Message from the CEO: We Must Evolve

The Entrance by nattu, on Flickr Agile
The Entrance by nattu

On the flight home from a recent assignment I fell asleep and had a wonderful dream about a speech that a CEO gave to his employees. It went something like this…

In order to survive long term a species must evolve. So must companies. So must we.

Our company is heavily reliant on our software for survival. These days the new environment of software development is agile. This is an inevitable evolutionary step that we either learn to do or we will eventually perish. There are already a number of our competitors who are further evolved than us but fortunately there are a number who are not. We may be able to catch those ahead but we most certainly must evolve more than those behind. Survival is not only for the fastest gazelle, but we must at least be faster than the slowest.

To date our size has been a saving grace, along with the relative ineptitude of our competition. However, we can no longer rely on either size or dumb luck. We must boldly evolve. The savannah is littered with the carcasses of large and slow companies, ones who were too slow to keep up with the changing landscape. It wasn’t too long ago that Borders and Blockbuster were behemoths and now, they are no longer with us. Those who rely on size would be wise to note that Fortune 500 companies now have a lifespan of 15 years versus 75 years half a century ago, as stated in a Forbes article I read that used the Shift Index.

That is why as a company we must not relegate our evolutionary future to random mutation or genetic drift but instead embrace the values and principles of agile development, the implementation frameworks of scrum and Kanban and the software practices associated with XP, BDD and the like.

I have been told that there have been several attempts to take this company agile in the past but the proponents of these ideas have been thwarted by organizational antibodies such as fear, indifference and outright subversion. My sincerest apologies to these pioneering men and women for not understanding or giving support to your cause.

In order to ensure that our company transformation goes smoothly, I have appointed a CAO, or Chief Agile Officer, to work alongside me. He has my full support and let me make one more thing crystal clear: from this day forward anyone who subverts our essential evolutionary change will have plenty of time to commiserate with former Blockbuster employees.

We must evolve. We will evolve.

Then I woke up. And the speech has not been made and Blockbuster and Borders are still out of business. But I still have hope.

Larry Apke

The Night Sky and the Tea Koan

As a coach, there are a number of stories that I usually talk about to my new teams to help them understand what my job is all about.

One I like to use with teams that think they already know agile is one I call “the night sky” which I based on my own personal experience. It goes something like this; when I was a kid growing up in the suburbs, I frequently played games outside with my friends at night. Sometimes we would look up at the sky and try to identify those constellations we knew. Most often we found the big and little dipper, but our limited knowledge (and limited view) allowed for little else. Nevertheless, to me this was the night sky.

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Software Development is Communication

The longer I stay in the software development business the more I am convinced of certain things. One thing that has hit home recently is this very interesting fact – on the whole, those in charge of software delivery are fundamentally ignorant of how software is made. I have written previously about how software development is a creative process, but what amazes me is that the people who staff and manage software development fail to see how much communication is necessary to software development.

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Apke’s Law

Most of my 7+ years of Agile coaching and scrum mastering has been working with existing waterfall organizations and helping them become more agile. During this period I have seen a wide range of companies and a wide range of successful adoption, but I have noticed one thing that is constant. This was brought home recently as I reflect on my most recent agile presentation/discussion given at Geekdom in San Antonio last week.

In this Agile open forum the majority of the questions dealt with transitioning from waterfall to agile. This is where I first publicly broached Apke’s law which states:

Your transition to agile will only go as far as the highest ranking manager who understands and supports it.

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Recommended Reading

Since I am often asked (and often offer without being asked) what books I have read that have helped me to better understand and implement Agile, I have created a page for recommended reading. This (and posting a new blog update) has been something I have wanted to do for some time so I wanted to make sure I got something up.

I will update this list from time to time as I find more books that I think are worth the effort.

Want a Quick Agile Win? Try Office Hours

When you are an Agile Coach you sometimes must resign yourself to the fact that it will usually take team members awhile to get it and victories can be few and far between. One thing that I can recommend for a quick win and something that has worked well for me on multiple occasions (when it could be implemented) is something that I called office hours. I can only assume that I am not the one who invented this, but it is something that I “discovered” independently to solve the issue of resources being pulled into unproductive meetings when I needed them to be on task for our stories.

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