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Agile – A guide for leaders and managers

A bittersweet guide for leaders and managers on Agile. What do you need to know, how to think about projects and more

Disclaimer: This guide is framework-agnostic. So it does not matter if you are using SCRUM, SAFe or any other. It applies just the same.

There are few topics that are more misunderstood than agile. And people in leadership positions tend to be more vulnerable to such situation.

I know that most of you will not get proper agile training and experience, and many that will be trained will end up getting bad ones, so I decided to write this.

In this article, I will dive into how you, as a manager/leader, can be smart in your next meeting, while still managing to avoid the most common pitfalls in relation to agile methodologies

What agile is not

1. Repeat with me: agile is not about doing anything faster

Good. Now that we have that out of the way we can go ahead.

If your idea of using agile methods revolves around concluding things faster, I must admit, you have troublesome times ahead of you.

2. Agile is not cheaper

Having your teams deliver through agile methodologies is not necessarily cheaper. Especially not in the short run.
To start the journey people really need to get the understanding ingrained. That comes from two things:

  1. Having proper training with enough hands on and practice for it to make sense.
  2. Start using the methodologies immediately.

If you compromise in any of these, you will fail.

3. Agile is not easier

Agile methodologies are made in a way that they force you (the team) to take hard decisions. This is the goal and should not be avoided.

If you compromise and try to adapt or bend the methodology to your own team or your product, you will fail.

If you believe your team has this special need that really requires adapting the framework, you will fail.

If you don’t face these tough calls early, you are already missing the process. Therefore, you will fail. Or are failing already.

What agile is

A methodology that will help you deliver more frequently and consequently improve quicker by learning faster

Wait, you just said that it was not about doing anything faster?

Exactly! The point here is to deliver more frequently. Do you have something ready? Deliver! No point waiting to have something perfect. Deliver what you have. Always.

Don’t guess or play the expert. Let the user tell you what’s right and what’s wrong by using whatever you are delivering in real life.

Every time you find yourself polishing a feature that is ready, discussing the nice-to-haves ( or not knowing the difference between a nice to have and a need to have ) then you are past the shipping moment.

Improving quicker

As soon as you stop polishing the pig you will start delivering quicker. Delivering quicker will allow you to:

  1. Harvest benefits earlier
  2. Fix shortcomings earlier
  3. Get feedback earlier
  4. Become better earlier

However, to deliver quickly you will have to be able to let go of your infinite need for feeling in control and admit that you cannot know everything. Even if you had infinite time to tweak and think.

The key here is knowing what you know and accepting that there are things you don’t know and, really, cannot know before your users have a chance to try it.

How to think about it for your projects

Now, let’s get practical.

There are three important aspects to keep in mind for all your agile projects. All of them. Resist the temptation to say you have special cases. You don’t.

The three aspects are:

  1. Fix the timeline, make the scope flexible
  2. Don’t wait for unfinished parts, ship what is ready and usable
  3. Don’t rush
The agile triple constraint – The scope is the variable!

1. Fixed timeline, flexible scope

Decide when you want to ship and stick to it.

Now to the question: what if we are not done by that time?

The answer is painfully simple: you release only what you have finished and cut the rest off. Unless of course you have not finished anything remotely usable.

2. Don’t wait for unfinished parts, ship what is ready and usable

The second part is tightly connected to the first.

Release what you have. Let the customer have a say about the result. Give yourself a chance to learn from it so you can improve faster.

The alternative is to wait. To reconsider. To think it through a little more. To test just a little more. Just to make sure.

And this, makes you late, dilutes the benefits you aimed for and more importantly, prevents your customers from helping you out and showing you the way they want.

3. Don’t rush

Rushing is the single biggest mistake done when starting out with agile methods.

Now you have already learned that agile is not about doing anything fast. Let alone in a hurry.

Avoid the shortcuts, avoiding cutting important activities, avoid postponing. Do what needs to be done, but follow the methodology and you will succeed. You will release early and often and you will learn quickly. Allowing you to release more, improve, release again, improve and so on.

With that said, you are still responsible for improving your processes so you can also do things faster. But never cut on something that has to be done on the name of agile.

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