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Tag Archives: agile

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to Agile.

The Importance of Certifications for IT Professionals

Brendhan Malone By Brendhan Malone,
Vice-President, Central Canada at Eagle

The Importance of Certifications for IT ProfessionalsI recently came across an article from Global Knowledge listing the 15 Top-Paying Certifications for 2016. It brings some very good discussion points to light.  Should we certify? What are the most marketable certifications?  What certifications look to have future relevance?  The article is especially useful as it ties a monetary figure to each certification.  Although many other variables exist in that figure, it gives us a good idea of the relevance and demand of the skill set and certification.

To certify or not to certify… that is the question

The answer in most cases is yes, yes, and yes.  This is true for both full-time IT professionals as well as independent contractors.

For independents contractors, the goal is for your consulting business is to be seen in the marketplace as a trusted partner.  Certifications go a long way in establishing credibility in your business offering. We hear the term “building your brand” often in today’s business environment.  Part of any strategy of building your brand is building trust in your capabilities through experience, references, and… certifications. Being current and up-to-date in your certifications shows that you, as an independent contractor, are aware of the current and relevant technologies, and that you are invested in being as up-to-date as possible in the ever changing marketplace.

For full-time resources, it is absolutely critical that prospective or current employers know that YOU are invested in your career and advancement of your skills. A mistake employees often make is that they are waiting or expecting their employer to initiate skill development, training and certification discussion.  While some employers do a better job than others with professional development, the onus is on YOU to initiate these discussions and formulate a strategy for development.

So which certification is right for you?

The answer to that question lies in your area of expertise, but the list in the article referenced above can surely help you see your best options. One certification that I did not see on the list, and perhaps it is because its popularity has been more recent, is that of a Certified Scrum Master.  Thousands of companies are moving to an Agile or Agile-based methodology and this certification becomes more valuable by the day.  For more information on the Scrum certification, have a look at Scrum Alliance and the Agile Advice blog.

Do you have any certifications or are you working towards one right now? Do you have any recommendations for a new IT contractor looking to improve their competitiveness? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

If Your Up-Front Planning is Measured in Weeks…

…Then a Lean Startup is Going to Eat Your Lunch

This post by David Sabine was originally posted on the Agile Advice Blog on October 30th, 2015. Title inspired by Michael James… see below.

If Your Up-Front Planning is Measured in Weeks, Then a Lean Startup is Going to Eat Your LunchOne of the most powerful assumptions built in to Agile methods is that we learn by doing — that our learning, our planning, our problem-solving, and ability to mitigate risk is enhanced when planning is performed inline with active development and in the context of deliberate experimentation.  Scrum, for example, is based on empirical process control theory which means that we make decisions based on what is known.

One of the most common pitfalls we see among organizations trying to “adopt” Agile is excessive pre-planning — their assumption being that we can decide by planning, learn by planning, or mitigate risk by planning.  This sometimes manifests as an anti-pattern that people call “Sprint Zero” — a signal that an organization misunderstands Agile methods fundamentally.  More importantly, a signal that the organization may incorrectly perceive Software Engineering — or any team-based work — as predictable

If your organization injects a “Sprint Zero” or a planning phase (that is measured in weeks rather than days or hours) ahead of the creation/development of real product, then these two posts are of interest to you:

michael-james-comment

Agile Planning in a Nutshell

By Mishkin Berteig
President, Co-Founder of Berteig Consulting

Talent Development Centre subscribers can get 25% off Agile training! Visit www.worldmindware.com and use promocode EPR-25-CSM-MV4A for Certified ScrumMaster courses and promocode EPR-25-CSPO-QE7X for Certified Scrum Product Owner courses.

This post was originally posted on the Agile Advice Blog on August 21st, 2015.

Agile Planning in a NutshellAgile methods such as Scrum, Kanban and OpenAgile do not require long-term up-front plans.  However, many teams desire a long-term plan.  This can be thought of as a roadmap or schedule or a release plan.  Agile planning helps us build and maintain long-term plans.

