CollabNet VersionOne has been interviewing some of the agile movement’s greatest leaders. The publication of the State of Agile Report each year gets us thinking about the adoption of agile, which organizations are using it and how they are applying the methodology. The survey looks into why folks are using agile and how it is helping teams develop better software at speed.
Last time we spoke with Dean Leffingwell from Scaled Agile.
This week, we’ve posed many of the same questions to Sanjiv Augustine, president of LitheSpeed and author of Managing Agile Projects and Scaling Agile: a Lean Jumpstart. Sanjiv shares anecdotes from his experience as a global consultant and provides a fresh perspective on some agile clichés such as the Scrum standup meeting.
Let’s see what he has to say:
Question: How did you first learn about agile and what about the practice appealed to you initially?
Sanjiv: I learned about agile methods in the year 2000. My then boss needed someone to manage eXtreme Programming (XP) teams, and hired me to align management with XP. The practice that made immediate sense was timeboxed iterations (Sprints in Scrum). I saw the power of timeboxing to drive throughput and delivery, and still believe short timeboxes are one of the best practices in agile methods.
Question: The 12th Annual State of Agile report cites the ability to manage changing priorities as the top benefit of agile. In your experience, what is the greatest benefit?
Sanjiv: One of the greatest benefits is to break up the log jam caused by waterfall and siloed organizations. When you break that log jam, value is delivered faster, and organizational silos will no longer stand in the way of bringing value to customers. Certainly managing the changing priorities is a benefit, but more of a secondary benefit and an outcomes of this structural change. Establishing this end-to-end value stream with our customers drives true business agility.
Question: Have you seen the greatest agile success when teams take a grassroots approach or when management leads a top-down approach?
Sanjiv: It’s really not an either/or, the best success comes when you have both grassroots and top-down movement. The top down approach implies ‘thou shalt do xyz …,” and that’s not the best way. The best transformations happen when management can say, we want to help you, provide what you need to make this happen. Management and executives must commit to the process of course, but team members also need to have it in their hearts and minds to adopt agile methods. Thus, there must be team momentum as well.
So, the best-case scenario happens when you combine team momentum with top executive buy in, that way all pieces are working together – the commitment and air cover as well as the enablement.
Question: Are there instances where software teams should not employ agile practices and other methodologies such as waterfall are fitting?
Sanjiv: I don’t think of agile methods as a single thing. The truth is, any agile method can be teased apart into a number of different practices and it is possible to apply certain agile practices without others.
For example, agile teams are cross-functional and high performing. You can create this with physical meetings where team members share a location or you can use tools like Slack, video conferencing or IM. This team aspect is important for Scrum. Applying this high-performance team discipline is possible even if you have a waterfall process. For example, we’ve worked with Capital One in the past, and their waterfall teams apply many Scrum practices. You can walk into a waterfall team space and find they are doing similar practices as agile teams — whiteboards and all. It’s just that the delivery process and timeline is different.
That said, agile processes are not a good fit when you don’t have good buy in from the business. For instance, to practice Scrum, SAFe, or Scrum at Scale requires business involvement with an involved sponsor. So, in those instances waterfall might make more sense.
Question: The 12th Annual State of Agile report revealed that in organizations with some teams practicing agile, those teams represent less than half of the organization’s teams in total. What does this say about the spread of Agile across the enterprise?
Sanjiv: That says we’ve got a long way to go. Waterfall has been around since 1974, and agile has really only taken off in the last 10 years, so there’s something DevOps identifies as “Conway’s law,” which means our process and organizations mirror each other.
As we’ve been using waterfall for 50 years, we’ve built up governance, portfolio management, funding, etc. These are ancillary functions that are waterfall in nature.
Until we start aligning those to agile teams, it’s no surprise the organization itself is not all agile. When those start to be agile the enterprise can be agile, until then we have a long way to go.
Question: In the 12th State of Agile Report, 90 percent of respondents indicated they participate in a daily stand-up meeting at their organization. Why are standup meetings valuable for software teams?
Sanjiv: Let me give a comparison from agile history.
Before Scrum became popular, 18 years ago, eXtreme Programming (XP) was all the rage. However, the first thing people thought of when XP came to mind was folks sitting together and pair programming. This was the most visible and tactical part of the XP methodology, so it was easily recognizable. A lot of XP magic happens behind the scenes and isn’t immediately obvious, but what is obvious is two people sitting together, so if you don’t know anything else that is your first assumption. For many, XP was simply, “pair programming.”
With Scrum you have a product backlog as well as specific roles for the Product Owner, ScrumMaster and Development Team. The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) add the Release Train Engineer (RTE) role, and Scrum at Scale has sophisticated structures like the Meta Scrum. However to the casual observer, they look at Scrum and see a team standing in a circle – it’s simply the most visible practice. Therefore, Scrum has largely become associated with a standup meeting. They associate the mechanics of standing in a circle with better process for software development.
So, I absolutely encourage it as a practice though because it’s so simple and straightforward. In 15 minutes or less, you can break down barriers to communication, face to face. However, I also strongly encourage everyone to go well beyond the Daily Standup “cult of practice” and truly implement other agile practices with true agile values in mind.
Question: Any additional comments you’d like to make on the findings of the 12th Annual State of Agile Report?
Sanjiv: I find it interesting that most of these responses were taken in North America. As you look at the places in the world with under 10 percent responses provided on this survey, I believe those are opportunities for growth. I know there’s a strong level of agile adoption right now in Australia and Brazil. And there’s a huge opportunity in South America. We also see strong growing adoption in India and China.
The primary opportunities, however, in my estimation, exist in China and Africa. For instance, there are approximately 250 Scrum trainers worldwide, and the majority are based in North America and Europe. I think there are only 3 based in China, and only one based in Africa.
Thank you Sanjiv for taking the time to answer these questions and provide our readers with some food for thought. Cheers!