Agile from the Techno-Weenie Perspective

I am a geek through and through. My skillset is wrapped in system commands, database architecture, and servers big and small. I can quote Dr. Who and I know the question to Life, the Universe, and Everything.  My geek credentials are impressive. I am happiest in front of my laptop and things like gantt charts and project plans cause my eyes to roll back in my head.

So why did I find myself sitting in an Agilescout Certified Scrumaster class in a sea of Project Managers?

Well, I accidently discovered the simplicity and elegance of Scrum. Curious, I implemented it imperfectly in a very small scale on my own team and tripled our productivity in one month.  I had a taste of Scrum and I wanted to know more.  So off to class I went and I have been an advocate ever since.

As I talk to my fellow techno-weenies in various parts of the enterprise I hit a lot of “I just don’t understand how it works”,  “It sounds like more process and we are slow as it is”, “it’s a fad”,  or “that is strange and new – kill it with fire, you heretic”.

So even if you are not one of the techno-weenies reading this article but you just want to know more, start with an entertaining read called “The Phoenix Project” by Kim, Behr, and Spafford. Trust me, you will relate to the fictional story line. You have worked there so you know how this goes. The story of a large company mired in process where deliverables are late and don’t resemble what the client needs, where there is that one rock star expert that is the only one that can do things and managers run around with their hair on fire.

“The Phoenix Project” is an entertaining fictional story that describes an Agile approach to turn the ship around. As a matter of fact, I related to the book so much that I pounded it out in three days and was cheering by the end.

This was the catalyst for me. There just has to be a better way.

After some discussion with an agile team and reading Saddington’s Book “The Agile Pocket Guide” – I convinced my boss to give it a try.

“Let’s take an Agile approach to Agile”, I said “and add one Agile feature or practice on a week”. We started with one thing – an Agile board. It was nothing fancier than a whiteboard and post-its.

It doesn’t get much more complicated than this kids. A whiteboard and post it’s. There is elegance, power, and flexibility in simplicity.

We were now able to predict what we could do and how we could do it.A few things happened immediately. First, I realized my team mate was busier than I expected because I could see his work effort visually. Second, we stopped stepping on each other’s toes with system resources and duplicate tasks. Third, we could link our work to corporate projects and produce metrics to upper management on what we did in an immediate fashion. Finally, we got an idea of work effort we could handle and started to throttle when appropriate.

Just from a white board and post its.

Maybe there is something to this.

So each week, we added something new. We worked for progress over perfection and looked like a monkey fumbling a football the first week or two. Even imperfectly, there was positive change. Once we committed, we added a small change each week – story points, sprint planning sessions, stand-ups, retrospectives, etc.

Since then our Tier II and III managers and a few executives have taken notice. The experiment the techno-weenies tried seemed to work. Now there is a culture change, an openness to hear about Agile and try it, and multiple teams swapping information on how to make this successful here. Heck, I have passed out at least 15 copies of Saddington’s “The Agile Pocket Guide”.

All because of a crazy one week experiment. All hail the power of Agile.

michael-krafick-agileMichael Krafick is a certified techno-weenie, certified Scrum Master, and IBM Champion for Information Management. He is a database administrator with experience in highly transactional databases and large data warehouses. You can read more from Michael at where he is an occasional author. 

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