Agile India 2014 Conference – large scale distributed agile development

AgileIndia2014_LogoBig
For 10 years, the Agile Software Community of India has been holding this conference now, with ever growing numbers and great names from everywhere. With more than 1200 participants, more than 250 of these from other countries than India, extending from Norway to New Zealand, from Indonesia to Ukraine, and more than 300 women, Agile India 2014 was a huge and really diverse agile conference.
 In the previous years, I had already received positive impressions from the colleagues in Bangalore. This year I had the pleasure of participating for the first time myself, presenting the story of our Distributed Product Owner Team for an Agile Medical Development. The process of selection of topics and feedback was very well prepared and community based. While everybody could see the proposals, ask questions and comment on them, the members of the program committee took care that this would happen consistently, and did a lot of it themselves as well. For the topics selected by them, also an extended paper was necessary with a case study, which also underwent a feedback and approval process, in my case by Ravi Kumar and Pramod Sadalage .
During my presentation

During my presentation

Fortunately, I had work to do in India as well – start up trainings for a few new Scrum teams at our company – so I already had the justification for going. On the other hand, I had enough work to do so that I could not consider going to the other conference days, apart from the one I was speaking at. So I can only talk about the Offshore Distributed Agile track.

Todd Little presenting

Todd Little presenting

I enjoyed Todd Little’s keynote in the morning very much. One of the key messages that resonated most in me was „We need to treat remote teams not as coding monkeys but empowered Ewok.“ I hope as software specialist, you are familiar with the Star Wars universe and do not need to look them up in Jedipedia.Todd said exactly what we are trying to do in our big, distributed product development, and my mission to Bangalore was part of it: make the remote teams self-organizing, trusted members of our diverse product development universe. Only that in Todd’s presentation, it turned out that he only needed to add a few software developers with a domain specialist in Romania and a small test automation specialists’ team in Vietnam to his original group in the US – and they were already very successful. So: adding the right people for a good reason, valuing the individuals over corporate strategic outsourcing strategies.

The other talk I remember well was from Rajkumar Anantharaman from Intel, who stated „If you want to go lean and agile, first you need to get rid of Excel and PowerPoint“. This was of course not aimed at a nice PowerPoint by the Product Owner showing some functionality the users ask for, but at getting rid of the additional reporting needs that keep teams busy with overhead.
The venue was a bit resisting the actual number of people participating, it is certainly difficult to predict, but maybe another year they will be better off in a congress center. A difference with the European agile conferences I have been attending like ALE or XP was certainly that there were much more business-people than agile coaches hugging each others. Maybe even most agile coaches look like business people in Asia. In all cases it is very important going to India and seeing what is going on there, noticing how people discuss, what they hold as granted in agile, and what they have still doubts about.
At the panel discussion with Doc Norton (groupon) and Chad Wathington, ThoughtWorks Studios

Participation in the panel discussion with Doc Norton (groupon) and Chad Wathington, ThoughtWorks Studios

More or less, the other speakers confirmed what I have learned from our own experience: there is not the question whether or not agile is going to work with distributed organizations and teams in India, but how to make it work. You can do a pretty lot of things right or wrong, and even terribly wrong, but you can just as well be successful if you are doing many things right.  At the end of the track, there was a quite interesting panel discussion facilitated by Naresh Jain: Offshore Agile…An Oxymoron? There were a lot of interesting topics discussed. Where I could definitely contribute was when someone asked the panel whether they could just take a framework like SAFE and apply it to a big distributed product development organization to make it agile. According to my experience, though such frameworks can help, every organization has their own challenges, their constraints, and their organizational culture. Whatever lean-agile framework they will build, they need to build it on their own – but of course, taking as input the experiences of others, and agile frameworks as well as wonderful books like Bas Vodde’s and Craig Larman’s „Scaling lean and agile development“.
Photos used by courtesy of  Agile India (c)

Large Scale Agile at XP2013 Vienna – exchanging knowledge at a great conference!

From my perspective, the 14th International Conference on Agile Software Development XP2013 in Vienna was a great success. It took me to another level of confidence about what is needed to create and sustain a large scale agile organization.

