At the risk of repeating myself about what agile is…

At the risk of repeating myself about what agile is…

It is not a set of practices. There is no silver bullet, golden nugget or platinum compass. The agile manifesto is a set of values and principles that have learning, excellence and collaboration baked into their very heart. They will not prescribe how to deliver valuable, delightful software, they will not explain whether TDD or BDD is best. They do not insist that you use a product backlog, user stories, story points, iterations, stand ups, demos, code reviews, peer programming or continuous integration.

“Agile” adoption will not help you if you do not understand this. It will not help you if you are conflating “scrum” with “agile”. It will not help you if you do not truly understand what it is you’re getting yourself into.

… agile is defined by its principles rather than specific practices.

– Mike Cohen

The agile manifesto is what it is: guiding principles and values that empower you to make your OWN decisions on how to deliver valuable software (or anything for that matter).

Are you intelligent? Do you do intelligence?

Are you intelligent? Do you do intelligence?

Well, are you? Are you intelligent? Or perhaps you do intelligence. Do you? You do? No.

No, you don’t do intelligence just as you don’t do clever and you certainly don’t do agile|Agile|aGiLe.

I read this article today Kanban Is Not Agile and I’ve read a few others like it in the past. No, Kanban isn’t agile. But neither is scrum or DSDM, or crystal or SAFe or whatever.

You cannot DO principles and values, you are principled and you hold values. When someone says “We’re agile!” challenge them, ask “What does that mean?” because I can almost guarantee they’ll say “We do scrum|kanban!”. You’re following practices that stem from upholding the values and principles of the manifest, but you’re not doing agile.

What’s more and what will hold business back until they realise it, is that while these values and principles are software-centric, they certainly aren’t software dependent. If you distil the values and principles, you get things that any one can uphold, regardless of industry.

You don’t DO agile, you ARE agile.

Have you read the manifesto?

I sometimes wonder whether people have actually even read the Agile manifesto. It is made of four core values and 12 principles, I won’t paste them all here, you can find them at the above link. Maybe the principles are hard to find, but you can read them here.

That’s all there is to it. Agile isn’t a “framework” or a “methodology”, if anything, it’s common sense. Common sense described in four values and 12 principles.

Agile is not a synonym for scrum, or kanban, or anything else. The term “Agile” shouldn’t be used as a description of an all encompassing set of practices that it doesn’t describe. For example, what does “Agile adoption” even mean in this context? Does it mean you’ve finally decided to use common sense? No, it means a company is adopting a framework or methodology that is inspired by the Agile manifestos values and principles, such as Scrum.

Agile is a mindset, a way of being. So please, stop posting things about how “Agile has failed”, or “Agile does damage” unless you actually mean that common sense has failed, or common sense has caused damage. Which is unlikely.

Remember, you don’t DO agile, you ARE agile, it’s a way of being, not something you do.

How big is it? A guide to agile estimation

I gave a talk at LondonWeb a couple of weeks ago. It was a lot of fun. I tried to broadcast it with Google Hangout on Air, but the hotel wi-fi was rubbish. Luckily, @nathanlon recorded it too, so here it is:

and the slides:

Slides for ‘How big is it? A guide to agile estimation’

Agile core values: working software over comprehensive documentation

Documents Enclosed
Documents Enclosed, maybe. Anyone want them?

As humans, the best way to learn about something is by discovery. Discovery based learning and, especially kinaesthetic learning (fiddling with things in the physical space), is fundamental to our understanding of the world around us. Imagine a pre-school child. They cannot read, no matter how advance their parents think they are and will instead learn about the things around them by playing, poking, fiddling and, sometimes, breaking things.

As a man, I learn best about something by ripping open the box and playing with the content. Rarely will I pick up a manual, Only when I’m very stuck will I rummage through the packaging looking for it, but more often than not, they’re dull, badly written with difficult diagrams and just make the whole ordeal of finding out how something works more, not less, painful. (If I can’t find out how to make something work, I try not to blame myself, it’s nearly always the fault of the product. No, really, it is. Read The Design Of Everyday Things and you’ll understand!).

As a user, the same thing applies. I’ll find out how your software works by playing with it and, usually, online software doesn’t come with a manual. Some come with help pages, but not often on HOW to use the site, just the site functions. There are some great websites that slowly engage their users by offering functionality that doesn’t require signing in and making the whole signup process part of that engagment (anyone who has used Picnik will know about that).

As a product designer (read; interaction designer, UX designer, designer, whatever) I’ll learn about how my users interact with my product by watching them use it. This is key to my understanding of the user experience and how to make it better.

As a business owner or customer, I can play with the software that my engineers have created from some of my half baked ideas and, importantly, some of my users’ half-baked ideas in order to see if it’s what I wanted, if it’s what I thought I needed or even if it’s how I described it.

None of this is possible with half a pound of paper that someone (or someones) spent six weeks slaving over.

