Agile Australia Then & Now (AgileTODAY)

AgileTODAY is a publication associated with the Agile Australia conference. In the May 2018 edition I was invited to reflect on one of my past presentations and how it stood the test of time.

Craig spoke on “The Speed to Cool: Valuing Testing and Quality in Agile Teams” at Agile Australia in 2011. Craig is an Agile Coach and Director at Unbound DNA and works as a Trainer and Consultant at Software Education.

In 2011, my talk highlighted the need for a greater understanding of the changing role of testing in Agile environments and the need to build quality into our solutions from the beginning.

Fast forwarding to 2018, the community is improving in this space but still has a long way to go. The rise in popularity of DevOps has helped immensely in this area, although it astounds me how many teams and organisations I work with still do not have some of the basic building blocks in place (like continuous integration or sometimes, worryingly, version control). Many organisations still have a large focus on manually testing via the UI which becomes increasingly riskier and slower as the importance of digital continues to rise.

In my talk, I spoke about what is now referred to as the “three amigos” concept. In the ‘conversation’ around a user story, three key principles outline how to actually implement the work:

  1. When developers and user representatives collaborate we get a better understanding of the specification or the requirements.
  2. When testers and user representatives collaborate we get a better understanding of the acceptance criteria and how we will meet our agreed definition of ‘done’.
  3. When testers and developers collaborate we get a better understanding of quality, but also get the value of pairing on automated testing.

Approaches such as Behaviour Driven Development have risen in popularity and support the above model well but, as I highlighted in the talk, this requires behavioural changes across the team. Mainly:

  • User representatives need to have a greater testing involvement, working closer in real time with testers.
  • Testers need to build technical knowledge and work closer in real time with developers, understanding developer tests and interfaces to avoid rework and improve quality.
  • Developers need work closer with the user representatives on the requirements collaboration, as well as with the testers to ensure that testing artefacts are left behind.

We need to appreciate testing as a team skill set and not as a job or an anchor. While this now occurs more frequently in the Agile community, many organisations still have a long way to go. Testing remains an important skill, but mindsets and skill sets need to change to fully embrace an Agile way of working.

Towards The Agile Country (AgileTODAY)

AgileTODAY is a publication associated with the Agile Australia conference. In the March 2016 edition I was invited to share my vision for the conference theme as part of my role as a conference advisor.

“Towards an Agile Country means that the Agile community can truly lead the charge in transforming Australia into an innovation and technical leader. By living the Agile values and helping others to find better ways of working together, focussing on delivery, focussing on the customer and keeping up with change, our size and diversity means we have the potential to become a world leader in many innovative fields. Our challenge is to move beyond software development teams and start solving the big problems.”

Agile Blogroll (AgileTODAY)

AgileTODAY is a publication associated with the Agile Australia conference. In the March 2013 edition I was featured twice in the Agile Blogroll article for both my personal blog as well as the Agile Revolution podcast.

8 Tips For Agile Coaches (AgileTODAY)

AgileTODAY 3A couple a months ago, Adrian Smith and I were asked to put together an article for the third edition of AgileTODAY to complement a workshop we plan to run at Agile Australia  2012. Adrian and I had a whiteboard session, and we put together these 8 tips which will hopefully help aspiring Agile coaches.

Introduction

The Agile coach is a critical role in helping leaders, teams and individuals understand, adopt and improve Agile methods and practice. For new and aspiring coaches, starting a coaching engagement can be daunting. It is easy to become distracted from the original mandate and get embroiled in the issues and politics of the team. The following tips were put together to help Agile coaches stay focused and achieve successful outcomes.

Start With The End In Mind

Before beginning an engagement with a team try to define success in terms of measurable outcomes and a realistic timescale. Share the outcomes with the team and sponsor to ensure there is a shared understanding of what you are trying to achieve. This will help clarify your role within the team and can help reduce any fears the team may have about the coming changes. Setting a clear end date will also ensure that both you and the team are clear that the team have to own and understand their way of working.

Be The Change You Want To See

Showing the team how it is done the first time then supporting them as they take ownership of the new way of working is a great way to bootstrap new practices and build trust in new practices. Role model behaviours you want to see in the team. If there are techniques or technologies you cannot model yourself, you may need to mentor an enthusiastic team member or bring in an expert.

