Our new series of blogs titled The Momentum Interviews has received excellent feedback.
The fourth blog in this series is with a seasoned Agile practitioner named Bruce Carlyon. He is a certified Agile Framework Consultant, Scaled Agile Framework Agilist and Scrum Master.
Our Q and A is below:
What are your thoughts on self-organisation?
Self-organisation is essential for success. Without self-organisation, teams do not perform and this has a detrimental impact on business units and the organisation as a whole. It requires high discipline to exercise the organic processes required by delivery teams and also being part of a larger group! Self-organisation requires clear boundaries and shared expectations, with complete support from the CEO down to the delivery teams themselves.
What are the top three reasons why Agile fails?
Agile (Values, Principles and Practices) never really fails. The people involved might fail to do what is required to succeed with Agile Implementations and the continuous practices. That is where some people might mistakenly believe that ‘Agile’ failed. The first is critical, the second is a myth. The two are very different! But three common triggers for results less than hoped for can be:
- Lack of Agile experience of the key participants involved in the Agile practices. A lack of confidence with new practitioners hinders the speed and belief in their own teams. A lack of experience making the right and the wrong decisions, to learn their craft. Agile practitioners require time to apply their new skills and to grow their self-awareness and develop personal growth along the way. A good Scrum Master has to be able to coach teams, mentor individuals, police practices, manage people and the work deliverables, inspire, instruct, energise, create, innovate, be mindful, present, practical, tactical, and strategic; all at the same time! It’s a lot to expect from anyone. A one or two-day certification course will not equip anyone for the rigors of an Agile apprenticeship and most early practitioners will make many mistakes if they are not supported by seasoned and experienced Agile professionals.
- I commonly see practitioners fail to engage with their teams and be overly focused on the Agile techniques and ceremonies. The real work is performed continuously during the day between ceremonies and this is crucial to the success of self-empowered teams improving their capability.
- A lack of support and understanding from middle management or executives means that Agile often fails.
Replacing experienced practitioners with inexperienced resources is a big risk unless you have someone to lead, coach and mentor so that teams can grasp opportunities quickly rather than just scratching the surface with the benefits of Agile.
Why do you love working in Agile Delivery?
Even as an Agile Delivery Lead, I love having a small part to play in the personal growth of individuals whom I spend most of my working week with. Helping to shape their journey, increase confidence, self- awareness and creating a tribal mind set gives me great satisfaction. I thrive in busy environments that respond to the right level of adjustment and enjoy the measurements of our successes! I love the positive impact this can have on teams and seeing their desire to learn more and to work as a team to be successful. It’s a wonderful career that is engaging and rewarding every day. It’s never easy and requires concentration and commitment in partnership with a huge number of people.
What is your view on organisations that say that they are “agile natives” so they are largely self-coached?
I have seen this work quite well in smaller IT departments where they do not have to be aligned to other delivery teams. Due to their small teams, they can pivot and navigate quickly.
In larger organisations, it is key to having constant communication and check points across teams. However, Agile natives may or may not have sufficient structure and foundation to progressively evolve with their organisation. For me, the success comes down to the experience of their Delivery leads and how work all levels of the organisation; as they assist teams to evolve, maintain standards across the program, and keep Portfolio Management abreast of Enterprise and strategic impacts. I encourage my own teams to go native to a large extent. It is fundamental to creative freedom,self-belief and empowerment but there has to be some clear and reasonable limitations about how far teams can go. This is subjective to the context of an organisation, its structure, where it is on the Agile journey, and the level of enthusiasm and the existing culture belonging to the people involved.
How do you keep the customer at front of mind in Agile projects?
Everyone is a customer!
Program Directors, Project Managers, Delivery Leads, developers, testers, sponsors, stakeholders, internal and external customers. The primary question to everything that I do in Delivery; is to ask “why are we doing this”? This gets everyone to find the ‘real’ benefit and value we are trying to realise. It’s a customer’s question. If I had to pay people to do this,is the expense and effort required to deliver it worth paying for (as an organisation or as a customer?)
This helps to reduce the risk of delivery getting lost in the technology and bring focus back to the customer.
How do you continuously improve in an Agile environment?
It is important to be strategic and stay ahead of your teams with thorough planning. The Iteration Manager or Scrum Master needs to ensure that the teams are focusing on the right things and everyone is developing and learning. Having Kanban boards to support activities and learnings can be really helpful. Formal and Informal training, experiments and continuously improving practices help reinforce the hunger for being better! I use a lot of metrics to quantitatively measure if we are continually improving from team health, velocity, to net flow, flow efficiency etc. It is important to have a continuous stretch model to ensure that teams can continuously improve.
Do you have a favoured methodology or approach?
For me it depends on the organisational context. The size of the organisation, their culture and hierarchy are all important elements to consider when you are looking to put in place a fit for purpose approach.
I see scrum and Kanban as fundamentals. Scrum allows teams to work together, Kanban allows you to make things visual. Everything else is nice to have, it depends on maturity of the current organisation. The value of both Scrum and Kanban are basic enablers for all teams to find a reasonable level of success quickly. Without these two practices, Delivery teams tend to tread water and struggle.
How do you plan programs and portfolios rather than just projects in an Agile context?
A different skillset is required here. You need to make the current work visible. If things are chaotic you need to ensure that they are visible and that you have one source of truth.
Ask yourself, are the projects we are delivering successful?
How are we measuring success? How do we measure the outcomes? What data points are we using and how do we assess these to make decisions?
You can implement steps and use trial and error to test theories. Kanban walls and others tools allow you to have transparency and dashboards to aid better decision making.
Transparent and consistent communication is key.
Stay tuned for our next blog.
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