to the customer – then you’ve missed the point.
In “Lean Entrepreneur in the enterprise”, Brant Cooper indicated that there are two questions that kill innovation: 1) What’s the ROI? and 2) When will we see it? Innovation, according to Brant, is a product of a long journey that start with Disruption and ends, after a few twists and turns with a Sustainable product. This Disruption is the playground of Innovation as it is innovations that create the environment resulting in changes to current practices. While the journey from Disruption to Sustainability is a treacherous one, its fundamentals are pretty well known and it all starts with an experiment. The process of innovation is about a journey of experimentation, of trials and of learnings through failures. If you are not prepared to entertain failures and are not willing experiment you are not ready for innovation.
Geoff Apps, Director of Engineering in Zappos, gave an interesting talk titled “Holacracy at Zappos – how do you manage to deliver value when ‘anything goes’?”. His talk expanded on the journey his company has gone through as it went through the adoption of Holacracy as its operating (or rather Way of Working) model. The Holacracy concept revolves around the creation of purpose driven, self-organised and self-energised teams (known in Holacracy is ‘Circles’). Circles operate in accordance with the Holacracy Constitution and employees are assigned to various circles where they might be playing different roles in each. While no notes were provided by Geoff you might want to check the following article in Forbes which generated an interesting public debate earlier this year.
The last session I will review here is titled “Impact Mapping – Making an Impact over Shipping Software” by Em Campbell-Pretty. Impact Mapping is a visual technique that attempts to address four key questions: 1) Why you want to do (what ever it is that you want to do) – i.e identify your Goals; 2) Who will do it – i.e. identify the actors; 3) how would that be done – i.e. what are the impacts of what we plan to do; and 4) What will be done – i.e. what are the deliverables that will be produced. The impact of these questions (and associated answers) only becomes apparent when you draw them on a canvas and turn them into a visual board through which all relevant participants are able to view, comment and generate a common and shared understanding pertaining domain under investigation.
And a few general comments:
Given the considerable time that now passed, since the publication of the Agile Manifesto, some speakers have taken the opportunity to reflect on the journey and address some of their own observations on the trends and events that transpired since. One comment was made about the apparent attempt to ‘codify’ Agile, i.e. to cement the principles and ideas into a set of ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’ processes and procedures. This, generally, was frowned upon with the note that being agile and implementing agility is about being adaptive, experimental and open to change. The point of ‘doing’ agile and of ‘being’ agile is to deliver value to the customer (i.e. to DELIVER) so, in that sense, it is a means to an end – a point that should not be lost on agile practitioners.
Overall an entertaining and thought provoking conference.
Think about it!