Agile Planning Process

The steps to do this are actually very simple:

  1. Write down all the work to be done.  In Scrum these are called “Product Backlog Items”, in Kanban “Tasks” and in OpenAgile “Value Drivers”.
  2. Do some estimation of the work items.  Many Agile estimation techniques exist including Planning PokerThe Bucket System,Dot VotingT-Shirt Sizes.  These tools can be applied to many types of estimation.  There are three kinds of estimation that are important for Agile Planning:
    1. Estimating relative business value.  Usually done with the business people including customers and users.
    2. Estimating relative effort.  Usually done by the Agile team that will deliver the work.
    3. Estimating team capacity.  Also done by the Agile team (this is sometimes called “velocity”).
  3. Create the long-term plan.  Use the team capacity estimate and the sum of all the effort estimates to come up with an estimate of the overall time required to do the work.  (In Kanban, which doesn’t have an iterative approach, this is a bit more complicated.)  Use the business value and effort estimates to determine relative return on investment as a way to put work items in a logical sequence.

Agile planning allows a team to update estimates at any time.  Therefore, the techniques used above should not be thought of as a strict sequence.  Instead, as the team and the business people learn, the estimates and long-term plan can be easily updated.  Scrum refers to this ongoing process at “Product Backlog Refinement”.

Principles of Agile Planning

In order to use Agile planning effectively, people must be aware of and support the principles of Agile planning:

  1. Speed over accuracy.  We don’t want to waste time on planning!  Planning in and of itself does not deliver value.  Instead, get planning done fast and use the actual delivery of your Agile team to adjust plans as you go.
  2. Collaborative techniques.  We don’t want to be able to blame individuals if something goes wrong.  Instead, we create safe estimation and planning techniques.  Inevitably, when an estimate turns out to be wrong, it is impossible to blame a single individual for a “mistake”.
  3. Relative units.  We don’t try to estimate and plan based on “real” units such as dollars or hours.  Instead, we use ordering, relative estimation and other relative techniques to compare between options.  Humans are bad at estimating in absolute units.  We are much better at relative estimationand planning.

About the Author
Mishkin Berteig is the President and Co-Founder of Berteig Consulting Inc. He has been Mishkin Berteigtraining, coaching and consulting for organizations adopting Agile methods since 2001 and is committed to helping individuals, teams and organizations apply Agile methods. Mishkin is a Certified Scrum Trainer, and qualified to deliver OpenAgile and Agile Project Management training.  He has developed and delivered Agile training both in public and in-house seminars for over 3000 people in Canada and abroad. Courses have been as short as three hour intro-style and as long as five day boot-camp-style, and audiences have ranged from junior team members to senior executives. He has also assisted organizations of all sizes to make the transformation from traditional methods to Agile/Scrum methods (Extreme Programming, Scrum, Lean, OpenAgile).  Assistance includes Agile Engineering Practices, Agile teamwork, Agile project and product management, Agile management and executive management.

Super-Hard ScrumMaster Quiz – Test Yourself!

By Mishkin Berteig
President, Co-Founder of Berteig Consulting

The original version of this article can be found on his Agile Advice blog.

Talent Development Centre subscribers can get 25% off Agile training! Visit www.worldmindware.com and use promocode EPR-25-CSM-MV4A for Certified ScrumMaster courses and promocode EPR-25-CSPO-QE7X for Certified Scrum Product Owner courses.

Super-Hard ScrumMaster Quiz – Test Yourself!For a little while last year I was using a quiz in my Certified ScrumMaster courses that was deliberately designed to be super hard.  Why?  Because if anyone could answer it correctly before the end of the class, I would give them their certification early and allow them to leave.  Not a single person out of several hundred was able to do it.

This test was first created by me and one of my close colleagues, Julien Mazloum from Outsofting.  We were trying to make the CSM class something that the Chinese audience would really appreciate culturally.  It worked well, up to a point.  The main problem was that some of the questions were too subtle for people for whom English was their second language.  That said, when I used it in my North American courses, still no one passed it!  In fact, the best score I ever saw was 25 correct out of 30.

Have fun!

Take the Super Hard ScrumMaster Quiz!

About the Author

Mishkin Berteig is the President and Co-Founder of Berteig Consulting Inc. He has been Mishkin Berteigtraining, coaching and consulting for organizations adopting Agile methods since 2001 and is committed to helping individuals, teams and organizations apply Agile methods. Mishkin is a Certified Scrum Trainer, and qualified to deliver OpenAgile and Agile Project Management training.  He has developed and delivered Agile training both in public and in-house seminars for over 3000 people in Canada and abroad. Courses have been as short as three hour intro-style and as long as five day boot-camp-style, and audiences have ranged from junior team members to senior executives. He has also assisted organizations of all sizes to make the transformation from traditional methods to Agile/Scrum methods (Extreme Programming, Scrum, Lean, OpenAgile).  Assistance includes Agile Engineering Practices, Agile teamwork, Agile project and product management, Agile management and executive management.

