Information Technology Dark Side

Struggles of a Self-Taught Coder

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Agile From the Inside

March 27th, 2007 · No Comments

Last week I had a chance to listen to Matthew Heusser speak about process improvement. One of the points he made was about driving change from the inside – the best way to do that is to find ways to make your projects more successful. As others observe your projects succeeding, they will want to know how it is done and will be open to your ideas.

Matthew’s advice really drove home something I had observed – that there are lots of things you can change about your job without anyone’s permission. This is especially true regarding your behavior as a project manager or project participant – you can change A HECKUVA LOT about the way a project is run without waiting for snail-like events such as corporate initiatives, management buy-in, or approval from change management or governance boards.

When I first decided to try agile, to see if it was a tool I wanted in my toolbox, I didn’t ask anyone if it was okay. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even tell anyone on my project what I was doing. I simply picked a few of the agile principles and started to apply them. Here are a few of the agile principles I introduced to my project team without ever telling anyone what I was doing:

  • Face to face communication (I used a game called Instant Feedback to force everyone to talk to each other about problems and successes
  • Self-organization (I asked the project team to decide who would do what – see this month’s issue of Better Software for an example)
  • Prioritization of business capabilities (this was a no-brainer to everyone – they just thought it was a great idea)
  • Short sprints (we still called them iterations, but we made them six weeks)
  • Doing the minimum required (my business partner loved this!)

  • At some point, my manager asked me about what I was doing. He was impressed with the improvements he saw, and he wanted more. So we rolled out daily scrums and other agile activities. Success continued, and we began to talk not just about the agile principles, but also about agile methodologies. After a few months we decided to adopt the approach formally and openly and we haven’t looked back since. Eventually we rolled out sprint backlogs, then burndowns. Now we have product backlogs too. I don’t know what we’ll introduce next. I’d love to have a continuous integration environment, better automated unit and regression testing, and other items.

    Will this work for you? I don’t know. I’m not making any guarantees. The point is, you don’t have to wait for some central board to tell you to do it. You can try tomorrow. Or today. It’s still early. Go for it.

    Want to get together and talk about agile from the inside? I’d like to organize a LAWST style workshop on introducing agile in the organization you work for. If you’re interested, drop me an email at, subject “Agile From the Inside Workshop”. Thanks!

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    Tags: Project Management

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