From Fragile to Agile: A 50-year-old gets to grips with agile

Filed in News by on 26 April, 2016

Fragile to AgileI’ve been around the block a few times in the IT industry since I graduated from Wits with a BSc in Computer Science in 1984. Like so many of my generation—the 50-plus golden generation—the vast majority of the projects I’ve been involved with have used the Waterfall or V-Model methodology.

With that context, you won’t be surprised to learn that I have encountered some speed bumps along the way to getting up to speed on the agile methodology!

My first brush with agile was less than promising. The company I was working for decided to adopt agile. My team, which consisted of a business development manager, two colleagues busy with mostly administration, a colleague who was busy doing informal research and myself, met each morning to try and put the new methodology into practice, even though none of us really knew what it was.

One example: the morning scrum meeting turned into an exercise in micro-management, providing no benefits—not surprisingly, the effort died a natural death after two weeks. My second brush was no less disastrous, again becoming just a micro-managing exercise. The morning scrum meetings created a negative atmosphere that got the day off to a terrible start.

It’s third time lucky for me because my current employer actually understands what agile is, and put me through some training. I also made the effort to read whatever I could lay my hands on, and pestered everybody with questions.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that the daily scrum meetings were a pleasure and got the day off to a positive start. What did I do yesterday, what was I planning on doing today and did I have any blockages? Full stop, no further explanations, no micro-managing. Any further discussions to take place between the parties involved, with the intention of finding solutions to problems. A key stakeholder from the client was also present at these meetings. The scrum master stepped in very authoritatively, but positively, when any of us deviated from sound scrum principles.

My first real agile experience has turned out to be very positive and enjoyable:

  • The atmosphere of the daily scrum meetings was very positive, with the scrum master ensuring that everything was conducted according to scrum principles.

  • The client was responsible for making project-related decisions and felt free to make suggestions for improvement.

  • Planning was flexible, with the client giving guidance according to business priorities.

  • There was a cooperative culture to move the project forward constantly.

  • The scrum meetings and regular updates on collaboration tools gave a high level of visibility across the whole project.

  • We planned to demonstrate visible progress to the customer every two weeks.

  • I actually became comfortable with the changing of traditional roles. The entire team is involved right from the beginning, and everybody’s input is noted and appreciated. Suggestions are acted on where feasible.

My conclusion? Agile can work, but it has some dependencies. Everybody has to be committed to making it work, and sometimes a huge shift in mindset will be required—companies with a command-and-control attitude or that are characterised by silos will find it hard to adapt. But where there is a will, and the cultural fit allows it, agile can change the work experience for the better—and help teams deliver a superior product.

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