Agile – An Honest Reflection

Image – George Hodan, publicdomainpictures.net

Following Agile Without Knowing It?

I had this simple question Have we been following Agile for all the successful projects without knowing that we are following Agile.  Here are some thoughts which I would like to share from my experience and would like to know your experiences.

What We Used To Do

When I started writing programs long ago (about 25 years ago) in dBase III Plus I used to directly interact with the business user, who could be an accountant or a supervisor on the shop floor to understand the steps/tasks in the process and build programs to automate those tasks.  It was such an exciting period.  There was no or minimum documentation, only direct interaction and visible deliverables in the form of reports, screens etc.  The only objective was to give what business wants and (more), that would result in great value for them.  Every couple of days, I would build something and show to the user, they test and tell me what is correct and what is not as expected (they start using what is working!).  That way, most of the developers in MIS department used to work with business to get to a point where the user sees maximum value in the given program (only restriction for business was that a developer used to be assigned for a fixed period).  When I compare what we followed years ago to the Agile manifesto, it just resounds.  I am sure there are many who would have experienced the same.

What Do We Measure?

Later in the following years software development, gradually moved into a phase where they started measuring their value by timelines, cost, quality (as per their own definition – bugs, rework etc.) and many other criteria which is more focused to show case development team value.  While this is important, even more important is to measure the business value created by development team which I think is missing in most cases.

Dismal Project Failures

We all know, in spite of several process innovations in the software development, there are less and less number of projects actually successful.  I would provide reference to the latest “Pulse of the profession” from PMI (http://www.pmi.org/Learning/Pulse.aspx) –

Fewer projects are being completed within budget or meeting original goals and business intent. More projects are actually failing and creating significant monetary loss for their organizations.  

Of course, these include all projects (not only software projects).

I do not want to mention about the projects which are not meeting the business intent.  But would like to mention about the projects which are getting successfully delivered and meeting the business intent (which are less of course).  How are these few projects meeting the business intent?  How are they successful?

And Then Came Agile

From my experience, and it is a known fact too that every successful project no matter which methodology is followed, delivered value to business, made customers happy and delighted.  In doing so (in my view), the teams working on successful projects followed Agile manifesto inadvertently.

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

I don’t remember to have come across any successful project which did not follow these.

Spirit of Agile

One example I would like to highlight is from a typical waterfall projects.  How many successful project managers and teams would agree (HONESTLY AGREE) that during the business testing phase, there is more interaction (ignoring the processes, if any, which would impede these interactions), get into seamless collaboration with customer, no or minimum documentation (no time in the first place to document).  Also, during this phase, the team would accommodate majority of the changes to make the business happy and sees value in what is being delivered (of course based on priority).  Agree, all this creates more agony to the people developing software as well as testers who are testing.  But this is the price teams pay for success.

The point I am trying to make is, though in theory, there are successful projects which are not identified as following Agile but in terms of practical purposes any successful project no matter what methodology is followed would have followed Agile Manifesto without knowing that these are Agile.

Please do share your thoughts and experiences.

To Be A Great Leader, Use This Body Part Skillfully

Prabhaker Panditi's blog (image courtesy Виталий Смолыгин, publicdomainpictures.net)

Image: Виталий Смолыгин, publicdomainpictures.net

Leader and The Body Part

To become a great leader, you should use the right body part in the right way.  When it comes to leadership, not all body parts are created equal. Some are more powerful than others!

Most people maintain an almost grotesque imbalance in the use of their mouth vs ears, in the emphasis on speaking vs listening. Speaking seems to dominate. One reason is that everyone likes to listen to their voice. Another is the opportunity for self-expression, to say what we think, what we like and what we think others should like!

There’s nothing wrong in self-expression, in using your mouth. But it must be balanced with something more important, something that will actually bring greater results to you as a leader: listening. You need to use your ears as much as, if not more than, you use your mouth.

 

Why Active Listening Will Fail

I once read a comic where a husband asks his wife “how can you say that I am not listening to you? Don’t you see me leaning towards you, nodding my head often, keeping eye contact,  and even rephrasing back what you say?” Active listening, it seems does not always work!

Active listening techniques will not work without the right intention, presence and an open mind. Bereft of these, it will only make you appear phony, as the husband in the cartoon discovered.

 

Hearing Vs Listening

We cannot close our ears. So, aren’t we listening all the time? No. There is a different between mere hearing and listening. Hearing indicates only the physical interaction of the sound waves, ear and the brain. It can be passive. Listening on the other hand is an active process of trying to understand what is being said. You can hear without listening.

On reading this, you might think ‘active listening’ is the answer. Active listening has become a buzz word, a promise for quick fix, another ridiculous self-help promise to “influence people in 60 seconds or less!”

 

“Leaders use their ears differently. They back their ears up with their heart and mind.”

