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22 October 2013

Agile Compass

Using the agile compass

Your Agile Compass

When working in an Agile manner, there are continual challenges and uncertainty that arise from the complexity of what you are doing. As a result of this complexity, it is not feasible to have a playbook to use that will work for any situation that arises.

My experience and understanding has shown that the best way to deal with these situations is to adopt a principle based stance, and use these principles to evaluate the choices available, and choose the best option at the given time. I love metaphors, as they help get a better understanding of tricky concepts – so one that I have been using this year is that of an internal Agile Compass.

The aim of Agility is to deliberately respond to changes as they emerge, in a flexible and timely manner. This is tricky as no two situations are the same, so we need to build a frame of reference to make the best decision at the time that helps the organisation, team and individual team members progress towards their goals. This is enabled by using a pragmatic (not dogmatic) approach, and a clear frame of reference – this is where I use the Agile compass. 

The Compass

The aspects that align the direction of the Agile compass are as follows.

1.     Agile Manifesto

This is the key for getting business and IT to better collaborate, working together to deliver optimal business value.

The manifesto identifies four values

·       Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

·       Working software over comprehensive documentation

·       Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

·       Responding to change over following a plan

It is important to note that these identify a spectrum, so if you are working in a highly regulated industry you will need to write the necessary relevant documentation, provided it accompanies working software!

2.     Lean Thinking and Principles

The aim is to maximise customer value while minimising waste. The focus on flow and continuous improvement is critical. The five principles are:

·       Specify what creates value for the customer

·       Identify all steps across the whole value stream (from idea to customer), and remove the unnecessary steps

·       Make those actions that create value flow, by removing bottlenecks and obstacles

·       Only make what is pulled by the customer just-in-time

·       Strive for perfection by continually removing successive layers of waste

The effect is a focus on efficiency, and minimise the effort on non-value producing activity.

3.     Scrum Values

In the first scrum book “Agile Software Development with Scrum”, Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle identified five values displayed by self-organising productive teams.

·       Commitment

·       Focus

·       Openness

·       Respect

·       Courage

When each member of the team demonstrates these values, the team starts operating at a higher level, working towards the teams goal and vision.

4.     3 Pillars of Empiricism

There are 3 pillars of the empirical process control model

·       Transparency (being open and not hiding what is going on, being highly visible)

·       Inspection (reflecting on what has happened)

·       Adaptation (make adjustments to improve)

By using the scientific method of making a change (or doing something) and measuring the effect of the change allows actions to be made in a controlled non-emotional way. Change can be very challenging, so it needs to be managed openly (see the scrum values).

5.     Scrum Framework (or whichever one you are using)

You need to have some starting point, and I have found that the Timeboxes in Scrum drive focus on getting something out the door to the agreed quality standard (“Done”). Their structure is a solid skeleton from which to start adding extensions needed by your team and organisation.

If you have a preference for another framework, great – use it in its most basic form, no augmentation until your team decide to extend it.

The combination of these 5 aspects points towards a sweet spot where the needs of the customer, the organisation, the team and each team member is respected and exceeded.

Aligning your Compass

As with any new tool you need to check out how to use it. After refreshing your memory about the 5 aspects of the compass, think through a recent situation that you have experienced. For the situation, what options did you think through, and did you choose the option that was in the highest accordance to the 5 aspects? Is there another option that you hadn’t considered (hindsight is amazingly powerful)?

Do this with a few situations until you “get” the principles – you have internalised the values and the principles.. Your compass is now aligned. 

Obstacle Avoidance

Obstacle avoidanceWhen we go off exploring, it is very common to encounter an obstacle that is simply too big/too much effort/unsafe to go through. We will have to go around it and come back to it later.

There are 2 key points here, firstly in recognising that it is not worth the effort at the moment to go through with the planned way, and secondly in that there is an intention and a plan on how to get back on track. The typical orienteering approach is to navigate around the obstacle, and then get back on track. We should do the same with obstacles that do not have any value in addressing right here and now, with the provision to make sure we come back and address them in the future.

Identify the obstacle, changing direction by 90 degrees (right or left – let’s go right), moving some distance, changing direction back left 90 degrees, travelling past the obstacle, turning left 90 degrees, move the same distance as for the first turn, changing direction right 90 degrees (back on track). 

Maintaining your Compass

How do you keep your compass working – by using the 3 pillars of empiricism of course!

Schedule time to reflect on key decisions and interactions you have made each week, and check them against your compass.

Have you learnt/read/discovered something new that you can add in?

Is there something you would like to change or even remove (if it is wasteful)?

By validating how you are working, you are reinforcing the adaptive ways of working, and can only improve.



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