Saturday, November 27, 2010

November: Overcoming Obstacles When Moving to an Agile Environment

by Doug Dow, Associate Fellow

A small crowd of twenty-some Lone Star members bypassed the camping tents, climbed the stairs, made their way past racks of discount sporting gear, and found the REI Sporting Goods Store’s community room to hear Ravi Verma speak on preparing teams for the transition to Agile development methodologies.

It was my first meeting of the post-Crowne era, so change was certainly in the air. The room was very basic, lit only with neon, but it sufficed with audio and video equipment available. There were only a few interruptions from the store’s paging system. (Speakers should be advised not to compete with it.) With the new meeting price structure, most attendees opted to eat the sandwich buffet from Jason’s Deli. With the focus on food, there was less actual socializing time (our mouths are annoyingly unitasking), but the picnic atmosphere was pleasing.

As a fan of magic, speaker Ravi Verma was pleased that this evening would find fans cramming the multiplexes for the opening of the new Harry Potter movie. Verma also found delight in his wife’s cooking—magical, the way she found and blended ingredients even in trying circumstances!

In this way, Verma jumped from magic to Agile, an approach to software development that responds to change rather than following a strict formal plan. Aspects of the “Agile Manifesto” fly in the face of software development methodologies prevalent in the twentieth century. Clearly, I recall the military project I worked on back in the ‘80s where the Computer Product Development Plan and the software specifications were all contract-driven, immutable, supplied by management. Today, with Agile, the customer is a constant collaborator, with developers adapting to changes as needed.

Verma explained the significance of the scrum, the daily stand-up progress meeting, and the sprint, the timeframe in which a potentially shippable product can be developed.

Obstacles to successful Agile implementation derive from one or more of three factors (or “pillars”): Change, Personality, and Conflict. Many people resist change, so setting the stage and planning the transition is crucial. Verma discussed change planning in some detail, but time ran out before he could discuss Personality (MBTI) and Conflict.

Verma spoke in a light, humorous manner and invited questions throughout. The amplification might have been higher, and it would have been better if he had stopped during the two or three paging system broadcasts. As guests of REI, the interruptions are probably unavoidable.

The food was good (and plentiful), I learned stuff, and I reconnected with old friends. I commend LSC leaders for their agility during this time of change.