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How Agile is Changing the World: Q&A with Linda Rising

This week we are thrilled to add another installment to our Agile Thought Leader series in speaking with Agile consultant, Linda Rising.

QASymphony: What will be the most important trends in software development in the coming year and why?

LR: I have been a developer or designer for decades so I’ll preface this by saying that I really can’t see what’s coming. Yet what I am seeing is that more and more companies are doing Agile. It used to be a small movement. Now, some companies are adopting Agile throughout the entire organization. It’s not just about software any longer. My favorite example is Menlo Innovations, a development shop, where every phase of business operations is Agile. They talk to their customers about going Agile and teach others how to operate this way. If you are truly Agile, you are transparent about everything, from hiring, making decisions, and working with customers. Transparency didn’t used to be an element of business at all. I really think that Agile is changing the world.

QASymphony: How is Agile changing the world?

LR: The main benefit is in improving communications. Take the Agile practice of pairing. When Kent Beck wrote about extreme programming, he was talking about two programmers in front of the computer. One was coding and one was observing and asking questions. Companies didn’t like that. They used to say this is a waste of time and money. It’s taken a decade for people to see that pairing results in better products, quality, and reduces errors downstream. Then there are side benefits. When you hire someone you may put them in the corner with a stack of documents, and they might be stuck there for days or weeks and not make much progress. With pairing the new hire is productive right away, whether they are coding or testing or working with customers. It is learn by doing and ask questions as you go along.

QASymphony: Can this scale to a larger company?

LR: When an IBM tries to scale up Agile they usually do it too fast. It’s the biggest mistake. Taking any idea and trying to convert the entire company too quickly usually doesn’t work. It results in a hodge-podge of old and new practices. Sometimes managers try and impose rules and regulations when making a transition, which also isn’t how Agile works. If we were agile about scaling Agile, you would see more success in large companies. However, we are in the middle of seeing this happen at Ericsson. They are a huge global company and they’re really trying to do this right. Moving to Agile is a culture issue, not imposing change from the top. It’s a progressive shift.

QASymphony: Is there inertia in large companies, as in, why bother?

LR: Yes, especially in banks, as they have an enormous burden of process and regulation. Any company must overcome the surrounding environment in which it does business. Surprisingly though, even the government is realizing that if they don’t become more Agile they’ll be out of business. Governments need to cut costs and be more open to change. I’ve seen requirements on government proposals for contractors who have experience in Agile. Doing Agile in a federal agency will never look the same as in a small startup, but all organizations should be experimenting and aiming for continual improvement.

QASymphony: What are some top considerations for Agile success?

LR: Primarily, you have to start where you are. Don’t start over from scratch – nobody does that unless you are a startup. This is even true at a personal level, when you’re trying to make a change in your life, you cannot just throw away your past. If you’re not ready to climb a mountain for the first time, you might need to do some exercises and training to get ready. So as I said earlier, it’s about tiny steps and learning along the way, not making a random deadline. Also, what can be sometimes a little depressing, is the reality that there is no end goal for Agile. You are never done. The goal is to keep learning forever and always trying new things and getting better. Agile is a mindset to improve and grow, not a set of practices that you check off.

Linda Rising is an independent consultant, author and internationally-known presenter on topics related to patterns, retrospectives, influence strategies, Agile development, and the change process. She holds a Ph.D. from Arizona State University in the field of object-based design metrics, and her career has included university teaching and software development in a number of different domains. Follow her on twitter @RisingLinda

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