Measurements Towards Continuous Delivery

By Michael Bowler

The original version of this article can be found on the Agile Advice blog.

Talent Development Centre subscribers can get 25% off Agile training! Visit www.worldmindware.com and use promocode EPR-25-CSM-MV4A for Certified ScrumMaster courses and promocode EPR-25-CSPO-QE7X for Certified Scrum Product Owner courses.

Measurements Towards Continuous DeliveryI was asked yesterday what measurements a team could start to take to track their progress towards continuous delivery. Here are some initial thoughts.

Lead time per work item to production

Lead time starts the moment we have enough information that we could start the work (ie it’s “ready”). Most teams that measure lead time will stop the clock when that item reaches the teams definition of “done” which may or may not mean that the work is in production. In this case, we want to explicitly keep tracking the time until it really is in production.

Note that when we’re talking about continuous delivery, we make the distinction between deploy and release. Deploy is when we’ve pushed it to the production environment and release is when we turn it on. This measurement stops at the end of deploy.

Cycle time to “done”

If the lead time above is excessively long then we might want to track just cycle time. Cycle time starts when we begin working on the item and stops when we reach “done”.

When teams are first starting their journey to continuous delivery, lead times to production are often measured in months and it can be hard to get sufficient feedback with cycles that long. Measuring cycle time to “done” can be a good intermediate measurement while we work on reducing lead time to production.

Escaped defects

If a bug is discovered after the team said the work was done then we want to track that. Prior to hitting “done”, it’s not really a bug – it’s just unfinished work.

Shipping buggy code is bad and this should be obvious. Continuously delivering buggy code is worse. Let’s get the code in good shape before we start pushing deploys out regularly.

Defect fix times

How old is the oldest reported bug? I’ve seen teams that had bug lists that went on for pages and where the oldest were measured in years. Really successful teams fix bugs as fast as they appear.

Total regression test time

Track the total time it takes to do a full regression test. This includes both manual and automated tests. Teams that have primarily manual tests will measure this in weeks or months. Teams that have primarily automated tests will measure this in minutes or hours.

This is important because we would like to do a full regression test prior to any production deploy. Not doing that regression test introduces risk to the deployment. We can’t turn on continuous delivery if the risk is too high.

Time the build can be broken

How long can your continuous integration build be broken before it’s fixed? We all make mistakes. Sometimes something gets checked in that breaks the build. The question is how important is it to the team to get that build fixed? Does the team drop everything else to get it fixed or do they let it stay broken for days at a time?

Continuous delivery isn’t possible with a broken build.

Number of branches in version control

By the time you’ll be ready to turn on continuous delivery, you’ll only have one branch. Measuring how many you have now and tracking that over time will give you some indication of where you stand.

If your code isn’t in version control at all then stop taking measurements and just fix that one right now. I’m aware of teams in 2015 that still aren’t using version control and you’ll never get to continuous delivery that way.

Production outages during deployment

If your production deployments require taking the system offline then measure how much time it’s offline. If you achieve zero-downtime deploys then stop measuring this one.  Some applications such as batch processes may never require zero-downtime deploys. Interactive applications like webapps absolutely do.

I don’t suggest starting with everything at once. Pick one or two measurements and start there.

About Michael Bowler

Mike is an Agile and technical, coach and trainer who has been writing code for over thirty years and has been an active member of the Agile community for the last fifteen. He blends his strong technical background with a deep understanding of Agile methods to help teams consistently improve how they deliver value to their customers.

Scrum Data Warehouse Project

By Mishkin Berteig
President, Co-Founder of Berteig Consulting

The original version of this article can be found on the Agile Advice blog.

Talent Development Centre subscribers can get 25% off Agile training! Visit www.worldmindware.com and use promocode EPR-25-CSM-MV4A for Certified ScrumMaster courses and promocode EPR-25-CSPO-QE7X for Certified Scrum Product Owner courses.

Many people have concerns about the possibility of using Scrum or other Agile methods on large projects that don’t directly involve software development.  Data warehousing projects are commonly brought up as examples where, just maybe, Scrum wouldn’t work.