The XP conferences are traditionally about programming and testing in an agile – XP – way, and organizing the team so that it supports XP practices. But they have grown into a conference that also covers  product ownership and design, leading agile teams and organizations, and even extending agile to the rest of the organization – this is agile real life in the industry.  What I like very much at XP conferences in general is the good mixture of experienced agile people from industry, some very well known consultants, and a lot of academic researchers who also are working close to industry about agile topics.

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(Photo: Hubert Baumeister)

On the first day I got absorbed by the Executives & Managers Track with firsthand experience from four different companies: ABB, Ericsson, Johnson Controls and Nokia. Most valuable! The managers were speaking openly about what it takes to get agile, how their company transformation programs took one step after the other to establish agile on all levels. And this is still an unfinished journey, but it has a clear north. An important point from the talk of Hendrik Esser, who is Head of Portfolio and Technology Management at Ericsson, is

To embrace change, you have to change 3 things together
· Culture
· Practices and process
· Structure

You should never see agile as a process only, this will inevitably lead to failure. The most important cultural foundation for the agile transformation is building trust, and on top of the trust you can build transparency.

These three important transformations were mentioned by Per Branger from ABB in Sweden, but are basically identical to what Ericsson is doing:
· Continuous Portfolio Management
· Continuous Release Management
· Continuous Development

When they noticed at ABB that they are really a big software developing company, coming from a background of electrical engineering, they launched a massive knowledge and skills improvement program. The remarkable thing is that they measure progress by self-assessment of every developer against description of expected skills, and that the training comes in small portions and by self-assignment as well. Wiki based knowledge bases and Q&A tools that remind a bit of the famous stackoverflow website support the learning as well.  “Carrots, no sticks” opens also the path to using common tools.

Gregory Yon is Agile Coach at Johnson Controls and talked about how he is extending agile into the rest of the organization, to the non-development teams as well as convincing different levels of management from the agile values and needs. From him as well as from the other managers I learned that we can never communicate too much to higher management about the advantages of agile, and that we need  to measure things and compare with previous projects to show how we have advanced since the old times of waterfall.

Jorgen Hesselberg, Senior Manager, Enterprise Agile Transformation, Nokia (Chicago US) explained how they are using on all levels Agile Working Groups, mixed from management and project roles, to start and sustain agile transitions at each Business Unit, and keep them up and to extend agile to the whole company. The positive results of agile on the results as well as on the employee motivation are impressive.

My own presentation on our Distributed Product Owner Team for an Agile Medical Development was on the second day, and I loved the discussion with a couple of other speakers and participants about the needed knowledge and skills for this role, and the needs for communication in the PO team and with teams and customers. I have also learned that there is actually an open group of experts from industry and research with the goal to foster software product management excellence across industries, the International Software Product Management Association (ISPMA) , who are interested in collecting such practical experience, and are creating resources for professional software product management training.

At the academic track, I found a couple of presentations on the last day very interesting: A research paper by Jeanette Heidenberg, Max Weijola, Kirsi Mikkonen, and Ivan Porres – A Metrics Model to Measure the Impact of an Agile Transformation in Large Software Development Organizations asks whether an agile transformation was worth the effort. For this, they were looking for metrics that support agile values, focus on the whole organization, not individual or teams, and are applicable to both waterfall and agile projects. Also they should be feasible to collect for past and ongoing projects, in any size of project, and be objective and clear. They did an iterative approach with first formulating the goal, then ask practitioners for metrics used, compare them against their values and goals, and finally select a collection of metrics. They have some really helpful metrics that we can apply to learn how much we have already improved through agile, at least in some aspects.

The paper Continuous Release Planning in a Large-Scale Scrum Development Organization at Ericsson by Ville Heikkilä, Maria Paasivaara, Casper Lassenius, and Christian Engblom was complementing very well with the talk of Hendrik Esser, as they are exactly describing how the release planning for individual features works, and which experiences people at Ericsson had with this method.

Of course there were also great keynote speakers at XP2013 in Vienna, a helpful Open Space, a wonderful conference reception, and great conversations in the breaks.

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As always, thank you very much for the photos, Hubert Baumeister.

