Scrum/Kanban Series: Where to Start

May 11, 2012 — Posted by Al Shalloway

"I am enthusiastic over humanity’s extraordinary and sometimes very timely ingenuity. If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday's fortuitous contrivings as constituting the only means for solving a given problem. Our brains deal exclusively with special-case experiences. Only our minds are able to discover the generalized principles operating without exception in each and every special-experience case which if detected and mastered will give knowledgeable advantage in all instances. Because our spontaneous initiative has been frustrated, too often inadvertently, in earliest childhood we do not tend, customarily, to dare to think competently regarding our potentials. We find it socially easier to go on with our narrow, shortsighted specialization's and leave it to others primarily to the politicians to find some way of resolving our common dilemmas." -R. Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.

Agile is more than 10 years old - and I don't mean it's 11.  It's real roots go back at almost 50 years to John Boyd. and his OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, and act).  See Chet Richard's Certain to Win for an entertaining and enlightening introduction.  I'm not saying the Agile community hasn't added a lot to the knowledge of Agile - it has.  I am saying that there alternative views that may, one, be more mature, and two, provide additional, useful insights.  Or, at the least, have us challenge our own.

Many people naturally assume that the best way to start an Agile transition is with a pilot project.  About half of the time that is correct and some of the time that is all you can do.  But pilots must be properly picked or they can actually cause more harm than good (see How Successful Pilots Often Actually Hurt an Organization).   To avoid this happening to your organization, you need to understand why Scrum works (Challenging why (not if) Scrum works) and why it fails (Challenging Why (not if) Scrum Fails).

Whether you've read those 3-5 year old blogs, one look at these pictures might help you understand:
Value Stream  Blockages in the Value Stream

The picture on the top represents the value stream - the flow of work from the concept to help the customer, through the business cycle of selection and planning, through development and back to when it is consumed by the customer (note, in IT organizations the customer may be internal).   The one on the bottom is the same picture, but overlaid with 7 areas we often find are problematic:

  • the customer is not involved in helping figure out their needs
  • business is not using minimum marketable features (MMFs) or their equivalent (e.g., the Lean-Startups MVPs)
  • business is selecting too many (typically too large) things to be built
  • the development teams don't do incremental development
  • the development teams have poor engineering practices
  • ops and support is not involved in the development stream until very late in the game
  • management is not involved in creating an effective/efficient value stream

Looking at this bigger picture immediately makes us aware that there is more going on here that just the team.  I discuss this in Elephants in the Room of Agile.  The point is, when one needs to start one's Agile transition, they need to look at a variety of things.  I actually wrote about this a couple of years ago at Where to Begin Your Transition to Lean-Agile.  Even if you've skipped the other blogs I've referred to, I'm going to let this last article essentially be the end of this blog.  However, if you want to know more (a lot more) about doing Lean-Agile, I strongly suggest you check out our (free) webinar series - Lean-Kanban at Scale and the Team: The Value Stream Series starting shortly.

 

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas.



        

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