I have worked as a coach on a couple of such projects.  Here is a brief description of how it worked (both the good and the bad) on one such project:

The project was a data warehouse migration from Oracle to Teradata.  The organization had about 30 people allocated to the project.  Before adopting Scrum, they had done a bunch of up-front analysis work.  This analysis work resulted in a dependency map among approximately 25,000 tables, views and ETL scripts.  The dependency map was stored in an MS Access DB (!).  When I arrived as the coach, there was an expectation that the work would be done according to dependencies and that the “team” would just follow that sequence.

I learned about this all in the first week as I was doing boot-camp style training on Scrum and Agile with the team and helping them to prepare for their first Sprint.

I decided to challenge the assumption about working based on dependencies.  I spoke with the Product Owner about the possible ways to order the work based on value.  We spoke about a few factors including:

  • retiring Oracle data warehouse licenses/servers,
  • retiring disk space/hardware,
  • and saving CPU time with new hardware

The Product Owner started to work on getting metrics for these three factors.  He was able to find that the data was available through some instrumentation that could be implemented quickly so we did this.  It took about a week to get initial data from the instrumentation.

In the meantime, the Scrum teams (4 of them) started their Sprints working on the basis of the dependency analysis.  I “fought” with them to address the technical challenges of allowing the Product Owner to work on the migration in order based more on value – to break the dependencies with a technical solution.  We discussed the underlying technologies for the ETL which included bash scripts, AbInitio and a few other technologies.  We also worked on problems related to deploying every Sprint including getting approval from the organization’s architectural review board on a Sprint-by-Sprint basis.  We also had the teams moved a few times until an ideal team workspace was found.

After the Product Owner found the data, we sorted (ordered) the MS Access DB by business value.  This involved a fairly simple calculation based primarily on disk space and CPU time associated with each item in the DB.  This database of 25000 items became the Product Backlog.  I started to insist to the teams that they work based on this order, but there was extreme resistance from the technical leads.  This led to a few weeks of arguing around whiteboards about the underlying data warehouse ETL technology.  Fundamentally, I wanted the teams to treat the data warehouse tables as the PBIs and have both Oracle and Teradata running simultaneously (in production) with updates every Sprint for migrating data between the two platforms.  The Technical team kept insisting this was impossible.  I didn’t believe them.  Frankly, I rarely believe a technical team when they claim “technical dependencies” as a reason for doing things in a particular order.

Finally, after a total of 4 Sprints of 3 weeks each, we finally had a breakthrough.  In a one-on-one meeting, the most senior tech lead admitted to me that what I was arguing was actually possible, but that the technical people didn’t want to do it that way because it would require them to touch many of the ETL scripts multiple times – they wanted to avoid re-work.  I was (internally) furious due to the wasted time, but I controlled my feelings and asked if it would be okay if I brought the Product Owner into the discussion.  The tech lead allowed it and we had the conversation again with the PO present.  The tech lead admitted that breaking the dependencies was possible and explained how it could lead to the teams touching ETL scripts more than once.  The PO basically said: “awesome!  Next Sprint we’re doing tables ordered by business value.”

A couple Sprints later, the first of 5 Oracle licenses was retired, and the 2-year $20M project was a success, with nearly every Sprint going into production and with Oracle and Teradata running simultaneously until the last Oracle license was retired.  Although I don’t remember the financial details anymore, the savings were huge due to the early delivery of value.  The apprentice coach there went on to become a well-known coach at this organization and still is a huge Agile advocate 10 years later!

About the Author Mishkin Berteig is the President and Co-Founder of Berteig Consulting Inc. He has been Mishkin Berteigtraining, coaching and consulting for organizations adopting Agile methods since 2001 and is committed to helping individuals, teams and organizations apply Agile methods. Mishkin is a Certified Scrum Trainer, and qualified to deliver OpenAgile and Agile Project Management training.  He has developed and delivered Agile training both in public and in-house seminars for over 3000 people in Canada and abroad. Courses have been as short as three hour intro-style and as long as five day boot-camp-style, and audiences have ranged from junior team members to senior executives. He has also assisted organizations of all sizes to make the transformation from traditional methods to Agile/Scrum methods (Extreme Programming, Scrum, Lean, OpenAgile).  Assistance includes Agile Engineering Practices, Agile teamwork, Agile project and product management, Agile management and executive management.

Retrospective Technique: What Did You Learn?

