Exploring Agility

Photo by Lisandro M. Enrique

Photo by Lisandro M. Enrique

Have you noticed that “agile” and “agility” seem to be everywhere?

First I saw articles about “agile teams”—teams that could be assembled and disbanded quickly. A different perspective than the long-lived, stable teams commonly promoted in agile software development. I heard Heidi Helfand’s case report on Dynamic Reteaming, and it made sense to me. Now I’m reading Amy Edmondson’s Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy to explore it further.

Beyond that, I’ve been learning about relationships as systems. Noticing roles that are occupied and not occupied within relationship. Recognizing when there is clear alignment and when there is not. Increasing the amount of positivity in order to strengthen a relationship. Relationships can enable, hinder, withstand, and resist change; they can be seen as a building block of agility.

Then there’s emotional agility. Acknowledging your emotions and working with them rather than against them. Our emotions shape our lives.

Psychologist Susan David shares how the way we deal with our emotions shapes everything that matters: our actions, careers, relationships, health and happiness. In this deeply moving, humorous and potentially life-changing talk, she challenges a culture that prizes positivity over emotional truth and discusses the powerful strategies of emotional agility.

Similarly, I’ve been reading Anese Cavanaugh’s Contagious Culture, which delves into your personal presence and how to reboot yourself. It’s energetic agility to better achieve your intentions.

Also in the realm of personal agility is the application of design thinking to your future. Creating a meaningful and joyful life through brainstorming and prototypes. Check out Designing Your Life to figure out how.

Of course, as an agile coach, I can’t help but continue to learn about agile in software development too. The Agile Fluency project is deepening my understanding of agility. I’m paying more attention to practices and putting a softer focus on frameworks. How much agility is needed by an organization, and what’s the investment to achieve it?

With “agile” appearing everywhere, it would be easy to say that it has lost its meaning. I’m hoping to discover its core instead.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Going Through the Motions

Photo by Drriss & Marrionn

Photo by Drriss & Marrionn

Agility requires discipline.  Not because agile frameworks prescribe certain events or practices to be followed but because it takes concerted effort to remember the why and not just the what or how.  Agile is not a rigorous process.  It's a set of values and principles to be upheld, but it remains open to interpretation within a given context.  Like a compass to guide one during a journey.

We do not want our teams to come to the office day in and day out going through a given routine, following rituals and upholding traditions--if teams do not understand why routines, rituals, and traditions exist, how do they know they're getting the right things from them?  It reminds me of the Pot Roast story:

A young woman is preparing a pot roast while her friend looks on.  She cuts off both ends of the roast, prepares it and puts it in the pan.  “Why do you cut off the ends?” her friend asks.  “I don’t know”, she replies.  “My mother always did it that way and I learned how to cook it from her.”

Her friend’s question made her curious about her pot roast preparation.  During her next visit home, she asked her mother, “How do you cook a pot roast?”  Her mother proceeded to explain and added, “You cut off both ends, prepare it and put it in the pot and then in the oven.”  “Why do you cut off the ends?” the daughter asked.  Baffled, the mother offered, “That’s how my mother did it and I learned it from her!”

Her daughter’s inquiry made the mother think more about the pot roast preparation.  When she next visited her mother in the nursing home, she asked, “Mom, how do you cook a pot roast?”  The mother slowly answered, thinking between sentences.  “Well, you prepare it with spices, cut off both ends and put it in the pot.”  The mother asked, “But why do you cut off the ends?”  The grandmother’s eyes sparkled as she remembered.   “Well, the roasts were always bigger than the pot that we had back then.  I had to cut off the ends to fit it into the pot that I owned.”

If continuous improvement could be automated like machine work, we would automate it.  But the heart of agility relies on people, and it can be wasteful for people to go through motions without understanding the underlying why.  Coaching helps remind us of the why so we can determine how to get the what that is needed.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Agility and Portfolio Management

Photo by lance robotson

Photo by lance robotson

When I think of agility and portfolio management, I often think of Jim Highsmith's wise words: Do Less.  Focus on value delivery, and be ruthless in stopping the projects that are not delivering value--look at the ROI of a project's backlog.  

This afternoon I found myself thinking about how to identify the "right" number of projects that can be worked simultaneously in an organization before the complexity of the portfolio begins to slow down the individual project deliveries, and the subject was touched on briefly during tonight's Dallas Agile Leadership Network meeting.  Managing a single project isn't easy, and the complexity compounds when additional projects are being run at the same time.  How do you manage dependencies?  Risks?  Communication?  How many test environments are needed?  What tools are needed?  Are the teams co-located or distributed?  What other areas of the organization need to be involved?

I often coach teams to create big visible charts to help them manage their work--visibility helps ensure the team is on the same page and able to make decisions effectively together.  I'd like to see organizations creating big visible charts to help them manage their portfolios.  My initial thought is to use a kanban board to see the status of projects and monitor their cycle time.  My coworker Jay Packlick defines agility as an organization's ability to make and execute decisions quickly.  I ask, how can an organization make decisions quickly if it cannot clearly see its portfolio?  If project cycle times are too long for the organization to be competitive, how can it adjust?  What projects deserve the most attention?  Which projects have achieved a reasonable ROI and should be stopped?

Does it feel like your organization is trying to do too much?  There's a flurry of activity but the results leave something to be desired?  I suggest looking at your portfolio.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.