Keep Your Distance

There is always a temptation to get involved and help with the team’s delivery work – especially when you see them struggling. While this may offer some short term help and can be useful as a learning exercise, it is unlikely to help in the long term. Becoming part of the team will also make it difficult to have tough conversations with team members, call-out unproductive behaviours and stay focused on your coaching objectives. Try to stand back, your role is to support the team and let them take credit for their success.

Ask The Team

The team has probably faced a majority of the issues long before you got involved. If they are to own the solution after you have gone, it is important to have them involved in the decision making process. Remember you are trying to help the team learn to work without your help. This sometimes means you have to let them make a decision that goes against your best judgement. Teams need to learn by their mistakes (and sometimes their idea works out which means you can learn something too).

Step By Step

People can adapt to change more easily when it happens slowly and they see how it aligns to an overall plan. Additionally, change becomes natural when you are able to create a safe learning environment for the team that encourages experimentation. Try to change the practices that are causing problems first replacing them with simple alternatives. If you take away all the old practices that a team depended upon they can lose their way and not see the dysfunctions for themselves.

Just The Facts

Asking questions is a fundamental skill for an Agile coach and can be used to drill down to the root cause of problems a team is facing. Don’t be afraid to ask “why” a couple of times to get to the facts behind a problem or to introduce the elephant in the room. As a coach you are in the privileged position of being able to raise sensitive issues and to legitimise discussion of difficult issues.

You Make What You Measure

Helping the team identify what is important (especially from a customer’s perspective), making it visible and updating it regularly will focus a team. Example metrics include: throughput, cycle time, delivered value and many others. The corollary to this suggestion is that you need to be careful what you measure because you can incentivise behaviour that has the potential to be counter-productive.

Agile Is Only A Means To An End

Although the Agile journey is important, Agile perfection is not the end goal. What does matter is delivering what your stakeholders want in a sustainable way. For this reason it is important to use Agile maturity assessments and other metrics with care. Helping a team become agile should focus on instilling Agile values and principles, while selecting and adapting Agile practices to help the team deliver.

Summary

Becoming an Agile coach requires a deep understanding of Agile, the confidence to drive change and a willingness for self-reflection. The role of an Agile coach is a rewarding one that allow you to use a wide range of skills across technical, social, business and communication disciplines.

8 Tips For Agile Coaches8 Tips For Agile Coaches

If you are interested in reading AgileTODAY, you can subscribe to the print copy or access the past issues online.

This article is also available on Adrian’s blog.

AgileTODAY

AgileTODAYAgileTODAY is a publication associated with the Agile Australia conference that is run by SlatteryIT. It is published quarterly and I have been lucky enough to have articles in the first two editions.

You can subscribe to the print copy or access the past issues online.

Volume 1 – May 2011

In this edition I featured in a profile entitled “60 seconds with Craig Smith”.

From Miscellaneous

With 15 years of software development and eight years of Agile practice under his belt, Craig Smith is an experienced and vocal advocate of the Agile methodology. He has regularly spoken at both the global and Australian Agile conferences, and currently spends his days as an Agile Coach at Suncorp’s Agile Academy.

Craig is a Certified Scrum Master, a member of the Scrum Alliance and Agile Alliance, an advisor to Agile Australia, and will be speaking at Agile Australia 2011.

Everybody starts their Agile journey somewhere. What was your ‘a-ha!’ moment?

My a-ha moment was in the days before many folks were even calling it Agile in 2001 – 2002. I worked on a project to write a lending application written in Java where we overtook a small meeting room, started writing tasks and designs on a whiteboard, split designing screens down via CRUD and core functionality and we paired and worked as a team to get things done. I could never go back after that. What has been your greatest challenge when introducing Agile to an organisation?

How did you overcome it?

In the early days it was trying to get people to take you seriously, as not delivering reams of documentation at the start of a project was seen like being a cowboy yet we were delivering faster than the teams around us. It felt much like working in a bubble because when we went outside our team environment we had to fall back to the waterfall processes used by the rest of the organisation. When Jeff Smith joined Suncorp, it was refreshing that someone in higher management had similar views, and since that point it has been a challenge to fi nd approaches to make our IT teams (and now the entire organisation) to work more effectively.