By Mishkin Berteig
President, Co-Founder of Berteig Consulting

Talent Development Centre subscribers can get 25% off Agile training! Visit www.worldmindware.com and use promocode EPR-25-CSM-MV4A for Certified ScrumMaster courses and promocode EPR-25-CSPO-QE7X for Certified Scrum Product Owner courses.

The original version of this article can be found on the Agile Advice blog.

Retrospectives are a key part of continuous improvement in Agile teams.  The retrospective techniques that a team uses should be adjusted to the needs of the team.  In a Scrum team, for example, the ScrumMaster will often decide on the techniques to use based on the current issues facing the team and then facilitate the retrospective for the team.  There are some great resources which give you collections of tried-and-true retrospective techniques including Esther Derby’s book “Agile Retrospectives” and the amazing online tool “Retr-o-mat“.  As an active consultant and trainer, I am always looking for new techniques to share with my clients.  Sometimes, I even create a new one (or at least new to me).  The “What Did You Learn” technique is new: I’ve been using it and testing it for a few years now to refine it.

What Did You Learn?

OpenAgileBy itself, this is a powerful question.  As part of my work with OpenAgile, I’ve been helping teams and organization to focus on learning as an even broader category than continuous improvement.  The Learning Circle and the processes in OpenAgile help with focusing on learning.  The question “what did you learn?” is very open ended, and can certainly work as an extremely simple type of retrospective in OpenAgile or in Scrum or other Agile methods.  Often people like to have a little more structure and guidance so the “What Did You Learn?” retrospective technique provides four categories of learning for people to think about, share, and discuss within a team.

Setup

Setup for this retrospective is very simple: a flip chart or whiteboard divided into four sections or columns works fine, along with a piece of paper for each person in the retrospective, divided up the same way, and sufficient markers and pens for everyone.  Here is a downloadable PDF version of the handout for the “What Did You Learn” retrospective.

The facilitator will also participate at various points if they are a member of the team (e.g. a ScrumMaster).  It is easiest to do this with a group in-person, but can also be done reasonably well with video or teleconferencing.

Process

The facilitator introduces the retrospective with a welcome and, if necessary, a recitation of the Retrospective Prime Directive.  Then, the process is described to the group.  Each of the categories of learning is also explained as follows:

  • Question MarkQuestions.  When you can formulate a question about something, it means that you have learned about a gap in your knowledge.  In other words, you have discovered something that you would like to learn.
  • Information / Data / Facts.  These are specific details that relate to some area of knowledge or skill.  This category of learning is the simplest and is often what people focus on when asked “what did you learn?”  Information tends to be dry and unemotional.
  • Insights / Concepts / “Aha!” Moments.  Often when we have a collection of facts or an experience, we see a pattern or make interesting connections between things.  This leads us to the great feeling of an insight.  Insights tend to be exciting or scary and have an emotional component.
  • Action Items.  These are decisions about what we would like to do in the future, but they could be extremely short-term or very long-term or anything in between.

There are three main stages in the retrospective as follows:

  1. Individual Reflection.  For 10 to 15 minutes, each individual works silently to write down the things that they have learned in the appropriate category on the handout.  Everyone should try to get at least a couple things into each of the four categories, but more is welcome.
  2. Sharing with the Group.  Systematically going around the group and getting people to read from what they have written.  This is another 10 to 15 minutes.  This stage should not get bogged down in discussion, but brief clarifying questions should be welcome.
  3. Identifying Important Learning.  The group now has open discussion to decide on a small number of things it considers the most important that it has learned.  This could be based on popularity, but impact, depth, or uniqueness might also be factors in considering importance.  These are the items that get written down on the flip-chart.  This is usually the longest part of the retrospective and can take up to 30 minutes.

Applicability

This is an excellent retrospective for a team that is going through a significant transition such as starting a new project, a major change in business direction for a product, or as a wrap up technique for sharing lessons learned with other parts of an organization.  It is not a good technique for a brand new team that hasn’t worked together before as there will be little common ground for deciding on the importance of peoples’ various shared learning.

