Camp Fire

A week ago on Tuesday we organized a camp fire event at our premises. Camp fire is an event about sharing agile experiences, and this was second of such events. Roughly twenty people gathered to an auditorium after the office hours. The audience consisted of people from few different organizations inside the company; developers, managers and marketers. We had two talks; Vasco Duarte from F-Secure was invited as quest storyteller and Mikko Kaijärvi from Schneider Electric volunteered to share his recent experience.

Vasco's presentation was strong, as usual. He talked about top-down agile adaptation at F-Secure in a very realistic way. He did everything but painted a pretty picture about the journey. This is according to his experience, and literature as well, expected. When everything is laid down on the table, it tends to get ugly from time to time. It was interesting to see how within top-down approach they were able to put the whole organization into "agile rhythm". Vasco mentioned that lack of outside help, or not getting outside support enough, was the main thing he would do differently if need ever arises. Vasco presented also some cold quantitative data from theirs and others agile adaptation to support the reasoning for change. It just happens to look like we have more data supporting agile than sequential models ever had. The presentation and especially the Q&A and discussion parts showed Vasco's deep knowledge and understanding of modern project work.

Mikko presented another interesting story in a lively style. His project has applied agile project management and Scrum practices in globally distributed embedded system development project. He estimated that only 5% of development effort is software and firmware, and in addition this is coming from non-agile team. Agile practices were seen as the only option for this project to be successful. The project was started with very vague requirements, barely a vision. Teams were pretty much given. One team in Shanghai, China and another in Monterrey, Mexico, and technology and software development in Europe. The offshore teams had minimal domain knowledge and a huge amount of knowledge needed to be transferred fast. Continuous integration of mechanical and electronics prototypes was a key catalyst for communication. Mikko further identified a clear transition in team behavior from hierarchical - through a single point communication - to self managing emergent behavior actively seeking for best possible solutions in this challenging environment. The project has only been active for five months, but they expect to deliver it in September as originally scheduled. Compared to average project that would be fast according Mikko. Furthermore active early participation of marketing is expected to result in better product as well. This has potential of making yet another example of agile project management practices being succesfull also outside pure software projects.

As conclusion both talks were excellent, delivered by guys that are experienced in both, the project work and giving presentations. Hopefully people were able to walk out with something new and to be able to connect some more dots in their thinking.

After the official part the discussion continued over snack and refreshments. It was agreed that lot of the agile adaptations outside so called agile homeground is about attitude. It is about the shift in thinking towards the art of possible. Just changing your de facto answer from starting with "Yes, but..." to "Yes, and..." offers a huge potential. Vasco's message was "if you really want it, you can do it." The reward demonstrably is there.


Enough of processes, let's do labels

The title of course follows the Dr.Dobbs article by Ivar Jacobsen, Pan-Wei Ng, and Ian Spence "Enough of Processes, let's do practices Part I".

Venkatesh Krishnamurthy has an article in March 2007 Agile Journal about top-down commitment in agile adaptation. He defines three layers of stakeholders in organization; Sponsors, Mid Level Management, and Development Team. As a conclusion he presents an argument that highest possibility for successful agile adaptation is a right mixture of bottom-up and top-down strategies. Dave Nicolette reviews the article in his post and shares his experience:

The agile group had started life as a skunkworks operation. When the group was brought back into the IT department formally, IT management dismantled the group and morphed the project process, management tools, and development methods back into conventional ones, although with "agile" labels.

There are propably a lot of stories like that. Based on the initial moderate success in agile adaptation on the technical level, agile gets to be the new silver bullet and buzz word. A new group of people are expected to automatically form a team, jell, and "just do agile". "Just do agile" means that traditional PM starts using agile jargon without bothering to look what these terms mean, not to mention that she would try to master the agile values, principles and practices, adjust them, and further develop them. "Just do agile" seems like a little bit too thin statement regarding that agile adaptation is described to be a paradigm shift, a completely new philosophy requiring a new mental package. "Just do agile" could be called doing practices, but that would be being nice. Instead it is only doing labels as Dave called the phenomenon. Few years back I was teached to avoid new labels, like agile ones, when introducing change. Now I have learned that some people only want new labels. That's probably why the silver bullet business is doing so well. Calling everything agile, Scrum, and/or Sprint is not much of a change, and will not automatically make everything visible, consistent, or reliable. Somehow the point is completely lost. Of course people who expected agile to be a silver bullet or magic wand are going to be disappointed and call agile just another fad. Some people who actual get agile, and understand that it is a bit more than "doing some stuff in 30 or so days and using words like agile, Scrum, and Sprint a lot", are also quite frustrated. Dave's post sets out the more than likely dark symptom of this:

As I write this, just over a year has elapsed since the process of dismantling agile began. Of the 60+ people who were part of the agile group at its peak, only 4 individuals who were in that group are still employed by the company.

It is equally true according to my experience that commitment from all three categories mentioned by mr. Krishnamurthy is needed to continue agile adaptation for any prolonged periods . Both orders in which this adaptation happens have been reported as successful, and yes indeed, also as failures. Mixture of both strategies sounds appealing.

Mike Vizdos writes about similar experiences in his RIP Scrum -post and cartoon. He calls this a "Death by a thousand copies".


Conference Programs Announced

Several agile conferences have their programs out.

Oresund Agile 2007
Copenhagen, 11-14 June

Como, 18-22 June

Washington D.C., 13-17 August

At Agile2007 Dan Pierce and James Grenning are giving a talk "Embedded Agile - Issues and Practices". Should be valuable, as these two gentlemen have been talking about and practicing agile development in embedded domain for a long time. Of course lots of other interesting stuff as well, 5 days with 8 or more tracks...


Edward Bear Does Not Have Time to Improve.

In many companies the software assets and practices are left to rot. This indifference to fundamental quality issues is justified with phrases like "we are in a hurry", "we need to create new stuff", and other nonsense. Software is going to require maintenance and further development for its whole life. If you neglect to keep it fit it is going to haunt you back for sure. And it gets worse. If you leave your code base and practices to rot, you will eventually paralyse your whole productiveness. See Ken Schwaber explain it in this InfoQ video.

I have used the story about timber jack being so late at his logging site, that he does not have time to sharpen his saw. Some time ago I bumped into another quote that makes the same point.

“HERE is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”

It really gets painful sometimes.