What is your favourite Agile-related quote?

I am always having to remind people that “our job is not to do quality Agile, it is to deliver quality software or solutions”. We just use Agile values, principles and practices to help us do that. I am quite concerned how much the term Agile is overloaded or used as an excuse by many people now, so have started a movement to come up with a new label, and joked we should call it “raccoon”. (in hindsight I should have come up with a better name!)

What is the strangest situation you’ve applied an Agile principle to?

It’s amazing how many situations the core practices of stand-ups, retrospectives and Big Visual Charts are applicable to. I fi nd it more amazing that when getting together to plan work with other Agile coaches or working on different Agile conferences, how often I have to remind people to visualise their fl ow or do a refl ection on progress.

If you could have a total career change, what would you be?

I never set out to work directly in IT, as I did a dual IT – librarianship degree at university. Part of me still wants to tick that box at some stage. But if I could fi nd a job that I had the skills for that related to my love of motorsport, that would be awesome.

What is your favourite thing on your desk right now?

I don’t have a desk, so I live out of a backpack (one of my colleagues calls me “the turtle” because I carry my desk around). So when I do fi nd a real desk, a power pack is usually pretty good. As for the cool stuff, I have a Spongebob Squarepants and a bunch of Simpsons characters on my desk at home!

 

Volume 2- September 2011

In this edition I wrote an article entitled “The Wow Starts Now”

From Miscellaneous
From Miscellaneous

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the ‘Agile Manifesto’. This historic document was the culmination of the ideas of 17 passionate guys who got together on a mountain outside of Salt Lake City with the aim of focussing on delivering quality software rather than following mundane process.

This document was not the invention of Agile, as approaches like XP and Scrum were already around at this point, but it was the document that gave us the label ‘Agile’.

In the years since, we have seen the rise and rise of the adoption of Agile methods. However, while its core values and principles have remained the same, many new and improved practices have evolved.

We saw this in June this year when we held the third annual Agile Australia conference in Sydney. It was full of buzz and enthusiasm from the 700-plus attendees and it brought home to me what I appreciate most about being part of the Agile community. The fact that everybody – both your friends and competitors – are willing to share their experiences, good or bad, is something that I am sure would not have happened ten years ago.

On the flipside, one of the criticisms I have heard of late, is that there is no “WOW” in the Agile community anymore.

This got me questioning. Where has all the “WOW” gone?

I think in part, Agile is now seen as having well and truly crossed the chasm into mainstream. However, have we gone so far that have we have actually jumped the shark?

Judging by what I have seen at this and other recent Agile conferences, there is in fact “WOW” happening everywhere. You just have to notice and appreciate it.

These range from small examples like the different ways that people tackle retrospectives or organise their iteration planning, right through to innovative approaches to testing and deployment. We need to bring these innovations out of the shadows and shine a light on them, and not be too quick to dismiss them.

My thoughts are that we need to make sure that people who are still on their Agile journey have some basic practices and approaches to build their Agile foundation – which is a huge “WOW” on its own. For the rest of us who have made the leap, we need to remember the twelfth Agile Manifesto principle: “

At regular intervals, the team refl ects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.”

In other words, we need to continually adjust and share our findings, and every now and then we might just come up with a “WOW” moment. That’s how practices like user stories and test driven development were invented.

My challenge to you, reader, is what is your ‘WOW’? Sharing our experiences, good and bad, is what makes the Agile community great. We need you to share your war stories and your improvements on existing processes and practices (and if you do, we welcome you to share it at the Agile Australia 2012 conference!)

To paraphrase Martin Fowler in his closing keynote at Agile Australia 2011: If you say Agile is no longer relevant, then essentially you are saying you are happy to go back to the ways of the past. If you have truly used Agile in your organisation or team, then you would agree there is no going back – and that is the greatest WOW of all.

Craig Smith is an Agile Coach at Suncorp and an advisor to the Agile Australia Conference.