About the Author

Mishkin Berteig is the President and Co-Founder of Berteig Consulting Inc. He has been Mishkin Berteigtraining, coaching and consulting for organizations adopting Agile methods since 2001 and is committed to helping individuals, teams and organizations apply Agile methods. Mishkin is a Certified Scrum Trainer, and qualified to deliver OpenAgile and Agile Project Management training.  He has developed and delivered Agile training both in public and in-house seminars for over 3000 people in Canada and abroad. Courses have been as short as three hour intro-style and as long as five day boot-camp-style, and audiences have ranged from junior team members to senior executives. He has also assisted organizations of all sizes to make the transformation from traditional methods to Agile/Scrum methods (Extreme Programming, Scrum, Lean, OpenAgile).  Assistance includes Agile Engineering Practices, Agile teamwork, Agile project and product management, Agile management and executive management.

Tips to Start Agile in a Hostile Environment – Part 2

By Mishkin Berteig
President, Co-Founder of Berteig Consulting

This is Part 2 to a two-part series by guest author Mishkin Berteig. The original version of this article can be found on his Agile Advice blog.

Although Agile methods are very popular (particularly Scrum), there are still many organizations or departments which may not yet have official support for adopting Agile methods formally.  In some cases, management may even be hostile to the concepts and practices of Agile methods.  If you are interested in Agile, you don’t have to give up hope (or look to switch jobs).  Instead, here are some tips to start using Agile methods even in hostile environments.

Read “Fearless Change”

I can’t recommend this one enough!  Read “Fearless Change” by Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising.  This is a “patterns” book.  It is a collection of techniques that can be applied to help make organizational changes, where each technique has its own unique context of use.  Lots of research and experience have gone into the creation of this book and it is a classic for anyone who wants to be an organizational change agent.  Patterns include basics such as “Do Lunch” to help build trust and agreement with your ideas for change or “Champion Skeptic” to leverage the value of having systematic, open criticism of your change idea.

Don’t Call it “Agile”

This isn’t really a “tip” in the sense of an action item.  Instead, this is a preventative measure… to prevent negative reactions to your proposals for change.  The words “Agile” or “Scrum”, while they have their supporters, also have detractors.  To avoid some of the prejudices that some people may hold, you can start by _not_ calling your effort by those names.  Use another name.  Or let your ideas go nameless.  This can be challenging, particularly if other people start to use the words “Agile” or “Scrum”.  By going nameless into the change effort, people will focus more on results and rational assessment of your ideas rather than on their emotional prejudices.

A minor variant of this is to “brand” your ideas in a way that makes them more palatable. One company that we worked with, let’s call them XYZ, called their custom Agile method “Agile @ XYZ”.  Just those extra four symbols “@ XYZ” made all the difference in changing the effort from one where managers and executives would resist the change to one where they would feel connected to the change.

Get Some Training

Okay, some blatant self-promotion here: consider our Certified Real Agility Coach training program.  It’s a 40-week program that takes about 12 hours/week of your time for coursework.  The next cohort of participants starts in June 2015 and we are taking deposits for participants.  This training is comprehensive, top-notch training for anyone wishing to become an organizational change agent focusing on Agility.

Talent Development Centre subscribers can get 25% off Agile training! Visit www.worldmindware.com and use promocode EPR-25-CSM-MV4A for Certified ScrumMaster courses and promocode EPR-25-CSPO-QE7X for Certified Scrum Product Owner courses.

About the Author

Mishkin Berteig is the President and Co-Founder of Berteig Consulting Inc. He has been Mishkin Berteigtraining, coaching and consulting for organizations adopting Agile methods since 2001 and is committed to helping individuals, teams and organizations apply Agile methods. Mishkin is a Certified Scrum Trainer, and qualified to deliver OpenAgile and Agile Project Management training.  He has developed and delivered Agile training both in public and in-house seminars for over 3000 people in Canada and abroad. Courses have been as short as three hour intro-style and as long as five day boot-camp-style, and audiences have ranged from junior team members to senior executives. He has also assisted organizations of all sizes to make the transformation from traditional methods to Agile/Scrum methods (Extreme Programming, Scrum, Lean, OpenAgile).  Assistance includes Agile Engineering Practices, Agile teamwork, Agile project and product management, Agile management and executive management.

Tips to Start Agile in a Hostile Environment – Part 1

By Mishkin Berteig
President, Co-Founder of Berteig Consulting

The original version of this article can be found on Mishkin Berteig’s Agile Advice blog.

Although Agile methods are very popular (particularly Scrum), there are still many organizations or departments which may not yet have official support for adopting Agile methods formally.  In some cases, management may even be hostile to the concepts and practices of Agile methods.  If you are interested in Agile, you don’t have to give up hope (or look to switch jobs).  Instead, here are some tips to start using Agile methods even in hostile environments.

