Don’t forget the developers!

I visit numerous organisations that are implementing “agile transformations”. In many of them I see a familiar pattern:

The managers and business analysts are sent on courses and sent to conferences and given books to read; most of them change their job title to things like Scrum Master or Product Owner; they create their plans using “stories” written on post-it notes, and they organise their projects into Sprints. But only rarely does anyone help the developers change too.

These organisations have cargo cults. The developers and the testers have at least as much to learn, and need as much support as do the managers and business analysts.

In order to deliver a working product increment every two weeks, indeed to work at all effectively in an agile way, programmers need to learn a whole raft of new skills and modes of thought. Continuous delivery, emergent design, test-driven development, pair programming, mob programming, feature slicing, YAGNI, outside-in development, … The list is long; and most of the skills on it can seem at best counter-intuitive to those who have grown up working in the “old ways”.

Agile methods arose from the realisation that the creation of working software should be at the centre of everything, with all other activities subordinated (in the Theory of Constraints sense) to it. And yet I see so many organisations in which the agile transformation stops with the introduction of stand-ups, plans written on post-it notes, and maybe some 3-amigo training for the BAs.

If your agile transformation is focusing on the way execs measure ROI, or on how project plans are written, or even on how teams are managed, you may be missing out on the biggest throughput boost of all: supporting your developers in coping with this whole paradigm shift.

Of course you will get some improvements in throughput by slicing your plans into frequent releases and focusing on maximising value early etc. But it will never really get flying if your developers are still thinking in BDUF terms, integrating late, leaving the testing to be done by someone else later, hoarding knowledge, collecting technical debt, building systems in horizontal layers, relying on the debugger etc etc. Many developers only know how to work this way; many see the XP practices as counter-intuitive, if they’ve even heard of them.

So when you’re considering implementing an agile transformation in your organisation, please remember that it’s all about software development. Without the programming activities, you would have nothing to manage. Make sure to give the programmers enough support so that they can learn to work in a way that fits with and supports and enhances your agile transformation. Find someone who can teach them the XP practices and mentor them through the first 6 months of their adoption. Because if you don’t, the very thing that agile is about – programming – will hold back, nay derail, your agile transformation.

Update, 20 Oct 17

I used this blog post as the basis of a lightning talk at LeanAgile Manchester last night. My slides (without animations) are here.

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Agile: it’s not just about the development team

Last week Andy Longshaw and I ran our “Agile: It’s not just about the development team” workshop again, this time at XP2016. You can read Andy’s report, and see the posters created by the participants, here. This time we had 90 minutes, which felt a lot less rushed than the 60 minutes we had at AgileManchester last year (read Andy’s report of that run here).

Workshop in progress

Workshop in progress

We have run this workshop four times now, twice at conferences and twice as in-house training. Each time generates great discussion around how the non-software parts of the business need to change their strategies in order to support, cope with and capitalise on a highly agile development team.