Agile is a toolbox

While it’s true to say we use the Scrum framework here at Vision, that’s not the whole picture. As Bertrand Meyer says in Agile! The Good, The Hype and the Ugly (Springer, 2014), “every agile team in the field makes up its own cocktail of agile practices, rejecting the ones that do not fit” (p.vii).

In terms of project lifecycle and team management practices, we are fully embracing Scrum. But Scrum has little or no opinion about engineering and delivery practices, which we complement largely with XP methodologies. The Scrum model assumes the development team will work with a product backlog but has no guidance on how that will be created—tools from AgilePM, DSDM or even PRINCE2 might be considered to supplement Scrum. (I’ve not been with Vision for long enough to fully understand how this is done here but that will come.)

Since I was introduced to it, I’ve always considered myself a proponent of agility rather than being partisan to any particular flavour or methodology: XP, Lean, Scrum, DSDM, Crystal, etc.

My agile journey

I was first introduced to agile through XP (extreme programming) having picked up a book at the 2008 Scotland on Rails conference in Edinburgh. (Memorably, that was the same day my then-wife learned we were expecting twins!) The keynote speaker spoke eloquently and persuasively about how agile approaches to software development had brought huge benefits to his team. I was hooked. I raced home, read the book from cover to cover and began to implement the ideas in my own team.

Then the university I was working for embraced Lean and I was introduced to its five principles, eight wastes, kaizen, kanban and a host of other useful concepts. I saw first-hand how empowering teams to own and change their processes reduced waste and improved productivity, effectiveness and team morale.

Latterly, it was decided that our team should embrace DSDM Atern. From a project management perspective, DSDM/AgilePM is the most complete. I have a terrific fondness for both its structure and flexibility.

Agile toolbox

Beneath the umbrella term ‘agile’ we have a toolbox of practices. Some have been codified into highly defined systems like AgilePM, DSDM and Scrum, others like XP and Lean feel more like loosely-related methodologies grouped into adaptable frameworks.

Within each there is the freedom to mine other disciplines for best practices: business analysis techniques, MSP, P3O, traditional project management tools, etc.

Just as you wouldn’t chastise a plumber for using a joiner’s hammer, it makes no sense to prevent an agile team from using a technique from another discipline if it does the job.

None of the frameworks cover everything. It makes perfect sense to supplement them with tools from elsewhere. DSDM makes that explicit: “for most organisations, DSDM is all that is needed,” the handbook proclaims, “although some gain value from integrating DSDM with project management methods such as PRINCE2 and PMI, or detailed development techniques, such as extreme programming (XP).”

This is one of the most helpful diagrams I’ve found that demonstrates the relationship between agile methodologies and how they complement one another:

Diagram showing agile method coverage

Diagram credit: Agile Project Management in Easy Steps by John Carroll (2012)

Over the next few weeks, I expect my blog posts to focus on aspects of both Scrum and XP in particular, exploring in more depth some of the tools we have access to in our agile toolbox.


Originally published on my work internal blog.

The primary purpose of a development team is…

Before you read further, take a moment and answer the following question for yourself: what is the primary purpose of a development team?

Don’t worry, I’ll wait…

Okay, what was your answer? Is it to create working software? (Well, yes.) Is it to complete everything on the sprint backlog (Hmmm… kinda.) Is it Henry, the mild-mannered janitor? (Could b… No!)

Above all, the primary job of an agile development team is to build quality into the product.

That focus on quality is important because it informs us and shapes us in everything we do as a team, from planning through to delivery.

When I introduced agile to one team with whom I worked, it took me a long time to help them get beyond their misconception that agile meant quickly hack things together and shove it out the door. Release early and release often—yes; dirty hacks—no! Done well, agile should be more disciplined than other traditional methodologies and focus on quality.

The first principle of the agile manifesto reads, “our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” The agile manifesto values “working software over comprehensive documentation”. Valuable software is working; working software relies on quality.

The fourth principle of DSDM/AgilePM is “never compromise quality”.

