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Blazed and Confused

03/24/2014 by Brian Barr

Been blazed and confused for so long it's not true . . .

So, your Agile transformation journey has been underway for a few weeks, a few months, or maybe almost a year. You have blazed a path toward agility. But, much like the Led Zeppelin song (Dazed and Confused -- please, you don't have to be from the '70s to get the Led out!), there is a huge pause in the middle of the journey, and now you are not really sure if you are going anywhere.

This is the perfect time to do two things:

  1. Celebrate how far you have blazed your trail to agility.
  2. Figure out where and how to keep moving forward on the Agile journey (and certainly how to stay away from falling back into Waterfall).
Celebrating your Agile trailblazing so far is important. Take a few moments to reflect on the effort spent, look back on your accomplishments and the distance you have traveled, and appreciate what your software delivery life looked like only a few short weeks, months, or year ago. It is important to remember the effort it took to start blazing the path toward agility. Organizations are often eager to expend the energy early in the journey because the non-Agile ways of delivering software were so painful. However, do not use this opportunity to say, "We are plenty Agile already." There are numerous examples of organizations that get comfy with where they are on their Agile journey and feel that they have learned all they can learn. What a shame! And how subtly the fall back to pre-Agile days can happen, without your noticing that you are actually going down the Waterfall again.

It is time to push on your Agile journey! If you are truly going to be an Agile trailblazer, you need to build discontent with the status quo. What does that mean, and do I really want to build a discontented organization? Creating discontent for the status quo means raising the awareness and building a vision of what could be -- and of how different, and how much better, that destination is from where you are now. This takes real leadership, not just from the anointed leaders but also from others within the organization. Anyone can recognize that the journey is never finished, that you can blaze a new trail from the place you stand now to an even better destination.

This takes creating a real culture of continuous improvement within your teams. You need to take sprint and release retrospectives seriously and make sure that investment in the smaller and larger improvements is made continuously. So, discontent in the status quo means standing still is unacceptable -- and yes, we all want our organizations to feel a lack of contentment with standing still. If you are not sure where to harbor that discontent, get someone outside of your teams (leaders and team members from other teams, external coaches/consultants, Agile conferences, etc.) to help take a fresh look at things. Also, think of all the areas of solution delivery that could be improved upon compared to where you are today:
  • Intent grooming -- Business ideas turn into development team member work in hours, not days and weeks, and intent is expressed in a form that fosters development and testing automation (i.e., ATDD/BDD).
  • Architecture -- Software architecture is intentional and minimizes systems dependencies to allow design during Agile iterations to emerge effectively.
  • Build, deployment, and release automation -- Development team members develop solutions, and continuous integration systems automatically do the rest.
  • Test automation -- Unit, service, functional, performance, load, and security testing automation works to the point where feedback on any change to your code base gets run through the entire wringer in minutes or hours, not days or weeks.
  • Environment provisioning automation -- Development and test environments are always available and created on demand as needed.
  • Fungible team members -- Team members are cross-trained so that developers of one system can be developers of many systems, developers can develop test automation, and testers can develop as well.
So, celebrate your Agile journey so far, and get moving on blazing the next part of your Agile trail. And, most important, enjoy never being finished with your journey toward continuous improvement!