Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Story of Agile and the Band-Aid

I have stepped into my 12th year of  practicing Agile methods. Started with XP before embracing Scrum, Lean, Kanban.  I nearly thought we found some solution, but looks like we still have some more things to do.  Even now, organizations are looking at Agile as a silver bullet without fixing the root causes.



Here is the issue, the  issue is Agile was born mostly to banish the problems coming out of the Waterfall model. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the manifesto (screen shot on the left),  everything on the right side is all about the waterfall way of working.  Whether it is the overreliance on Tools, Processes or documentation.   Everything on the left hand side is supposed to be the Agile way of working.  There is nothing wrong with it,  but it is applying the band aid on the issues coming from the right hand side.  It looks like there was too much focus on solving the problems coming out of waterfall rather than the focusing on software delivery. I see that Agile ended up becoming just a band aid.


Why Agile is just a band  Aid ?

Couple of years ago, when every one was overwhelmed with the project failures applying the waterfall model, people wanted to get rid of this problem. Instead of fixing the problem, people started applying the band aids against the bruises, and the problem stayed back.   In the above analogy, the waterfall was more like a bruise, and it was not the real problem. 

As we know, the band aid would reduce the bleeding and provide some short term relief.  However band aid won’t stop the accidents from happening again. 

What is the real problem ?

I see that the issues that was bothering the business and development community couple of years ago was much bigger than just the waterfall.  The issues were org structure, leadership styles, complexity of the problems, etc. Waterfall was just a tip of the iceberg.  Even now, half of the Agile projects are going through a lot of struggles, and it has been proven repeatedly that  Organizational culture and communication issues are the key reasons for failed Agile projects. (See other issues in the screen shot below)


Once again, we need to remember that Agile is not going to fix the company philosophy, Agile is not going to improve the communications.  Agile, Lean and Kanban are all the band aids. The cultural issues and organizational philosophy issues, communication issues are like the accidents that keep happening and causing scratches again and again.
Unless we fix those issues, no matter what methodology we follow, the projects end up with failures and teams continue to stress out.  

You can keep applying the band aid but how long ?

It is important for delivery experts to focus more on fixing the accidents rather than keep applying the band aids.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Agile and Happiness

All of us are doing what we are doing to achieve one thing, that is the happiness.  I read this inspiring article a while ago “Searching for happiness: What makes life meaningful” ?

We dream of  living in a villa with swimming pool and  Jacuzzi. We want to live next to a river surrounded by picturesque mountains. Why do we need these things ?  Its because, imagining having these amenities gives us a sense of happiness.  We think that one day by acquiring them we would be in a “permanent” state called “happiness”.    Is this really possible ?

Personally, I feel that happiness is a journey and a state of mind. There is no permanent state called “happiness”, and a person gets happiness by conquering challenges. No challenge and no happiness.  So, happiness is an ongoing exercise of chasing challenges, conquering and experiencing it. I get happiness when I spend time with loved ones or some one writes some good words about an article. I get happiness when I clear the challenging  “driving test” or complete a presentation in front of “challenging” audience. 

Now, let us look at how Agile and Happiness are related…  

I see a lot of organizations craving for Agility, and it reminds me of human beings craving for happiness.  The organizations invest a lot of  money to become “Agile". This is akin to the the waterfall era where organizations used to crave for CMM certifications. During the waterfall era, the companies thought having CMM 5 certification would enable them to reach kind of “Nirvana” or a “final state” of excellence.  Anyways, now it is history that it was proven wrong.

With the popularity of Agile, the companies are now craving for the Nirvana called “Agile”.  When 4 Agilists from 4 different companies get together, they would always discuss if their company is “Agile” or not.  They talk about Flickr doing 10 deployments a day, compare it to their own and beat themselves up .  There is a perception that if a company is able to do “10” deployments per day or do a Continuous  Integration then they are an “Agile” company.  This is very similar to human beings assuming that they would be in a state of “permanent” happiness when they acquire house and Jacuzzi, living next to the river. Is this really true that there is a final state called “Agile” ?    

I personally think that,  being “agile” is truly what makes a company as “Agile”.  Just like how happiness is a journey and there is no “permanent” state called happiness, being “agile” is a journey and there is no final/permanent state called “Agile”.

As long as the company is going through a journey of continuous improvement and moving in the right direction, they are “Agile”.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Customer experience is as important as Quality

image Toyota has become a synonym for quality, profitability and discipline.  You ask anyone for advice about purchasing car, they say go with Toyota. Because of its good reputation, it seems to have a good resale value, as well. However, today I heard an interesting story from a friend about a very bad experience dealing with Toyota salesman. He vowed he won’t go back to Toyota again.

