Re-visiting our agile journey, a retrospective

Lots of folks talk about agile, and it’s most definitely one of the buzz-words of 2013 as it moves out from the dark corners of code-development into the limelight reality of sales, marketing and operational environments. But, it’s glaringly obvious that the agile movement itself is not really delivering the sort of productivity improvements that it either claims to or, in our experience, is able to. Organisations that have embraced agile at the heart (and we’re one) have seen giant leaps in productivity and, more importantly, deliverability but if everyone who claimed to be agile had achieved the same then 25% of the UK economy would have been transformed into a self-actualised, deliriously happy place. It’s not.

Our move to agile began nearly 4 years ago. A strong internal culture of Kaizen had us already thinking about continuous improvement, small steps, measured feedback and permanent prototyping. For us, it was a relatively small step to adopting a more embracing framework and we initially chose DSDM Agile as the way to run all software projects. This, unfortunately, required massive re-wiring of our different development and support teams; we lost some good people along the way but the greater-good of agile was, we thought, a prize worth chasing.

One of the challenges surrounding agile is the ability to maintain momentum and avoid falling back into “old ways”. Great starts are just that and it needs to be carried through and ingrained in everything we do. We had a recent example in the company where a tiny task suddenly grew out of all proportion and just gobbled up time and resource because we’d missed two of the core principles, time-boxing and frequent/fast delivery.

An odd side-effect of using an agile approach is to free folks up, make them more in charge of what they do and how they do it. This is great, but some folks can easily take it as a license to slip back into doing “my way”. This is a disaster for a business built on agile principles so we’re heading into our third year of agile adoption and we’re re-engineering our approach slightly.

What we do know is:

  • Everyone is in. If you don’t do agile then you don’t work here. Period.
  • Engagement wins, the more people living and breathing agile to better the outcome and the less likely for it to fall back
  • We need to collaborate and communicate more, sharing the thinking will highlight issues and also produce a better end-product
  • Frequently scrums and time-boxing absolutely rocks, it makes large projects fast, fluid and exciting
  • Writing project/user stories gets everyone to think about what we need to produce, it creates high levels of engagement
  • Rapid prototyping (hackathon stylee) produces huge volumes of high-quality product

This can be summed up with:

Build projects around motivated individuals, give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.”

It’s time, then, to get our asses back into the swing of continual delivery, we’ve got a busy summer delivering a fair few client projects so it’s been a good time to sit back and examine how we’re doing. That’s, after all, one of the key components of being agile.

By Martin Dower, CEO