Regular Retrospectives

Some Agilists claim that the retrospective is actually the key to being Agile.  In some ways, this is also the easiest practice to introduce into an organization.  Start with “easy” retrospectives like “Pluses and Deltas” or “Starfish“.  These are retrospectives that can be done in 15 minutes or half an hour.  Try to do them with your team weekly.  If you are a team lead or a project manager, it will be easy to include this as part of an existing weekly status meeting.  If you are “just” a team member, you might have to get some modest amount of permission.

So why would it be good to do a retrospective?  Because it’s a high return-on-investment activity.  For a few minutes of investment, a team using retrospectives can become aware of dramatic opportunities for improvement in how they are functioning.   Here are a couple more articles about the importance of retrospectives:

Practice-by-Practice

Although I strongly recommend starting with retrospectives, sometimes that’s not the best
way to start.  Myself, my first formal Agile environment, I started with the Daily Scrum.  Another time less formal, I started with Test-Driven Development.  In both cases, starting with a single practice, done well, led to adding additional practices over a relatively short period of months.  This gradual adoption of practices led, in time, to attracting positive interest from managers and leaders.  This is the practice-by-practice approach.  Start with a simple Agile practice that you can do without asking anyone for permission.  Make sure it is a practice that makes sense for your particular environment – it must produce some benefit!  If you are technical contributor on a team, then practices such as refactoring or test-driven development can be a good place to start.  If you are more business-oriented, then maybe consider user stories or one of the Innovation Games.  If you are responsible for administrative aspects of the work, then consider a Kanban board or burndown charts.

It is important to get the chosen practice done consistently and done well, even when the team is struggling with some sort of crisis or another.  If the practice can’t be sustained through a project crisis, then you won’t be able to build on it to add additional Agile practices.

Stealth Project

Sometimes you get an unusual opportunity: a project that is funded but hidden from the bureaucracy.  This can happen for a variety of reasons, but often it is because some executive has a pet project and says (effectively): “make it so”.  This is an opportunity to do Agile.  Since there is little oversight from a process perspective, and since the overall project has a strong executive sponsor, there is often a great deal of freedom on the question of “how do we actually execute.”  There can be challenges as well: often the executive wants daily insight into progress, but that level of transparency is actually something that Agile methods can really support.  In this case, there is no need to ask anyone on what method to use, just pick one (e.g. Scrum or OpenAgile or XP or Kanban or Crystal or…) and go for it.  Don’t talk about it.

The “just do it” approach requires that you have some influence.  You don’t have to be an influencer, but you need connections and you need charisma and you need courage.  If you don’t have at least two of those three, you shouldn’t try this approach.  You have to do things and get away with things that normally would get people fired – not because they are illegal – but simply because they are so counter-cultural to how your organization normally works.  Here are a few comments on Stealth Methodology Adoption.

Co-Conspirators

There’s nothing like working with a band of rebels!  If you can find one or two other people to become co-conspirators in changing your organization, you can try many lines of action and see which ones work.  Getting together for lunch or after work frequently is the best way to develop a common vision and to make plans.  Of course, you need to actually execute some of your plans.  Having people to work with is really part of the other tips here: you can have co-conspirators to help you launch a practice-by-practice Agile transformation, for example.

But, like any rebellion, you really need to trust those you work with in these early stages.  Lacking that trust will slow everything you do possibly to the point of ineffectualness.  Trust means that you have, for some time, a formal vow of silence.  Not until you have critical mass through your mutual efforts can you reveal the plan behind your actions.

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About the Author

Mishkin BerteigMishkin Berteig is the President and Co-Founder of Berteig Consulting Inc. He has been training, coaching and consulting for organizations adopting Agile methods since 2001 and is committed to helping individuals, teams and organizations apply Agile methods. Mishkin is a Certified Scrum Trainer, and qualified to deliver OpenAgile and Agile Project Management training.  He has developed and delivered Agile training both in public and in-house seminars for over 3000 people in Canada and abroad. Courses have been as short as three hour intro-style and as long as five day boot-camp-style, and audiences have ranged from junior team members to senior executives. He has also assisted organizations of all sizes to make the transformation from traditional methods to Agile/Scrum methods (Extreme Programming, Scrum, Lean, OpenAgile).  Assistance includes Agile Engineering Practices, Agile teamwork, Agile project and product management, Agile management and executive management.