 

Listening is not about a few techniques. It is about intention, about presence, about keeping an open minded.

 

INTENTION

It is possible to pretend to be listening while you are preparing for what to say next. This is a common phenomena most of us experience at some point or other. To avoid this trap, start with the right intention.  Do you desire, really, deeply want to understand the other person? Do you care about him or her? Once you establish this, your energies will be automatically focused where they belong: towards the other person.

 

PRESENCE

Sometimes our mind is 100 feet away from our body! When you are not present, you are there physically, thinking you are paying attention. But you are preoccupied with something else. At best, you are going through the motions.

 

“You may not realize it, but others can feel your lack of presence.”  

 

When you are present, on the other hand, you are fully in the moment, immersed, without the constant stream of thoughts and distractions going through your mind. Think of a time you were with your child or someone you really care. That is what presence feels like.

 

OPEN MIND

Having an open mind is to be receptive to other ideas. It is to give up preconceived and self-baked theories. If you are open minded, you are curious. You ask open ended questions to invite opinions and ideas. You genuinely appreciate others’ views. You may not always agree to what others say. But you respect their opinions and consider them in light of the discussions.

 

Become A Better Leader

In summary, use your ears more than you use your mouth. Instead of relying on some mechanical script for active listening, begin with an intention to listen, ensure your presence and keep an open mind. If you do this, you will be better leader than you are today.

5 Robot-Friendly Tips You Should Never Use With Human Teams

Image courtesy: Tanya Hall, publicdomainpictures.net

Image courtesy: Tanya Hall, publicdomainpictures.net

Leading a team of robots can be both challenging and frustrating. You need special skills, attitude and instincts. Here are 5 tips to lead them effectively:

1. Watch out for emotions

Robots are notoriously unemotional. They are strictly logical beings. So, carefully avoid all emotions.  If any robot displays signs of emotions, immediately quelch it: it is unnatural. This may be a sign of malfunction. You should strive to keep your own emotions bottled up as well. Be strictly logical.

Alas, this approach will not work for leading human teams.   Neuroscience is increasingly discovering that human beings are not only emotional but emotions actually help in making the right decisions.   While uncontrolled emotions can have a downside,  emotions guide us in selecting the right information to make crucial decisions. Take emotions away, and humans display a pathetic lack of even basic decision making skills.

2. Avoid Humor

Mechanical, as they are, robots don’t appreciate humor. Don’t waste your energy by dwelling on the lighter side of life. Ditch those Dilbert cartoons and smilies.

If your team team is made up of human beings, on the other hand, recognize that humor is essential.  A timely senses of humor may make a difficult or embarrassing situation easy. Research is unambiguous — these days, work stress is high, engagement levels are plummeting. Humor comes to the rescue. Appropriate humor reduces stress, improves morale, increases creativity.

3. Give detailed instructions

When dealing with robots, merely defining what to do is not enough. Tell them ‘how’ to do the work as well.  Map out every step, every criteria, every detail.   Leave little room for thinking.

You guessed it! This technique does not work for human teams. People perform at their best when they are given a high level goal and are left to themselves to figure out how to achieve it. If you really want their greatest creativity, motivation and commitment, go a step further: tell them also ‘why’ the work is essential. Purpose unleashes hidden reservoirs of energy.

4. Keep them apart

Except where coordination tasks and touch points are clearly engineered, robots work well in isolation. So, don’t bother to encourage them to communicate with one another. In fact, if you find two robot getting together in an un-engineered situation, be suspicious. A sicence-fiction like situation may be on the anvil.

For humans, as scientists  are discovering, social connection ranks right up there with food and shelter. Collaboration dramatically increases ideas.  Having even one person whom you can trust and talk to at work can increase engagement, reduce stress boost well being. So, for your human team, the ‘keeping them apart’ does not work. Find ways to get people to work together, play together, create together.

5. Show them who’s the boss

Making robots independent may be dangerous. You need to be in charge, be in control. Otherwise, (who knows?) they may be planing to take over the planet! So, delegate responsibility but not authority. Keep the remote control with you…always.

Once again, research in unambiguous : human teams flourish when given autonomy. So, jettison this rule when dealing with humans. The more autonomy people have, they happier they are at work. Happy people are more productive, creative and engaged.

Robots vs Humans

What’s the obvious lesson? You need different approaches for leading robots and humans. Much of the agony at  work is due to leaders who apply robot-strategy to human teams. Perfect approach: wrong species! Fortunately, approaches to leading human teams can be learned.  Are you learning?

The Greatest Pitfall For A Coach Or Mentor

The greatest pitfall for a Coach or Mentor

Greatest Pitfall for a Coach or Mentor - Prabhaker Panditi

.Image Courtesy – Frits Ahlefeldt, www.publicdomainpictures.net

How to get noticed

Picture this: the teacher asks a question to a group of school children. One of the students blurts out the answer immediately. “Good. Very good” acknowledges the teacher.

