Leaner, more agile

This week, I’m attending a few days of training in agile software development, in an Innovel course titled Lean, Agile and Scrum for Project Managers and IT Leadership.

My first exposure to agile was in Desiree Sy‘s 2005 presentation, Strategy and Tactics for Agile Design: A design case study, to the Usability Professionals Association (UPA) annual conference in Montreal, Canada. It was a popular presentation then, and UPA-conference attendees continue to be interested in agile methods now. This year, at the UPA conference in Portland, USA, a roomful of usability analysts and user-experience practitioners discussed the challenges that agile methods present to their practice. One of the panellists told the room: “Agile is a response to the classic development problem: delivering the wrong product, too late.” There was lots of uncomfortable laugher at this. Then came the second, thought-provoking sentence: “Agile shines a light on the rest of us, since we are now on the critical path.” Wow! So it’s no longer developers, but designers, usability analysts, etc, who are holding up the schedule?

An agile loadDuring this week’s training, I’m learning lots while looking for one thing in particular: how to ensure agile methods accommodate non-developer activities, from market-facing product management activities, to generative product design, to early prototype testing, to usability testing, and so on.

I’m starting to suspect that when agile methods “don’t work” for non-developers, it’s because the process is wagging the dog (or that its “rules” are being applied dogmatically). I think I’m hearing that agile isn’t a set of fixed rules—so not a religion—but a sensible and flexible method that team members can adapt to their specific project and product.

Design can change the culture

I was reading a comment by Creative Sage CIO and CEO, Cathryn Hrudicka, about corporations that want to use social media to reach their market:

The process of trying to become a more “transparent” organization, so they can use social media tools, pushes many organizations—companies, nonprofits, trade associations—into change, especially if they have had a very bureaucratic and non-transparent culture before. That can mean many levels of changes, which usually bring up issues between executives or managers and their teams, and it can affect relationships between staff or team members. Individuals often need to be coached to adapt to the new practices or even to drive them more effectively. Some leadership and teamwork issues come up, too.

It reminded me of a company that changed after I was asked to introduce an ideation-design method. The management team wanted the method to do double duty—a way to empower and encourage the development team.

Prior to this, it seemed team members had been discouraged from taking design initiative. Half the team was disheartened or miserable, the other half of the team was disengaged to the point where they wouldn’t offer a design suggestion even when asked by their boss. Initially, some team members took a wait-and-see approach, but after training and several successful project experiences, the majority of developers became increasingly comfortable with involvement in product design.

It took commitment from key managers to invigorate the team, and it took considerable time. They still use Five Sketches™ today.

If you liked this post, check out a recent post about Google’s corporate culture.