The next XP conference will take place in May 2014 in Rome, which is also a nice place to go to.  I will convince some of our colleagues and managers of submitting a talk and participating – we have a lot of experience we can share!

Best Regards
Andrea

Slides for ScanDev 2013 DONE: distributed product owner team – strategies

One week to go for this year’s ScanDev conference in Gothenburg, and slides are done.

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Topics covered are mainly:
Strategies for growing a distributed product owner team, when the problem space is very different from the normal experience world of a software developer. Strategies for communication and customer collaboration in the distributed setup.

For preparation, I made a lot of personal interviews with product owners on different hierarchy levels and multiple sites. I learned a lot about the reality behind our official agile framework, and how much the real success depends on people and their skills and goals.

To convert my knowledge into an interesting presentation I used a marvellous book, a classic: Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story by Jerry Weissman. What is very helpful in this book is that he tells you a lot of stories to make sure you know what you want to tell, to whom, and how you will bring this across to your audience. So I started to create my presentation on a lonely day at home, using hundreds of sticky notes on my personal whiteboard, instead of bothering with Outlook templates or -beware!- assistants. Then I selected a structure for the slides that would allow me to tell my story, and then I created each single slide on a sheet of paper, put them into the structure, re-ordered and finally bright them to the office.

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There, of course, I had to take a corporate template, and also picked a lot of photos, that would this time nicely fit with the topic. As structure I had selected a pyramid. I created it with corporate colors, and let it build up throughout the slides.

At the beginning of this week, it was finished, and I submitted it for review and release. And -wow! -I got it released after considering a few remarks, in less than two days. I can say, the release process got much more agile since I first used it for an external presentation four years ago, when it still took me four weeks, but obviously as well my own professionalism in creating publications has increased a lot since then.

Speaking at ScanDev 2013 about our Distributed Product Owner Team @ Syngo.via

I am speaking at SCANDEV 2013

This week I received the news that my new talk has been accepted for SCANDEV 2013 on March 4th to 5th in Göteborg, Sweden. The title is „Distributed Product Owner Team @ Syngo.via“

What is it all about?

We are developing medical imaging and workflow software in an agile way with development teams distributed to several countries. One of the major challenges is how to set up and communicate within the Product Owner team.

  • There we have to deal with the distribution, e.g., have the Product Owner either onsite with her peers or with her Scrum team, travelling, or with proxy.
  • We need people who are good in two different fields of knowledge: medical and software development.
  • As a third issues, the environment of the customers may be different in different countries.
We have ramped up local Product Owners in different countries, have found local collaboration customers, and have developed  a set of communication channels and workshops how to synchronize Product Owners in the team, share a common vision and backlog with their Scrum teams, and collaborate with customers locally and globally.
While I am putting my presentation together, I would be interested very much in what my customers want to know about. You can ask me questions, and whatever is feasible I will include into my talk. So Product Ownership is being directly applied.

A great audiovisual 15 min training on Product Ownership

Yesterday a friend sent me the link to a great audiovisual mini-training on Product Ownership, that Henrik Kniberg just published on the CRISP blog http://blog.crisp.se/2012/10/25/henrikkniberg/agile-product-ownership-in-a-nutshell.

It is amazing. It does not only explain important aspects of the Product Owner role is an easy to understand way, but also visualizes central aspects of agile software development like fast feedback, velocity, and release forecast. And all of this in only 15 min!

The technique used reminds me of the famous „RSA Animate“ 10 min science videos. One of the most remarkable maybe the one explaining Dan Pink’s research about what motivates us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

Well done, Henrik!

Role and responsibility of executives in a lean/agile transition

1) Choose internal change agents carefully

Volunteers
Positive mind and change oriented
Sense of urgency
Capacity for reflection
Working level experience in software development
Transition team covers different project roles and organizational units
Involve line management
Involve product management / business people
Involve process / Quality Management early

2) Be sponsor to the transition team

Give your vision, or agree explicitly to vision and mission of the transition team.
Tell them what the constraints are.
Be interested in plans and results.
Read at least one good book on agile yourself that does not look like a Scrum Bible, but something explaining what may work and why.
Do not expect to have NO impact on project time lines, this is just wishful thinking.
Give a reasonable budget based on estimates of the transition team.
Do not tell them how to make the transition. Rather be able to discuss organizational changes on their request.
Let the team choose external consultants, but ask these people a couple of tough questions before you contract them.