What small step could you take now to improve the quality of your work?

Be agile not Agile™

In 2014, Dave Thomas, one of the seventeen who met at Snowbird ski resort in Utah and came up with the Agile Manifesto, wrote a blog post with a wonderfully clickbait title: “Agile is dead (long live agility)”.

In the article he laments that too many people focus on ‘Agile’ with a capital ‘a’ as though it was a brand: Agile™. Agile isn’t a noun (a naming word, my primary school teacher would drill into us), agile is an adjective (a describing word). Thomas urges us to think about agility not Agile.

“The word “agile” has been subverted to the point where it is effectively meaningless, and what passes for an agile community seems to be largely an arena for consultants and vendors to hawk services and products.” — Dave Thomas

Agile principles

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about agile principles. What are the fundamental truths that serve as the foundations of agile development—sorry, of development that shows agility?

Agile manifesto

Of course we have the Agile manifesto:

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

“That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

Scrum values and pillars

Scrum has five core values:

  • Commitment
  • Courage
  • Focus
  • Openness
  • Respect

and three pillars

  • Transparency
  • Inspection
  • Adaptation

AgilePM (DSDM) principles

I’m fond, too, of the eight principles on which AgilePM (formerly DSDM Atern) is built:

  1. Focus on business need
  2. Deliver on time
  3. Collaborate
  4. Never compromise quality
  5. Build incrementally from firm foundations
  6. Develop iteratively
  7. Communicate continuously and clearly
  8. Demonstrate control

Bertrand Meyer

Bertrand Meyer in Agile!: The Good, the Hype and the Ugly (Springer, 2014) argues for the following principles that promote agility:

  1. Put the customer at the centre
  2. Let the team self-organise
  3. Work at a sustainable pace
  4. Develop miniminal software i. Produce minimal functionality ii. Produce only the code requested iii. Develop only code and tests
  5. Accept change
  6. Develop iteratively i. Produce frequent working interactions ii. Freeze requirements during iterations
  7. Treat tests as a key resource i. Do not start any new development until all tests are passed. ii. Test first
  8. Express requirements through scenarios

Back to basics

Dave Thomas finishes his blog post by showing us how to do something in an agile fashion:

  1. Find out where you are.
  2. Take a small step towards your goal.
  3. Adjust your understanding based on what you learned.
  4. Repeat.

And “when faced with two or more alternatives that deliver roughly the same value, take the path that makes future change easier.”

That’s it.

Orientate, plan, do, check, adjust, repeat.

Where do we need to focus?

I’ve often found these lists of principles useful to focus the mind on what’s important about working with agility.

Which principles stand out as those we need to focus on

  • as a company?
  • as a team?
  • as an individual?

What is the next small step we need to take?

Originally posted on Vision internal blog.

MoSCoW prioritisation is on effort

No! Not that Moscow. (Photo taken by me on a school trip in 1988)

One misunderstanding that I’ve encountered a lot over the last couple of years in relation to DSDM agile project management is in the area of prioritisation, and in particular how MoSCoW prioritisation works. In this post I hope to make things a little clearer

Continue reading MoSCoW prioritisation is on effort

DSDM Agile project management cheat sheet

Spreadsheet
Matrix of product phases and products, indicating who is responsible for what.

Just over a year ago I was sitting in a classroom learning about and sitting two exams on DSDM Atern Agile project management.

Something that I wished had been available at the time was some kind of cheat sheet that broke down each of the DSDM phases (pre-project, feasibility, foundations, exploration, engineering, deployment, and post-project), indicated which products (usually documents) belonged to which phase, and who was involved in the creation of each product.

I couldn’t find anything suitable, so I created my own, pulling out all that information from appendix C of the DSDM Agile Project Management Handbook into a RACI matrix.

Over the last year I’ve found this to be a really useful resource. I have it printed out on A3 and stuck on the wall next to my desk; I refer to it a lot.

You’re welcome to use it and adapt it for your own needs: