Somewhat amusingly in the week that there seemed to be something of a backlash against ‘agile’ development methodologies I embarked on a programme of study towards the BCS Practitioner Certificate in Agile starting with a 2 day intro course and then followed up with 10 weeks of work-based coaching and weekly study groups.
There are 10 modules to study and it is a pretty intense undertaking with a final exam that apparently has a pretty low pass rate. So that is something to look forward to!
I’ve done some ‘agile’ training before back when I was still at Jiva but that was very focused on Scrum and getting that to work in a small, software startup. This seems very different. It is pretty agnostic about specific frameworks and seems much more focused on giving the skills to help embed the ideas and practices within organisations where it is probably still pretty radical and where they might currently follow the ‘half-arsed agile methodology‘ 🙂
I enjoyed the course that Özlem ran. The ONS are working with Emergn to help encourage the uptake of agile in our development teams and they clearly have a well thought out training programme and Özlem was a good trainer. That said I have to be honest I am not a fan of ‘games’ and ‘activities’ in training sessions. There was lots of Lego, spaghetti and marshmallows and even blindfolds at one point! I never really take away the lessons I am supposed to from these kinds of things – I just get frustrated and stroppy which isn’t helpful. I learn in a really quite old fashioned, if self-directed, manner.
I found the run through of the main elements of the course and the principles that underpin agile interesting (though there seems to be a blur of lines between ‘agile’ and ‘lean’ on this course – both words seem to have become a little meaningless with the amount they are mis/used). Everything was about having a framework that allows teams to add value – that is the objective. The main areas we talked about were;
Delivering Early and Often – this has always seemed one of the massive benefits to ‘agile’ for me. The ability to get away from the thinking that ‘big bang’ is always the way to go and to break things up in to smaller pieces to allow this kind of development rather than the all or nothing approach I’ve come to fear and dread.
Optimising Flow – a lot of this session was about ‘time’ and why traditional project planning frequently builds in buffers (and then buffers for the buffers) due to fear of missing deadlines. We talked about the need for some ‘slack’ to exist within teams – if everyone is working flat-out there is no room for people to adapt to the inevitable changes during development.
There is this idea of the cost of ‘task switching’ that really chimed with me – moving from task to task that are sometimes very different inevitably slows productivity – my current role seems based on doing this as much as possible!
“..complexity is like cholesterol. It clogs up the arteries of an organisation.”
Related to this drive for simplicity and a ruthless drive to justify every feature was the idea of YAGNI (you ain’t gonna need it) which I love.
Feedback – I really enjoyed the discussions around ‘feedback’. I really believe that being much more transparent about the work and getting it in front of the right people at every opportunity really helps prevent going down the wrong paths. Even if sometimes it just means you know to pack it in earlier.
We talked a lot about the need to do more demos of working code, to get users in earlier and more often and to improve our technology for monitoring and reporting. None of our tools are really optimal yet, nor our processes but it was nice to hear about some interesting success stories around the organisation so it is clear there is hope.
Then we talked a bit about some specifics around Scrum and Kanban and how we might be able to implement some of the lessons. Like I mentioned earlier I know my way around Scrum and acting as a product owner in that environment was where I learned the most in my career and felt the most useful but it turned out I had a slightly warped idea about Kanban. I’ve mainly seen it in relation to ‘kanban boards’ and not thought of the entire process – that was really interesting and actually seemed more immediately achievable.
There are books associated with the 10 modules (in full they are the three above plus; Why Change, Teams, Motivation, Trade-offs, Adapting Agile, Scrum & Kanban.) Once I have worked my way through the course – and hopefully passed the exam – I’ll post again.
Clearly ‘Agile’ is not a silver bullet but I think demonstrating some more ‘agility’ in the way we work can only be beneficial to the organisation. There are some aspects that really will represent a massive step-change in how things work and while that will likely be disruptive in the short term it is likely to be extremely useful as time moves on.