Recently, I had the good fortune to attend Mile High Agile (MHA17) in Denver and participated in the ongoing discussion about the latest trends and insights from the Agile community. For me, there were two key items in these inspired conversations. First, the community recognizes the need to look beyond practices and process to evolve and continue to grow as craftsmen. Second, a holistic view is required as we upgrade our Agile understanding.
In their keynotes, both Joshua Kerievsky and Dean Leffingwell spoke about the need to focus on principles. In some ways, this is a natural progression with several decades of experience under our collective belts. While inspect and adapt is now part of our DNA, our ability to improve practices and processes is beginning to plateau. It could be that we’re not asking the right questions. Asking, “does this process work?” will return a yes or no answer. And, the questions software development teams need to ask are largely context-bound, driven by product lifecycle, industry, and stage of Agile maturity. One practice that works for a growth product in a specific industry may not be beneficial for a mature product in a different market segment.
So, conversations are now principles-focused. Focusing on principles instead of practices and processes promotes open and context-aware discussions. Teams have more room to reach agreement and deliver ongoing improvements. At the core, teams discover what they need to do, and the processes that support the principles. Perhaps it’s going back to one of the fundamental Agile tenets: People over processes. In our zeal to become more Agile, have we focused too much on the practice of Agile rather than its purpose?
At the heart of it, our community has come to realize the need to focus on outcomes over outputs. We must remember that customers determine value and have grown weary of speaking about the large volume of capabilities being delivered in each new product. Now they are asking more vocally than ever, “So what?”
For me, Dean’s theme was about having a holistic view – applying the term systems thinking. Systems thinking is not new, given Dean’s references to Deming’s work. Thought leaders like Jerry Weinberg have written about systems thinking since the 1970’s. What is new is the recognition that we cannot ignore the system view if we want to continue to improve. While we’ve been working on improving components of systems, we need to look to the entire system instead. Agile methodologies such as Kanban and Scrum automatically take some of this thinking into account by limiting work in progress (WIP). Now, curious Agile professionals are exploring the why’s behind resulting throughput increases or other outcomes.
We’re adapting as a whole community, embracing a holistic view of systems, and building the right things, right. While taking a process view has gotten us to this point, examining the outcomes will take us even further.
Next week I will explore how value will help us take a holistic, system view, on how we develop code.
What did you learn at MHA17? What do you think?