Thursday, September 22, 2011

Can Agile work from the bottom up?

Many organizations have tried to implement “Agile” in their development process. Some have been extremely successful.  Others have failed miserably.

I have worked with 4 organizations in the last 10 years that have implemented some form of agile development. They vary in their success and they vary in their implementation.  Each company having its own values and culture affecting the outcome. They also have implemented some of the agile techniques but have not come to emulate the Agile Manifesto to it’s fullest.

I have written about what agile means before. And mentioned the need for support from upper management. I still believe that in order to truly embrace the Agile Manifesto and be successful, an organization requires support from upper management and as far up as the CIO and CEO.

But where does that leave some folks who are learning about Agile and what it means but don’t have the support from above? Well there are some steps you can take as an individual to begin. First of all, don’t try to do everything at once. look at your organization, consider the culture, consider the current process, consider the resources.

A good friend of mine, Jason, brought Agile to the for-front at FM Global, where I used to work and where I first learned about Agile. He slowly brought it in our organization by adapting his team.  He had a few people on his team look at new tools like cruise-control and nunit.  That’s where I started.

Jason assigned me to look at this new tool called back in 2004 and 2005  It is a tool for continuous integration. And another team member looked at nunit which is an automated unit testing framework.  These tools are still around and supported by the community.  But a funny thing happened.  Microsoft took notice and now Visual Studio and TFS have fully functioning Unit testing frameworks and Continuous Integration build systems.

Jason managed to get his team utilizing Agile techniques and upper management noticed. So much so that the company paid for all of us to take an Agile, Test Driven Development, and pair programming course with “Uncle” Bob Martin.  So we trained with the best. If you ask Jason I am sure he will tell you it was a slow process.  He is now a professional Agile Coach so I guess he knows what he is talking about.

My experience has been the same. Since I left that company in 2008 I have worked with 3 organizations all at various stages in their Agile process.  One had daily standups (SCRUM) meetings but nothing else. One had nothing but Continuous Integration but not for all projects. And one had “iterative development” for some projects.  I managed to work with all of them to enhance what they had.  I am still working on the last one.

So can you make Agile work from the bottom up? It isn’t easy and it takes a long time but, you can have an affect.  You may not implement all the agile principles. But some of the common practices can go along way to making your group a bit more Agile.  Keep it up.

Till next time…

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