Talking with organisations who want to use agile techniques I sense a fear about whether they are going to get it right and what might happen if they make a mistake. It’s enough to stop them trying and certainly enough to stop them fully committing – here lies a big problem.
The first thing to say is that you are not alone. When I first started using agile techniques I knew very little about it, I understood the high level concepts, probably didn’t really understand the benefits and was confused by the terminology which frankly I found unnecessarily complicated. Worse than that, agile ‘experts’ were quick to point out what I was saying and doing incorrectly, almost mocking my attempts but without providing any solid logic as to why I was wrong… only now do I realise that they didn’t tell me because they didn’t know.
The language used within the agile methodology pushes people away and gives the impression that everyone knows how to ‘do’ agile apart from you. Once it’s explained that agile terminology is mostly a re-badging of concepts you are already familiar with (is a backlog really much more than a ‘to do’ list??) and that most of agile is common sense, people start to relax and feel that they can break into the sacred circle.
I’m a big fan of companies who are trying any kind of iterative delivery techniques because I’m convinced they will produce better results than with waterfall. It doesn’t have to be ‘pure agile’ (whatever your definition of that is) but one thing I can absolutely guarantee is that trying to implement agile half heartedly is unlikely to result in success and will not allow you to realise the full benefits. The result is that you will burn money, time and effort and further demotivate your teams.
It’s more common than you might think for a client to say “we won’t be able to get business representation because they are so busy but we’ll just go ahead without it”. STOP. You would be better to continue using waterfall if you can’t commit to providing the basic resources that will make agile a success. That doesn’t mean you can’t compromise, I’ve worked on programmes where product owners only sat with the team 2 days per week, for the other 3 days they gave up 2 hours a day for questions and collaboration over an iPad video call – it’s not ideal but it’s better than delivering a solution with no business input.
Let’s be honest, the term ‘agile’ is completely over used, my prediction is that we’re heading for a change… whenever a term is broad, not particularly well defined and used in almost every sentence by people who in most cases have never actually worked in an agile team then it’s heading for extinction – that doesn’t mean the concepts are wrong, far from it.
If you’re going to commit to trying agile then truly commit to it, get senior endorsement and then demand the resources you need in order to make it a success – don’t cross the starting line without them. Start small, deliver success and you will be amazed at the positive response and encouragement you’ll receive to do more of the same. Most of all, don’t be afraid to fail because it’s a natural part of the process and teaches you a huge amount, just make sure you adapt in order to avoid the same mistakes on your next attempt.
The UK Government Digital Service (GDS) recently published a Cloud Guide for public sector and it’s a great read.