Agile Life Raft

June 26, 2013 Terry Densmore

There I sat at my mahogany desk after another frustrating meeting of “why are we late?” As a technical person I found it very hard to express my woes to those considered non-technical.  We were a waterfall company and I felt as if the waterfall always flowed down onto my back!  The source of all the water was of course the management that ultimately wanted the company to succeed.  However, we struggled to try and force reality to conform to our specs. This is an all too common occurrence for most companies practicing traditional development techniques. This sent me on my way to finding rescue, a life raft that could get me to better waters.  That’s where I found the Agile sea of tranquility.

I wasn’t new to Agile or the manifesto, in fact I had read quite a bit about it prior to jumping ship. However, it took enough failure and analysis of said failure to approach the CEO with a new way of doing things. Providing a voice of reason is not nearly as powerful as “do you know we have risked millions of dollars in revenue because of…”. There were many reasons to state why we risked the revenue dollars mentioned. Some of them may sound familiar. The customer simply ran out of patience waiting for the changes requested and moved on to a competitor. New business was ignored because we were too wrapped up in the current spec and the delivery date for it. Again, the customer looked to other possible products costing us revenue. Even after all this we had to deal with a spec that by the end of the development was either not exactly what the customer wanted or the customer no longer had a need for the feature! Coming from a physical product made this a costly issue, we had thousands of hours invested in hardware and software design. Prototype cost for the product itself and any new hardware were yet another cost that wasn’t being considered.  I explained to the CEO that we needed a better way to drive value into our products that not only increased revenue but increased our customer satisfaction as well. That’s how our Agile journey started, two professionals that were tired of scheduled failure.

Starting with the CEO was a strategic move on my part, Agile is not a golden ticket to awesomeness. Agile is not a development team only initiative. Agile is a culture, a philosophy and if not adopted company wide will do nothing but struggle. Having CEO buy-in allowed me to use that to my advantage, this bought me the ability to socialize the idea going from the top down. Moving throughout the company spreading this Agile blue pill was a mix of passive guidance and meetings. Generating excitement to those who reject change can be a daunting task. An example of this is working with the sales team. As a sales person dealing with change that might influence the food put on the table can be hard. However, after explaining to the sales team that the value they need to close a sale has potential to be added in timebox increments in as short as two weeks really cracks a smile. Another struggle is explaining to people that a paper spec that tries to see the future as far as six months ahead is not the way to go. Although it provides security it is a false sense of security. The reality is reality itself doesn’t work to a spec, Agile allowed us as a company to adjust our scope to reality for a change.  It wasn’t an easy startup and required some upfront failure and inspection of that failure to mature…

What about you, are you ready for change?

About the Author

Terry Densmore

Terry Densmore is a Product Manager at CollabNet VersionOne. Previously, Terry spent three years as an agile consultant on the Services team. He has introduced agile to multiple disciplines including software, mechanical, and electrical engineering teams. Terry also helped conquer the myth that agile cannot be as successful with distributed teams.

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