Thursday, 18 October 2012

Reality is your friend

love the title of this piece. I can't claim credit for it though. It's part of an excellent article by Charlie Martin called Cargo Cult Methodology: How Agile Can Go Terribly, Terribly Wrong. In his interesting and amusing article Charlie gives a candid account of how a poor implementation of Agile concepts leads to project hell. 

He gives us three key lessons that he's painfully learnt in the past:

  • People are willing to try almost anything to make things better—except of course to actually change (obviously others should change though)
  • Watch out for "cargo cults"
  • Reality is your friend
Having coached organisations through transitions to Agile I can relate to the attitudes and behaviors that he highlights.

I actually promised myself 12 months ago that I'd had enough of the pain & suffering that goes with selling Agile concepts to organizations and if I didn't see another "Agile Start-up" ever again that would be one day too soon.  I decided to find new industries and concentrate on delivering different types of projects rather than transformation change.

So what happened?  Less than 6 weeks after making that commitment I broke it and here I am again looking at another failing Waterfall project organization who recently decided that "we need to get better so let's go Agile" and have asked for help to transform the way they deliver projects.  

Why oh why didn't I learnt that this is going to lead to lots of discussions on command & control, flexibility, changing attitudes throughout the business not just IT and the day to day frustration of simply asking the question "really if you look at what you're doing do you really think that's Agile?"?

Clearly the answer to that question is no.  Here I am again giving the sales pitch, showing the scale of what they've actually decided to do and trying to work through a transition plan with the business and IT groups.  Reading Charlie's article really gave me a boost because he's hit the nail on the head and I've started to list his lessons at every executive presentation I've given in the last couple of weeks.  If you're not sure what a cargo cult is I suggest that you click on the link and read his article - you'll like the story.

So do I have any insights from the last few months outside of Charlie's lessons? Yep.

The first phase (doesn't sound very Agile does it - ironically I came to the conclusion over the years that that you have to use the current waterfall methods to transform the organisation to agile concepts) involved going out to all of those people, both internal & external to the IT group who delat with them on a regular basis and interview them from the main board to users.  80 interviews and 450 survey responses later common themes about the way IT delivers came through.  

Top three? 

1. Need to become a trusted partner not a software shop

2. Need to be more transparent

3. Need to fix the basics and put reliability and robustness, not exciting new technologies, at the top of their priorities.  

Actually there were a lot more than that in the 250 page presentation but these were the main highlights.  The IT Group had to stop fighting the business and start to become a true business partner.  Furthermore, the lost opportunity costs and the more real overspends on projects were added up and made scary reading - just in time for Halloween!

Hmmmm - there was a lot to fix but actually showing that the business didn't comment on the capability of IT group.  Actually they recognized that they delivered excellent solutions and that they would not want to deal with anyone else simply because "these guys are passionate about our business" .  But waterfall methods had lead them into silos that had lost the ability to "talk" to customers and gaining a reputation for building software rather than enabling business solutions.

Interestingly on one of the many questions people were asked - How well do you think IT engage with the business?  80% of the IT people questioned said "really well - great relationships" but only 20% of the business responded in the same way.   Shocked?  Well not as shocked as the development teams were when the results were published.  

As Charlie notes - "Reality is your friend" and learning how others view can be a very difficult lesson.  However, what it did was show how much we had to change to become that "trusted partner" and that it would be a journey, not a step change, that we'd have to make.

So what's happened?  We have a very committed CIO and Leadership team who truly know where they are and what needs to change.  Couple that with sessions on the transformation needed to become "Agile" and the reasons "why" and the scale of the change is obviously even to the most dyed in the wool command and control advocate.  So I'd really recommend that you find out what your customers think and use their feedback to get commitment - Reality wins every time - especially when we're talking impacts on bonuses :-)

I'll keep you in the loop as we learn more lessons but take time to read the rest of Charlie's article - it's great.