Head of Project Management
19 October 2015
Try typing "Agile is...' into Google and you might be surprised by the ﬁrst suggested result.
Dave Thomas was one of the original 17 software developers looking to create a lightweight development method in 2001 and produced the Agile Manifesto. However, as he explained in the blog Agile is Dead, over time, vendors, consultants and marketeers may have devalued the word ‘agile’, rendering it meaningless.
Like most concepts which lead people to believe they will save the world, or at least their organisations, the hard work and patience required to achieve the just rewards before long prove too much, and those concepts that promised so much, that were lauded as the ‘next big thing’, are abandoned.
The Last Crusade
While Dave may not believe conferences to be in line with the Agile manifesto, I'm sure he would have agreed with many of the topics discussed at an Agile London event I recently attended, hosted by NOTHS.com.
The offices of NOTHS were stunning and crammed with interesting and wonderful decor ideas. After a five hour journey the pizza and beers helped to perk me up for the main event as the key note speakers introduced their Indiana Jones themed presentation!
However, this was far from being a ‘style over substance’ event. The large meeting space was packed and we were treated to three talks which would have been unheard of in the not too distant past. Businesses and organisations opening up about their experiences, their successes and failures in tackling some of the most important issues facing development teams across the world. As guests, we were given access to challenges, strategies and learnings from some of the most forward thinking people in the industry. Extremely well presented, the speakers’ candour was incredibly refreshing.
Each presentation offered something very different, but one of the most interesting of the night was suitably titled The Last Crusade - the final talk of the evening covering management and how to evolve self-organising teams. It was really thought provoking, exploring key issues which we at Dog have connected with.
Do we even need managers?
I’m sure across the country there are quiet (and maybe not so quiet) discussions on whether managers are helping or hindering people’s work. Thankfully, Google have already put this to the test, trialling an experimental period with none. It only lasted a few months as people started to go directly to the founders for expenses, interpersonal conﬂicts, and other issues, but it did lead to some interesting insights into what an effective manager should be.
Quite simply, a good manager:
- Is a good coach
- Empowers the team and does not micromanage
- Expresses interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being
- Is productive and results-oriented
- Is a good communicator - listens and shares information
- Helps with career development
- Has a clear vision and strategy for the team
- Has key technical skills that help him or her advise the team
You’re probably thinking: “What has this all got to do with agile?” - Well, it is fundamental. Good managers and clear communication, both between clients and ourselves, and among our teams, are crucial to enabling agile working. For the past two years, Dog has been following the four core values created 14 years ago:
- Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools
- Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation
- Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation
- Responding to Change over Following a Plan
Easy peasy lemon squeezy
On the face of it this seems like an easy task, or as my daughter would say, ‘Easy peasy lemon squeezy…’ but the truth is very different, especially within an agency environment. These values have, at their heart, a need to change the way that everyone from the client and stakeholders, management, designers, UX, developers, QA, client services and project management, work together.
We have been fortunate enough to work with some fantastic clients who joined us on this journey, well before it was the norm for clients to ask for their projects to be managed in an agile way. Without them the whole process would come to a stop because agile is all about getting closer to the client and in turn their customer.
Ten seat moves, thousands of post-its, new whiteboards and over 30 retrospectives later and our approach is still probably in its infancy, even after two years. Similar to NOTHS which I visited over 400 miles away, we have discovered in this time that people are the most important ingredient and by empowering the teams to take ownership and lead is the only way forward.
Agility not agile
While I’ve used the term ‘agile’ in this post, it’s been for ease of understanding. I would have to agree with Dave Thomas, the word ‘agile’ should never be used as a ‘catch all’ statement of what we do. The values underpin our approach, and capture the team's agility, and ability to bounce back, push forward, and know they are heading in the right direction.
If we, as good managers, support and encourage our teams to drive the changes, learn from our mistakes and continue to improve the process, we will be rewarded with stronger internal and external relationships, delivering higher quality products and move towards building that elusive self-organising team.