Here is the story, one of my friends interested in buying the Toyota car called one of the Toyota dealers. The sales-person promised him a host of things, and after a great deal of negotiations for 3 hours the salesperson turns around and says, sorry he cannot give anything he promised. The reason he quotes it seems that he wants to help, but his manager does not want. The promises salesperson has made would cause a loss to the dealership  !!!  Very interesting reply isn’t it ?

My friend obviously thinks the Toyota sales guy wasted 3 hours of his time, and salesperson could have checked with his manager before promising anything.

Probably, this is a rare instance with a Toyota salesperson, but it has created a bad experience about the Toyota product. 

While I patiently listened to his story, one thing I realized was “A company could build a fascinating product applying a lean process or Agile method with a precision quality. However, In the end, if the end customer is not treated properly with respect and ethically, no matter how great the product is it won’t succeed.”

I visited Toyota website to see their promise to customers. You won’t believe this, their promise has everything except a customer satisfaction (see the screen shot below). 


I can build a innovative, quality and a safety product but if I treat my customers unethically or leave them dissatisfied will they come back ?

I can now see why Steve Jobs insisted on owning and running the Apple retail stores instead of giving a free hand to anybody and every body.  Probably, he knew that  building a customer loving product is not sufficient but leaving the end customer with a fascinating experience is important, as well.

For smaller items like Phones or clothes, the dealers and salesperson could impact consumer experience. However, if we are ordering a large goods like a TV or Refrigerator the shipping company or the courier service could influence the consumer behavior, as well.

If the courier boys do any damage during shipping and installing the items, “or”  they behave impolitely with the end customers, the impact will be more on the “actual brand” of the product rather than the shipping company.   

I have noticed that, while we share our experiences with our friends and families we always remember the product rather than the shipping company name. For example, we always say, while I ordered “XYZ” model TV, I had a terrible experience !!

After the above mentioned experience with the Toyota salesperson my friend is now saying, I had a terrible experience with Toyota !!

Do you have any such experiences where the salesperson left you with a bad feeling, and what was your response in terms of purchasing decision ?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Social Contract is not a place to resolve conflicts

image I am sure all of us have participated in creation of team social contracts at one time or the other.  After reviewing so many Agile projects since the last several years, I have seen a unique correlation between what goes in the social contracts with the team dynamics.

Social contracts as we know are created by the team and they manage it.  The items that enter the social contracts should help the team to create a positive and happy environment to work.  Social contacts shouldn’t be used to resolve the conflicts in the team. 

If the social contracts have items like “Don’t yell at your colleagues”  or  “Don’t throw rubbish on the floor”,   I feel that there is some sense of urgency to see what’s happening in the team !!

Let us take the simple example of  “Don’t throw rubbish on the floor”.  Most of us will try to keep the working area clean. Even by any chance, we spill something immediately we  make it point to clean it.   Most of these issues related to cleaning and Hygiene  are resolved or “should” be resolved through one on one discussions.   If the team is unable to resolve it collaboratively and are relying on social contract to fix them, then there is a bigger issue to worry about.

Let me conclude this by asking: How does your social contract look ?  Why did each of those items land in there ?  What was going on in your team’s mind ?

Design Testing : Improve software testing quality through this innovative way

image Design Testing,  is one of the concepts that I have come up with to improve the quality of software testing.  Since the inspiration behind this thought was Design Thinking, I have kept the name Design Testing.

Design Testing,  was created due to the frustration in the way testing is currently handled in the software industry. Test cases and discussions with product owners are the source of testing for testers.  However, most of the test cases are created based on hypothetical test scenarios and documents.  I believe that testing quality can be improved if the testers get to see the real world customers and their use of product. 

If you want to learn more about this technique, read the rest of the article here           image Photo courtesy:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Design Thinking + Scrum + Lean Start up = Make customer happy

image Do you want to build repeatedly build products that customers love ?   Do you want to know some of the Scrum’s weakness and find ways to strengthen it before it is too late ?

Recently I have proposed new ideas around building innovative products that customers love by suitably using the right mix of tools from Scrum, Design Thinking and Lean Startup concept.

If you are interested in learning this secret recipe, check out the recently published Cutter article here



Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Is Agile good enough for innovation?

Recently I shared my views about  Agile and its role in Innovation.  There is a myth that just by embracing Agile or Lean, one could build innovative products.  Based on my personal experience working in several research projects and being part of innovation team, I have found that we need much more than Agile.  We need  a good support from Leadership, Conscious effort to have diverse thinking team and right tools.

I covered this topic today with lovely Melbournians at The Apartment.   The slides are available here.  

Some of the screen shots of the slides below:

image image image

2 monkeys paid unequally – Impact of unequal pay

See the reaction of the monkeys when they are paid unequally ?  

Watch this video by clicking    this link


From a TED talk by Frans de Waal, a primatologist, ethologist, and professor of primate behavior at Emory University.