The student learned an important lesson.  To get recognized, you need to jump in, be the first, seize the opportunity … as quick as light. Over the next few years, this lesson would be reinforced time and again; in the playground, during cultural events, in the college canteen.

 

What’s wrong?

This  Me-First, I-Know-IT  attitude may be helpful in some situations or for some roles.  For a coach or mentor, however, it will be a liability.

Despite the difference between the two roles, both demand some self-restraint.   You need to give space to the Coachee or Mentee, to let her discover things.  Dishing out solutions robs them of the chance to explore, to deep dive, to reflect.

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3 Signs of Radical Agile Transformation

Agile Transformation (Image Courtesy - Roland Ally, Domainpictures.net)

What indicates  radical Agile transformation?

a)  All the organizations’ projects now using Agile.

b) The organization now follows most of the Agile practices.

c) None of the above.

If you have answered ‘C’, congratulations. “Radical Agile Transformation” indicates a larger change. A shift in the culture of the organization. A rewriting of its DNA.  Using Agile in projects is a good step, but no guarantee that transformation has taken place.   Agile Principles and Practices are only the means. They are not an end in themselves.

Ends may vary.  One company may set a modest goal while another aims for a complete metamorphosis. Regardless of the goals, three broad things show a radical organization wide Agile transformation.

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The Shrink Law of Agile

Shrink Law of Agile, Prabhaker Panditi - www.LeadingAgility.com

Parkinson’s Law meets its match: The Shrink Law of Agile

How long does it take to paint the Statue of Liberty?  If a team has hundred days to clean The Titanic, how many days will they take to do it?  What if they have fifty days, instead of hundred?  Though hard to believe,  the answer to each of these questions may be same.  Each task will take the time allocated for it!

That’s Parkinson’s Law at work. Work increases to fill the time available.

C. Northcote Parkinson introduced the Law in his article in the Economist in 1955.  “The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may… leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil” he declared. Originally aimed at the  bureaucracy, you can see the Law at work in everyday situations.   The Law may sound funny, outrageous, irrational, insulting…until you look at others’ work.  Not yours of course, other peoples’. 

The Law applies to almost all human endeavor.   Exceptions are only few.  Agile  is one of them.

When the going gets tough, the tough…lower goals.

Agile not only ignores Parkinson’s Law, it actually reverses it…to start with. 

In Agile,  work reduces to fill the time available. Reduces!  I call it the Shrink Law of Agile.

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10 Mistakes To Avoid While Creating Personas in Agile

10 mistakes Agile teams make while creating personas for product development - Prabhaker Panditi, www.LeadingAgility.com

Personas represent users

Before exploring the mistakes in creating personas, take  a quick quiz: my friend John Pearson is a History Professor.  Can you guess some of his qualities? Take a moment to think.

You may have formed some idea of John Pearson just based on this single fact. How is it possible?  All you know is his name and profession.  We carry mental models or prototypes of  members of a group or category. 

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Boost Employee Engagement In Your Projects With These Tips

Employee engagement in projects - Prabhaker Panditi www.LeadingAgility.com

USA Today reported that Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent will resign from his job at the Dailly Planet newspaper.  Clark is disgusted with the degeneration of media which now provides meaningless entertainment instead of real news. More than seventy years of history comes to an end. Being a Superman, only a monumental shift in business values could disengage him from work and quit.  We mortals can be affected by lesser reasons. 

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The Psychology Behind Agile Success

Image courtesy Fran Hogan, publicdomainpictures.netYou seemed to have become invisible.  Earlier in the day, your colleague just shot a blank look at you and got back to work as if you did not exist.  Back home, your son who usually comes running to you, mechanically turned his head and resumed his computer game.  What is going on here?  For the record, you are perfectly visible.  Your colleague and your son were too absorbed in their activities. They were having a great time.

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Why And When To Move To Agile – Lessons From The Rain King

Why And When to Move to Agile, by Prabhaker Panditi, www.LeadingAgility.com

“What made me take this trip to Africa?” There is no quick explanation. Things got worse and worse and worse and pretty soon they were too complicated”. Thus begins the story of Eugene Henderson, 55-year-old American millionaire in Saul Bellow’s classic ‘Henderson the Rain King’. During his eventful journey, Henderson meets two tribes and goes through several adventures including devising an explosive to rid their cistern of frogs and instead blowing up both the water and the frogs. Later, in a dramatic incident he manages to move a giant wooden statue and is unwittingly anointed the ‘Rain King’.

Fortunately, companies need not wait for things to get “worse and worse and worse” to start creating greater shareholder wealth, more fulfilled employees and higher customer delight. They need not take a trip to Africa either. They can proactively start with Agile methods, now.

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