The trouble with documentation is that it’s easy to mistake a big wad of requirements for the sum total of features required (the clue is also in the name). If you give an engineer a requirements document, they’re apt to go away, spend some time building what the specs require and assume that, given the size of the weighty tome, everything they need to know is contained within it’s black and white, mono-spaced pages.

Of course, in most instances, they’d be wrong. Once they show the “finished” product to the customer, there will more than likely be a whole slew of changes, one or two “hmm, that’s not what I meant, you’ve misunderstood” and maybe even a “no, this is useless now, the market has changed and our users want X, Y and Z instead”. This usually results in a pissed off engineering team.

So, instead of comprehensive documentation, provide working software to your customer and do it frequently. They can provide feedback straight away, steer the engineers in the right direction if they’ve gone off course, or change their minds frequently once they’ve seen the software. Delivering working software frequently will create transparency on the state of the product and transparency leads to trust. Trust between your customers and engineers is so massively important to the success of any project you should take every opportunity to cultivate it.

On top of trust, you have satisfied customers who have spent money and, lo and behold, have been given something of value. You’re getting the right business value with constant customer/stakeholder alignment and you’re getting it faster than if you’d just created documents. If you’re working in iterations and creating potentially shippable software, you’ve created value. Of course, there’s value in documentation, you just can’t sell it yet. 😉

Still, this doesn’t mean you should never create documents. If you’re working on software for a heart monitoring machine, then you’ll need to be careful and so create documentation to meet due diligence requirements (and, to make sure your software does EXACTLY what it needs to), if you’re required to create documents for legal reasons or maybe you’ve got an exceptionally difficult set of algorithms or data bindings that you should capture, that’s OK too.

Just don’t create documentation for the sake of it. Working software is always more valuable and far, far more useful.

One of the principles of Agile is that we measure our success with working software. How much software is working? That’s how successful you are. How much documentation have you got? Who cares, I can’t use or sell documents (unless of course I’m selling documents).

Agile core values: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Actual is not normal (a tribute to Edward Tufte) by kevindooley
Actual is not Normal

The four core value of the agile manifesto are values which I strive to live by, both at home and in my personal life (where it fits, my wife doesn’t care how I write a birthday card, just that I do (although, I suppose that fits too!)). It’s the very core of my job as an agile coach, so I though it was a bit time I wrote a few articles exploring them and what they mean.

I really should have posted this sooner, but, for some reason I haven’t. I think, mostly, because I realised that I needed to get a better understanding of what the values (and principles, but they’ll come later) really mean. While I recognise that being agile is not a destination, but a journey (cheesey, right? But true). I think my understanding of them is now deep enough to write about them, so, without further ado, I present the first in a set of four articles…

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

I struggle to believe that, in any organisation, there are people that think there is anything that is more valuable than it’s people. If you’re in one of those organisations, then, it’s probably time to look for a new job.

People are the one most important asset in any organisation and the key word here is ‘individuals’, no one wants clones working for them and the more diverse the people you work with are, the more satisfying and fruitful your work life should be. Having an interesting and diverse set of colleagues makes it that much easier to get up and go to work in the morning!

One of the mistakes that I often see made (and, unfortunately, perpetrated by a lot of online and digital scrum tools) is forcing yourself into using a process. It’s interesting to note that the two most popular agile methodologies don’t prescribe any particular process to follow with software development, but people believe that they do. Kanban, for example, is not just a board with a ‘todo’, ‘in progress’ and ‘done’ columns. Each column marks a step in your process. The process you already have. Scrum also doesn’t tell you how to build your sprint backlog, instead, it just says you should have one and is quiet on what you should put on it (with the exception of the sprint burndown, but that isn’t a process, just a tool).

Most companies will already have a process for the way they write software before they begin their journey toward being agile. Sometimes it might be as simple as describe, develop, deploy. Other times it will involve review, QA, regression, analysis etc etc. When you start your agile journey stick with the process you have, don’t make things harder for yourself by changing too much. Introduce the framework of choice and use it to help you see where your problems lie. Then, slowly, organically and by small, incremental changes begin to adapt the process you have into one that allows you to align with the agile principles and create great software (or any other product for that matter).

The point of this is that, really, the process doesn’t matter so much as the people using and creating the process. The tools they use don’t matter as much as the indiviuals working together to create the process and create, or use tools which support their endeavours. Having a process is important, but not as important as the people in your organisation using your process and adapting it to suit their needs in order to attain the principles of being agile. Having tools is important, if they’re the right tools, but not as important as how you use them and what you use them for.

If you’re somebody looking to implement agile in your organisation, or someone trying to make your organisation adhere closer to the agile ideals, then empower your people to improve themselves and their process and then leave them to it.

Hire good people, then get out of their way.

So, that’s the first core value. Next time, working software over comprehensive documentation.