3) Take care about trust in your organization

Do you, and do your middle managers trust your teams to get their job done? This is an essential part of any lean/agile transition.
If you are still not there, expect transparency to grow at the project team level, but you have to inspire trust from the management level. You need to start! You need to express trust to your teams and act accordingly yourself.

Be a role model in applying transpararency – it is needed top-down as urgently as bottom-up.

4) Do not combine a lean/agile transition with negative measures

Especially, do not try to reduce headcount. This is directly counterproductive to encouraging people to share their knowledge.

5) Foster a learning organization

Expect your organization to be on a learning journey for more than the transition lasts. The agile principles expect you to hire the best people, and give them the environment so they can be productive. In traditional hierarchical companies, often people need to learn to learn again. And often the environment consists of crappy old tools that make them slow. You may have tons of legacy code without automated tests. They will not magically disappear at the agile transition. The teams have to learn and improve a lot until they will really feel agile.
You will see improvements very soon, but this is not the end of your journey.

6) Look for opportunities to benchmark your transition with others

As executive you should use your connections with your colleagues from other companies for exchanging with them and creating opportunities for the transition teams and different project roles for comparing and exchanging experience so that you all learn more quickly.

Great places to work: learning from SEMCO

A couple of weeks ago in Karmakonsum, a German blog for eco fair life style and economy, I came across Ricardo Semler and SEMCO – the incredibly successful Brazilian company that is directed mostly by its workers and employees since the 1980es. How did I not discover it earlier? Now that I have read Semler´s book „Maverick“ from 1993, I have found a lot of good things to learn for companies who want to get really agile and lean beyond software development departments.

At SEMCO they have proven it is possible to get rid of basically all kind of bureaucracy, if you start treating your employees as adults.
Written down process manuals are replaced by common sense, expanded knowledge, plus motivation to do your work in the best possible way to make your company succeed. Control and the needed to ask for permission for all kind of small things can be reduced to a minimum, from travel expenses to lunch invitations – if you just ask everybody to employ common sense, and have transparency on the numbers. Transparency is an important part of the SEMCO miracle. All employees and workers have full knowledge of revenue and expenses. This allows them to take meaningful decisions in factory committees, about what to change to get more efficient and make the customers happier. They are also fixing their own wages and hiring their managers. Hey, managers, getting scared now?

Of course such a company also needs leaders. But being leader there is not a question of status and privileges. They do not expect big personal offices and secretaries, but are just full of new ideas and ask nasty questions.

One important human organization principle that the company leaders adopted is keeping the units small: one plant or sub-company should not be bigger than 150 people. Pretty interesting, that Dave Snowdon gave the same number in his ALE2011 keynote asan evolution-built-in human constant for the size of a group a human will be able to identify with.

Democracy and open communication define the SEMCO identity rather than saying they agree in this or that business. There is a lot we can learn from them, if we are brave and fearless. Starting at a huge company may not be as easy, as there are politics around on many levels, and dragons.
What seems more promising to me is starting at a small or mid sized company, where the existing amount of process is not so overwhelming. First I would inspire lean and Agile principles. Software developers are often open to democratic principles, and shop floor workers often already know and apply a few lean methods nowadays. If we then start to engage teams of software and hardware developers, scientists, workers and sales people in how to build better products for the customers, our how to make design or production more efficient, they will sparkle with new ideas.
As people are learning together and get a broader view on the company’s goals and the boundary conditions, they can make good improvement proposals. Then step by step some of them will learn to see the whole, at least to have a bigger interest in the company’s business, and feel responsible for making their work more efficient.

Another book I have read recently is „Delivering Happiness“ from Tony Hsieh, which will get its own blog post: learning how to really, really have company values and use them in daily life.

Our big agile transition at the OOP 2012 Munich

As Agile Transition Lead of our business unit, I have introduced agile project management into a regulated development environment at Siemens Healthcare. The challenge is there to reduce process overhead and improve team member motivation without hampering the necessary quality. Since 2008, I have been starting and coaching Scrum teams, as well as working with the management on transformation of the structure and on communication.

