Monday, March 25, 2013

Agile: The Book vs. The Movie


I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a pretty big bookworm. I also love to go to the movies, which is less and less frequently now with young children at home. It’s an all too often occurrence for me to read a book and, as I see the images play out in my mind, think, “This would make a great movie!” Of course, that sentiment occasionally becomes reality and I find myself leaving the theater thinking, “The book was so much better than the movie!” The movie may even be good. It may be the best movie I see that year. But the book is invariably better.

I see teams, both inside my company and out, that struggle with making Agile work. Too often they get some basic knowledge, get really excited, and start forging onward without taking the time to continually research Agile best practices and innovations. It’s a stripped-down version of Agile, usually built on the roles and ceremonies only and not the principles on which Agile is founded. They’re taking all the action, but cutting out sub-plots and character development. It’s the movie version of Agile.

Over the past year, I’ve had several people express how impressed they are with how “by-the-book” my area is running Agile. And it’s true; we stay very true to the published recommendations that are widely accepted by the industry. We’re able to do this because the team has changed the way they approach software development. They have changed their mindset to one that aligns with Lean and Agile principles. They are flexible and embrace change because they know if something doesn’t work they can dump it after 2 weeks when the Sprint ends. This paradigm shift is essential for teams to be successful with Agile. It’s also the Scrum Master’s greatest challenge.

A team can run Scrum without a dedicated Scrum Master, but they are largely secretarial. They ensure the ceremonies are held and time-boxes are respected, but not much else. A dedicated Scrum Master is also a mentor and coach, with much of their time spent removing impediments; resolving conflict, hopefully in a productive way that results in learning and compromise; evangelizing Lean and Agile principles; and advocating XP and other technical excellence practices. This helps the team obtain and retain their “High Performing” status indefinitely. This is all made possible not in spite of all the change that is inherent in Agile, but because of it.

When it comes to Agile, I’ve “read the book” and “seen the movie” and, as with all other cases, the book provides a much richer experience. It might take longer to get through; it might take some imagination; and you might have to read it more than once. But the book is invariably better.
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