Adapting Agile for the Real World
Agile, one of the hottest project management philosophies, has long been criticized for being too structured and process focused to drive any real productivity improvements. In the Forbes Insights report, only 47% of executives believe they will see sustainable value from their Agile transformations.
The hesitation of teams to adopt Agile seem to derive from a series of myths and miscommunications about the true purpose of Agile, and issues in adopting the practice to real engineering teams.
Central Planning is Still a Tenement of Agile
When working with Agile, engineering teams often seem to think this means no central architect determining some large overarching plan. The Agile Manifesto often makes it seem that engineering teams should be self-organizing and completely independent of each other.
On smaller projects, this will work out, a small group of engineers can discuss among each other larger architecture issues and things get worked out as the project progresses.
On larger projects, not having a central plan can be disastrous. Work has to be divided within teams, there has to be some arbitrator to make core decisions, and there will inevitably be various meetings to determine this information.
This is still part of the Agile philosophy.
Culture is Crucial
Google did research on 180+ teams over the past two years, and this was their key finding:
Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.
Creating good culture is incredibly challenging, but it’s just as essential (if not more) than any technical challenge.
There has been an incredible amount of research into culture and how it’s created. Much of the way organizations are turned political and beuracratic is from a lack of clear direction.
When organizations don’t have a clear direction, people form their own interpretations of the intended direction and create factions to back up their interpretations.
A toxic political culture is the antithesis to Agile productivity.
Setting direction is more than just outlining a vision, it also has to break down each teams role to ensure everyone is clear about what they have to do. This can’t be a top-down process either, it must be consultive to ensure it’s workable and everyone is part of the creation of the direction.
Clear and sensitive leadership is difficult, but the culture of a team is crucial to productivity and team moral.
Focus on the Developers
Paying attention to the concerns and needs of the software developers is crucial to team success. Goodwill and transparency is key between management and developers to ensure the processes implemented are truly improving the developer experience.
At the end of the day, Agile management is about empowering individual developers to create more productive and aligned teams. Building software isn’t all about user stories, product specs, and technical requirements, it’s about vision, culture, and teamwork.