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Agile at the corporates

The 86th SPIN meeting was "Agile at the Corporates" by Antoinette Coetzee of Just Plain Agile. She told stories about Agile in larger organisations, and the challenges that are faced implementing it there. At the start of her talk, she handed out two small toy soccer balls, and asked people to throw them at her if her talk got too serious. Her presentation made an interesting counter-point to the previous SPIN talk by Brad Whittington, "Agile-ish is good enough" (my notes from Brad's talkthe SPIN page for the event).

  • There's a difference between Being Agile and Doing Agile. It's like the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law. If you just use Agile as a process overlay (and don't concentrate on the people aspects), you'll miss out on many of the advantages.
  • Doing Agile has three main challenges.
    • Budget: scope and time
    • Organisation structure: divided, separated departments, "Chuck it over the wall."
    • Enterprise Architecture: taking the long term view. An (amusing) example of how some Enterprise organisations think: Manifesto for Half-Arsed Agile Software Development.
  • The biggest challenge of Being Agile is the culture, which is largely determined by managers.
    • Anecdotally, every time is agile is introduced somewhere, one person leaves: the transparency and accountability makes them do so.
  • Currently in Cape Town, every corporate has pockets of agile; maybe one team, where no-one is monitoring too closely.
    • Reasons vary, but some are: the mother company force it on them; a manager read a good book about it; suggestions / requests from developers.
  • An inexperienced or uniformed application of agile can lead to failure. How do we not fail?
  • PM's attitude is very important. A person's perceived value is a product of how well people like them and their real value (skill at the job).
  • Approaches that work
    • An open and curious attitude, and trying to understand.
    • Apply basic change management, from top (get support from them) and bottom (get buy-in, prove it works). The Heath Brothers say that knowledge rarely changes behaviour. Instead, change comes in three steps: see; feel; change. They expand on this in their book Switch.
    • Prove it on something small first.
    • Publicise. Focus on relationships. Get individuals to buy in and you're there.
    • When selling it upwards, metrics can be very helpful. You may need organisational development later, when agile practices start spilling over into other parts of the company.
    • Use cases are a very cheap way of doing documentation (that large companies often have a requirement for).
  • Agile is great for continuous, demonstrable, progress.
  • Some links for further reading
  • Agile transformations are never really done, so keep going!