Reducing Risk and Avoiding Pain – Agile Lessons Learned (Part 1)

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Hello All,

I hope that after one month into this New Year you are well underway with accomplishing all that you set out to achieve in 2011.  I am already noticing that the lethargy of last year has broken and businesses are starting to look at strategic projects.  If this characterizes your company, perhaps you are starting to prepare for new software development initiatives using Agile as your guiding principles and methodological framework.   If so, one of my colleagues, Jim Dempsey has compiled a list of “Agile Lessons Learned” that might help you in your planning activities.  With his permission, I will share some of them in this article and upcoming blog articles.  You should note that Jim gives his entire “Lessons Learned” presentation in a webinar that you can attend for FREE.   His next webinar is currently scheduled for May 17th, 2011.  Click here to register for Jim’s Webinar on the ITMPI Website.  To see a full listing of the scheduled webinars in 2011 through ITMPI go to http://www.itmpi.org/webinars.

In Jim’s webinar presentation, he identifies 19 lessons that he has learned over the past five years implementing Agile development projects.  Most of these projects have been very successful but some not as successful.  It is important to understand that the Agile journey is a learning process and that we cannot fail as long as we apply the lessons learned from both success and adversity.  Our hope is that by sharing these lessons you will reach success faster.  Here are the first three!

Lesson 1 – Agile is Difficult.   Well, all of you that have ventured headlong into your first few Agile projects certainly understand this to be painfully true.  You read all the best books on Agile and Scrum and thought “hey this makes sense and it is seemingly simple”.  But then the fun starts.  Customers, stakeholders and end users aren’t as involved as they should be.  Management is still trying to embrace new management principles.  The Scrum Master is attempting to break out of his or her “command and control” paradigm.  She or he  is struggling with the idea that the team must figure out how to work together as opposed to being told what and how to do things.  The first few sprints will test the organization’s commitment to this new way of doing business.  The probability of slipping back into the old ways is very high.  Stay the course!  Understand that it is a rough road at first but you must persevere by holding steadfast to the principles of Agile.  Hide nothing!  Make management aware that this will be a struggle, but the rewards are too great to fall back into the “old way” of doing things.

Lesson 2 – You Need an Evangelist. It is tempting to think that you can weather the storms of adoption alone.  But in our experience, you risk sliding down the slippery slope of adoption failure unless you have an experienced “Sherpa” to guide you.  One of the most critical success factors is to make sure you bring in a coach that can lead you through the difficult transition period that is characteristic of Agile adoption.  This individual knows the pitfalls.  They know how successful Agile can be if the right foundation is built.  They know how to stand up to Management and they know how to build teams and gain cooperation with the business and stakeholders.  Invest in an experienced, road-tested Evangelist!

Lesson 3 – Train the Business. In most organizations, Agile initiatives start with the IT group.  It is usually driven by an application development team that is self-schooling its way through Agile.  Perhaps they even send a couple of folks to get their Scrum Master certification.  But in our experience, the adoption to Agile principles is less difficult for those in IT than it is for the business and stakeholders.  That is why it is of great importance that as much, if not more, training is focused on the business community.  And the first place to start, if you are adopting Scrum, is with the Product Owner.  The Agile projects that have had the greatest levels of success are the ones that invested in Product Owner selection, training and mentoring.   In a blog article I posted in 2009 entitled Product Owners – The Guardians, I stated: “Selecting and preparing the right Product Owner that will diligently and passionately drive business value should be the number one critical success factor in making Agile-Scrum work.”

OK…so now you have the first 3 lessons, and I believe the most important ones in getting started.  Understand and accept the fact that Agile adoption is difficult, invest in a mentor and leader that has the experience, passion, integrity and emotional fortitude to keep the adoption initiative on track and invest in the selection, training and mentoring of your Product Owner.

In my next article I will cover 3 more of Jim’s Lessons Learned:

  • Determine if your project is a good candidate for Agile
  • Prepare the Product Backlog before Sprint 1
  • Build a Release Plan

Have a great week everyone.

Pete

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