At the OOP 2012 conference in Munich, I presented together with a colleague from the higher management about our agile transition. Here you can find our slideset at Slideshare.

We have gone a long way from piloting to the real big transition, and now after the first big agile project has been successfully finished, there is still much to do in the sense of getting more efficient and having more fun…

Die ALE2012 Unconference ist vom 29.-31.8.2012 in Barcelona

Das europäische Agile und Lean-Netzwerk trifft sich in diesem Jahr in Barcelona – der Termin steht jetzt fest.
http://ale2012.alenetwork.eu/2012/01/10/meet-barcelona-on-29th-31st-august/

Diese „Unkonferenz“, die 2011 zum ersten Mal mit 225 Teilnehmer/innen aus 28 Ländern in Berlin stattfand hat eine besodere Bedeutung für die europäische Gemeinschaft derjeniger, die mit agilen Methoden Softwareprojekte durchführen und die diese Methoden verbreiten. Das Ale-Network hat sich im Februar 2011 auf Anstoß von Jurgen Appelo in LinkedIn gegründet und war sehr schnell auf mehr als Tausend Mitglieder angewachsen. Es steht für ein wachssendes europäisches Selbstbewußtsein in der Softwarecommunity, aber auch für eine unglaubliche Vielfalt von Nationalitäten und Kulturen. Es eint uns alle, dass wir in selbstorganisierenden Teams qualitativ hochwertige Software für die Nutzer herstellen wollen. Dabei reicht das Spektrum der Teilnehmer/innen von Betreibern kleinen Startups bis hin zu Angestellten aus großen traditionellen Firmen, die im Entwicklungsbereich von der Beweglichkeit eines Öltankers zu der von vielen kleinen Speedbooten gelangen möchten. Studierende und Dozenten von Universitäten sind ebenso vertreten, wie unabhängige Beraterinnen und Buchautoren. – Das Spektrum der Veranstaltungen reicht vom Vortrag über Workshops bis hin zu großen Anteilen von „Open Space“, wo Teilnehmerinnen spontan Diskussionsgruppen zu Themen anbieten.
Wir freuen uns auch in diesem Jahr auf viele interessante Beiträge. In den nächsten Tagen wird sich die Programmgruppe das erste mal treffen, und bald können dann die ersten Beiträge eingereicht werden.

Rückblick auf’s vergangene Event:
http://andreasagileblog.blogspot.com/2011/09/incredibly-intensive-1st-ale2011.html

Agile is about the people!

Sometimes I see blog posts or LinkedIn discussions where some agile specialist or special agilist reasons about the exact amount of minutes to spend on each Scrum meeting according to sprint length, or he asks how he can measure and compare the productivity of teams.
Often I have the impression if I asked him now “How is the motivation of your teams? How do they feel, are they happy or frustrated? Do they have all the tools to get their job done? When did you last time clear some organizational obstacles out of the way for them? Have you hired the right people, and given them lots of opportunities to learn?” or anything alike, this kind of specialist would stare at me without getting the issue.
Actually, this is the centre of the universe – is the people, not the final twisting and tuning of an ideal Scrum process. Scrum is about the people!
Even the managers I know, some managers who have done so incredibly many things right, – even they, at rare times, of course, come up with something like “but now if I would like to compare the productivity of two teams, how would I do it?” and they think very hard about it. 
 
Then I ask them: Have you invested already enough time into how they can learn something new about the product domain, stay up to date with their architecture and programming knowledge, know how to use the latest tools you have bought them? Have you spent a similar amount of time on how to sharpen the product vision with the Product Owner, so that he can really make developers happy working on this marvellous project? If I wake up a Scrum team member in the middle of the night, would he or she be able to tell me the product vision? Have you thought about organizing a FedEx day so they can try out new features of their favourite programming language just for fun, and get fresh motivation for a couple of sprints?

This is what I ask my managers in such cases. Metrics and measurements are fine, but you always need to seed before you harvest.
Hey, it’s about the people!
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