Where my passion comes from

November 7, 2010 — Posted by Al Shalloway

Ron Jeffries and I have had a small battle of the blogs as a result of a tweetersation we had. I guess I started it with The Case Against Minimalism while he finished it with Scrum is OK, let's get to work.  The truth is, it doesn't matter what either of us like, it matters what works. I started doing Scrum about 10 years ago. It worked great. We helped our clients with Scrum repeatedly.  That is, until we started getting into more complex situations and discovered that merely working with teams was not sufficient to help an organization.  We found broader concepts, based on lean product development flow, were necessary for a company's success.

It has been this pattern of success with methods other than Scrum that make me so passionate about Lean and Kanban.  I thought it'd be worth giving some of the experiences our clients have had – it is because of their success when Scrum did not provide the insights necessary for success that I am passionate about arming people with what I consider essential concepts. My own words follow, but if you'd like to hear from some of our own clients, check out Stories / Articles by Net Objectives' Clients. Here are some concepts and examples of how they've helped our clients.

Understanding the Value Stream. While some in the Agile community deny thinking in terms of a value stream is even useful, I've seen it make huge differences to companies. In our Lean Software Development courses we teach how to do a value stream map and how to get to the root cause of problems with the 5-whys method. In my very first course almost six years ago, two people used these methods to discover the root cause of a problem facing development. They used these insights to get a 20% improvement in their development organization without changing the development organization at all. How? The root cause of the problem was not in the development area, but it wasn't noticed because that's where the problem was showing up. I relate this story in detail in Where to start your Lean-Agile Transition from our Business Driven Software Development Series (it's about 23 minutes in).

Acceptance Test-Driven Development. Lean's build quality in implies acceptance test-driven development for software development. I've been including a 30-45 minute section on ATDD in all of our Lean, Kanban and Scrum trainings for the last several years. I have been reportedly told that this brief introduction has led to the "best sprint ever." Seems like a small investment for a great return. You can see the excerpt from our courses by watching the webinar Acceptance Test-Driven Development from our Business Driven Software Development Series.

Too much time spent estimating stories.. We often do an assessment of Scrum teams to perform a tune-up on their practices. A common anti-pattern we've seen is spending way too much time on estimating stories. This seems to happen about half the time. We've found that in most of these cases, using Team Estimation can cut the time spent on estimation by 75% without cutting out the value received.

Using Flow to Create a Hybrid Process. A couple of years ago I kicked off a development group of 70 people with 4 days of training and 4 days of coaching. Neither Scrum nor even Kanban seemed to be a good fit. Instead, they needed something I call dynamic feature teams – essentially forming teams for particularly difficult features and then disbanding the team when the feature was done. This turned out to work wonderfully. How'd we figure out how to try it? By understanding basic Lean Product Development flow principles. Getting a group of 70 people started out simultaneously in Agile is virtually unheard of. To do it with the minimal amount of training involved even more remarkable. To do it with the spectacular results achieved – almost unbelievable.

In summary

The first three cases given require all of an hour to explain to teams during training. Given that virtually all teams find significant value in one or more of these, I cannot understand anyone's thinking they shouldn't be presented to every team about to do Lean-Agile. The last one admittedly took someone like myself being present to help figure out the solution.This is just a sampling of cases I've seen over the last few years.  Most every company I've worked with benefits from understanding of Lean and Kanban methods.  There are others that can't even use team-based, time-boxed methods - so an alternative using Lean-Product flow is essential for them.

I keep hearing people say that agile software development is hard. And it is. But I think people make it much harder than it needs to be by not having the proper insights and tools that'd make it easier. I also believe you can't fix a car's performance by working on the engine if the root cause is the transmission. Focusing totally on teams is sometimes like this.   If you are using Scrum and having challenges, I'd suggest checking out these links: The Scrum Clinic, Practices All Scrum Teams Should Follow and Lean Concepts all Development Teams Should Know. If you are considering undertaking a transition to Agile methods, I'd suggest contacting me (alshall @ netobjectives.com). We can see what'll work for you as we have the broadest range of services of any company in the Agile space.We can help you see how you can best take advantage of Scrum, Kanban and Lean.

We've written the book on how to achieve agility at the enterprise. If you are interested in learning more, and are a decision maker in the process, and are looking to undertake a transition to Lean-Agile methods, please send me an e-mail. I'll be happy to send you a signed copy of Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility gratis if you tell me your story. 

Alan Shalloway
CEO, Net Objectives

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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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