I attended Agile NYC’s 2013 all day conference last week, and was so inspired by all the agile practitioners I met and am loving how the community is growing in the area. I keep thinking, why didn’t I get involved with this earlier!! Well, right now is the right time. One thing that kept going through my head when I was at the conference was the question, “what is your agile story?” Each one of us in the Agile space has come into it from different angles. Whether you are an engineer, business analyst, product owner, business owner, project manager, product manager, recruiter, graphic designer, coach, trainer, etc. your agile story is different than mine; yet agile methods bring us all together to drive product delivery, and find better ways to connect with each other in today’s work environment. Agile methods are spreading beyond technology. It is really cool to watch and be a part of!
Some of you who follow my blog, might not have a clue what I am talking about…agile what? So, let me break it down for you…
Agile software development is a group of software development methods based on iterative and incremental development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing, cross-functional teams. It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development and delivery, a time-boxed iterative approach, and encourages rapid and flexible response to change. It is a conceptual framework that promotes foreseen interactions throughout the development cycle. The Agile Manifesto introduced the term in 2001.
Simple translation of the above: it is a method of communication and actions that a group of people can use to achieve their goals and product high quality products.
There are different types of agile methodologies (Lean, Kanban, SCRUM, etc.) that are implemented across companies based on what is best for that specific group of people and the product they are trying to develop, or goal they are trying to reach. There are many different certifications that can be achieved to assist with the implementation and increase the knowledge of agile practices, which I can address at another time. In this post I want to share my agile story with you, in the hopes that some of you may share your agile story with me. Since each one is unique, and constantly evolving.
Three Questions I will answer, and if you choose to share your story with me, please do the same.
- What got you into the agile world?
- Why do you choose to continue down an agile path?
- What do you hope happens next in the agile space?
My agile story:
I stumbled upon agile product development and am ever grateful that I did. It has changed the way I organize myself, attract new colleagues and business as an independent consultant.
My agile story begins in 2005 when I was working out as an independent consultant in Colorado and focused on business analyst/project management work. I was fortunate to land a contract with Richard Dolman at the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) in Denver. Richard took a chance on me, and little did I know that I was about to be exposed to my first agile development custom application project and team. The coolest part of this project was the team was so willing to get involved with iterative cycles of development where, as a BA, I could work directly with the developers and fine tune the work they were doing prior to the delivery date of that feature to ensure the quality of what we delivered met the client’s need. This allowed me to raise the bar on how I would write requirements, test plans, and train the end users, because I was part of the development cycle and was working collaboratively with the dev team to deliver at a faster pace than I was used to.
Being able to play many team player roles on an agile team, allowed me to be a better Agile Project Manager. I felt I was a good translator of requirements between business and technology teams, but I also felt I could facility and manage these teams to drive delivery plans. So, I started to look into certifications. At that time, the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification was more relevant for job postings I had seen as a requirement for Project Managers, so I accomplished that. While I worked to get the PMP, I took courses through esi-international backed by George Washington University to achieve a Master’s Certification in Project Management. I take the construct of PMP project phases and integrate them with the agile product delivery practice I learned working with the CHFA team to create my project plans. I worked with CHFA for 3 of the 5 years I lived in Colorado and the experience and team dynamic was great! I took all that I learned from the roles I played there as a consultant and when I relocated back to the East Coast, I hunted for similar projects/teams that were in the agile space and had a desire to deliver products using these methods. I thought for sure the NY Metro area would be engulfed in Agile practices.
I was fortunate to land a job with Ask.com in Edison, NJ. The management team in Oakland was dead set on figuring out the best ways to bridge East and West coast product delivery methods. I talked to the VP of PMO and VP of Engineering at the time about SCRUM based product development, and they decided to go for it. Since I had seen it in practice with CHFA, I knew the ask.com teams could benefit from the practice. I was part of the pilot team that would initiate the transformation from traditional product development to SCRUM based practices. We were trained and coached by Bob Schatz. At this point, I had no formal training on SCRUM, and was so excited to learn something new. Plus, as the Sr. Technical Program Manager on the team, we became Certified Scrum Masters (CSM). As the CSM of a non-collocated team, there were some challenges that I had to quickly learn how to overcome. Majority of the team was in Edison, NJ, where I was based, but the product owner and management team was in Oakland. We all were collocated for the training, and created story cards and SCRUM boards for our first sprint, sized and did the task breakdown of each card to kick off the pilot. We chose the cards for the first sprint, then I would transcribe the cards into Jira using Greenhopper to create a virtual board, so remote team members could use it and track progress. Non-collocated teams seems to be the norm for the teams I have been on. So, I purchased a standing desk on wheels, a web cam, used jira as the scrum board to move cards/tasks, and manage the sprints in a virtual space so the whole team could participate. At certain points, we would fly team members into Edison that were remote for planning sessions to build better team cohesion. It was a really exciting time as a Project Manager to have a new way to motivate, facilitate and lead product delivery in an iterative way.
Soon after, I joined ideeli as the Director of Program Management. The engineering team had rapid waterfall delivery methods in place, but the quality of the product was suffering at release dates, and there was a high volume of emergency response/bug fixes that were required in production immediately after each release. I introduced the SCRUM based Agile methods to ideeli. I had the support of the VP of Engineering and CTO to transform the practices. I first trained my PM staff and made sure each of them understood the role of being the Scrum Master for each team. I broke down the construct of a SCRUM team, the meeting management responsibilities, the value of the obstacle board, and how to roll the sprint breakdown into a product release plan. The PMs on the team assisted me in training the development, QA, and product staff on the agile practice and how we would use Jira to track everything. Again, this team was not collocated. So we did our best to create virtual communication methods and visibility of team members using skype, Jira, googledocs and web cams. It was great to use my learning to date on the agile practices and apply them to a new team, and lead the transformation. I really enjoyed watching how the practice transformed the team dynamic and the skill set of my PMs to lead/drive teams in an applicable manner. I was able to manage the same transformation at AVM Software with their engineering team.
What I appreciate most about the agile practice is the ability to identify issues as they happen, find solutions, rework what we need to and drive a quality deliverable. Agile practices give me visibility into what is happening right now, so as a team we can give a more realistic view on where we are, and where we may need help. As a Project Manager, these practices help me with risk analysis and delivery time management to better manage expectations with my product owners and stakeholders. I continue to explore different agile practices because I believe each team and company is different. Each team dynamic may call for different practices for optimal performance.
The value of being able to train teams on agile practices that are best suited for them is the ability to introduce accountability, team cohesiveness/communication, and transparency on what everyone is working on, so as a team, they can all move forward together. The next phase of my agile story, is to continue to develop my agile coaching skills where I not only lead agile teams, but can focus 1:1 with team members on how they can best use these practices and decrease their fear around the change it brings to their every day work life. I believe agile methods can be used way beyond the product development focus it has had to date.
If you have an agile story, please share it with me. I look forward to seeing what is next in our agile world.
I also belong to the following meetup groups if you want to learn more about Agile practices, come join us at a meeting: