Becoming agile

Agile, through the storms

Archive for the tag “Retrospective”

Becoming Agile on Becoming Agile

I am sharing a post from our LinkedIn group on how to commence your journey:

Original Question:

How to establish agile development in a very tight and constrained department

I have been studying Agile development (Scrum in particular) and wish to implement it within my team. Team is around 20 over developers, QA engineers and several key role personal (DBA, S.A,B.A and such). Problem being the team turnover rate is high. To add more complexity to the situation, lots of delivered products require CRs and bug handling while new assignments keep piling up, and the team keeps answering customer care 30%~40% of their time. 

Is agile good for this situation? Is working in “small” amount of work units the answer to better productivity? I have my management full support to move the team forward into agile development yet I find it hard to drive it given the conditions described above. Any advice from the masters?”


Photo by Schplook at http://www.flickr.com/photos/45040273@N02/5444960010/

My response:

@****, I am starting from the last part of your statement: You have full management support, which is wonderful. It means they trust you to make changes that are good for the organization. You will need to find out whether this includes also management commitment, that it, are they willing to change to accommodate your changes. If they don’t you will need to adapt in order to become agile while still answering their needs.
As for becoming agile:
The complexity you describe exists in many places, in many different manifestations. You will need to find a way that is suitable for your context. In order to do so, you will need to experiment, and find if what you do works well for you. If it doesn’t, you will need to design another experiment. If it does you will design experiments to make it even better, and to adapt to the changing reality.
The big question you must be facing now is HOW? How do I even begin to design the first experiment?
In order to design good experiments, you will need to acquire knowledge – both practical and theoretical. What makes an organization become agile, and what diverts it away from agility?
This can be done through experiences – courses and workshops. Practical Agile (my organization) runs such courses. Find out more about it here. Of course, there are others to choose from.
You can also read books. Shirly just posted in this group Agile Bench’s list of books by category.
I have recently posted Jurgen Appelo’s 100 most popular books on agile

What’s your idea of becoming agile?

If you’ve got your own ideas of effectively becoming agile, please share them! You can either share them as responses here, or, even better, respond directly on the post in LinkedIn, to help the guy by sharing your way. If you think I am wrong, or maybe not good enough in my response, heck, you will also help me grow better Agile Practitioners

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Suggestion Box

How do you get your team to become innovative? To generate new ideas?

Our default intuition is to ask people what they would like to improve. Well, this is good, but the real question is – is it good enough?

Take this photo, for example. How effective would it be in generating good suggestions? How sustainable will it remain over time?


Photo by Sethoscope

Our intuition tells us that if we tell others to do something, they will do it. However, we rarely apply the same intuition on ourselves. Say someone else put the suggestion box – how inclined would we be to participate and contribute new suggestions?

A learning team needs to nurture a learning culture. Think of those two words: nurture, culture. This implies that we need to cultivate it, and provide the fertile grounds for it to sustain.

Recently Mark Levison provided us one example of how to overcome technical debt and to increase the team’s evolvement and evolution into a team that learns how to learn.

He has used Michael Feathers’ brillirant book, Working Effectively With Legacy Code, to try out techniques of carving out problematic areas of our code, and refactoring them into code that is more maintainable and sustainable.

The point is one of courage. Will you be the first to lead this change? If someone is already leading such a transition, or attempting to, will you be courageous enough to join the ride? Take Derek Sivers‘ short clip about the underestimated kind of leadership – being the first follower.

Courage, as I have found out, is something you realize in the aftermath. Looking back in retrospect you say to yourself – “Where did I find the courage to do this?”

The order “Be courageous” in that sense is about the same as saying – put your suggestions in the box. If you are looking for courageous people, think whether you, as a team, are cultivating the atmosphere for such behaviors to emerge.

Not sure how to start? Make the first courageous decision, and get educated on the values, principles, and practices that will get you there.

Taking a good SCRUM course may be a good starting point. My colleague Elad Sofer is running a SCRUM course at the end of April (as do several others in Israel, and many around the world).

Register to this course at the course website at http://www.practical-agile.com/training/scrum-training-menu/practical-scrum

If you feel courageous enough to improve your retrospective skills, try our one day workshop

Lean manufacturing – On values, practices and great salads

As part of my blogging life, I was invited to visit Mashani Salads factory in Beit Shemesh in the county of Jerusalem. I knew the produce of this maker, and I arrived with expectations to get some good food, but I also had a hidden agenda – observe the process, and use this visit also as learning experience. Little did I know that I was going to be surprised on both accounts.


The first experience was the passion with which Zohar Cadoori, co-CEO and co-owner, talked about his company. Passion for food, and passion for high quality. His description of receiving fresh produce from suppliers left no doubt – For Mashani Salads, making good business meant maintaining high quality. They demand it from themselves, they demand it from their employees, and they demand it from their suppliers.

Upon receiving goods, the staff would prepare empty crates, and sort the produce. Anything below their high standards would go back to the supplier. That does not mean low quality produce – these are produce you and I would easily bring home. We have examined the produce in the small storage – everything was top notch. Chef restaurant quality.


When we went through the production rooms, we understood what makes the preparation process work so well – no fancy machinery, no peeling devices, no robots. The vegetables are hand peeled, the carrots and cabbage chopped using standard equipment. Eggplants are grilled manually on designated grills. No smoke extract, no flavor additives.


Photo by Stav Adam http://stavadam.com

There is no secret to Mashani’s success, other than maintaining high quality.

You are welcome to enjoy more photos and more detailed account of the visit and the preparation process in this blog post (in Hebrew)


As the visit came to an end, Zohar invited us back to his office to enjoy a light brunch – Mashani Salads, of course, and to answer questions. He has described why he is keeping low stock levels, and that it makes no sense to overproduce and ship out a product that stood in the chilling room and potentially be forced to sell it at a reduce-to-clear price. I asked him – how do you know how much to produce? And his answer was dead simple – I produce according to the incoming orders. I know what typical orders are, and if a big order comes in, I prepare in advance.

I asked further – so what do you do if a big order comes in and you cannot deliver in time? He said simply – I produce whatever I can for a first shipment, and make the arrangements for the next batch.

It was so refreshing to hear someone so much into the process: maintain low WIP, work Just In Time, Inspect and Adapt.

I also asked about the number of products they maintain. Mashani runs a restaurant and delicatessen in Rishon Le-Tzion, where they stock about 200 different lines, some are produced in the factory, some are prepared locally, and some are bought elsewhere. However, as a food supplier, although there are about 200 items in their catalog, at any moment in time they make about 20 different products. Around 40 employees run the entire factory.

Factory? I found that this word does not fit in with this establishment. Crafts-shop sounds more appropriate. Without a doubt this company does not deserve a ‘Fordistic’ title that resembles a mass production line. This is a lean operation, focused on making customers happy, rather than a fancy technological make-more-money concept or increase-shelf-life-over-quality approach.

I have no idea whether Zohar or his management team has done some proper process optimization courses. I do know one thing, though:

I have asked Zohar Why? Why do you insist on such high standards, although you know your prices are higher than the competition? At first he said, because he will not serve his own children anything less than what they are making.

But why? I continued. Surely you can make high quality food at home and sell something else to the market!

To this he responded that he could not allow himself to do that

Why not? I persisted.

This time he responded that quality is top value. You cannot compromise quality, and this is how you get your quality right.

What I felt from the beginning became clear now. This is what makes Mashani different from their competition: Values. They believe in their ways, and that’s what makes their product so good. Not the other way round.

There is no grand secret or a mysterious secret ingredient.

Where does this leave me? I am not yet sure. If I put my mind to it, I believe I can help them become better, leaner, whatever. But they don’t really need my advise – Mashani is already a learning organization, and it will be patronizing to think I can teach them anything they cannot find on their own.

As for other organizations… Bring me the CEO that is prepared to listen – not only hear. There has been much talk about Gemba Walks, and 5S and Six Sigma and more and how to practice them. But can you get a company to adopt new values and let go of old habits? Indeed, I find discussions such as “What makes a great leader” more valueable to getting the wheels in motion. Practices will inevitably follow afterwards.

After all, it all starts from the top and seeps down through the fabric of the organization.

Can you turn a non-lean manufacturer into a Mashani? And how? What do you think?

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