AATC 2016: Three Takeaways from Uncle Bob – Technical Agility

“Uncle Bob” Martin, co-founder of cleancoders.com spoke at the Agile Alliance Technical Conference in Raleigh, NC on April 8. Informed by 40+ years of technical experience, his perspective on the past, present and future of our profession was obviously enlightening. Here’s what I left the conference thinking about:

Do developers need to be less “bean bag and foosball” and more “slide rule and graph paper”? Uncle Bob made a strong case for technical discipline and professional standards similar to the fields of science and engineering. He characterizes the “waterfall period” as a hazardous mix of risky methodology, a staggering increase in computing equipment, and droves of young, undisciplined developers. This combination of factors explains why the waterfall period significantly lacked the number of advancements of technology that the early period did and led to many massive failures and the complex “legacy” systems that many current practitioners complain about today.

Are developers sitting on the sidelines? Agile, according to Uncle Bob, is currently being led by project managers who are using agile principles to drive process improvements with various frameworks including Scrum. While these process improvements are a necessary step in agile transformation, they do not address technical agility. When technologists stand on the sidelines, no one advocates for technical quality and solutions suffer. Developers need to get in the game! (The leadership game not foosball!) This need for technical leadership is driving the Software Craftsmanship and DevOps movements, but we don’t want the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction either…

How can we reunite Technology and Process? When focus swings back and forth between technology and process, organizations and customers lose. Bob’s presentation reinvigorated my belief that Technology and Process must march forward hand-in-hand if we are to advance Agile principles and erase the technical debt created by generations of waterfall. This belief inspired Agile Pi to transform organizations using a balanced approach that strengthens process AND technology.

Adaptability: How do you Respond to Change?

Valuing Adaptability OVER Following a Plan

This month, we move to the finale of our 4-part agile value miniseries. How can transformational middle managers help their team Respond to Change OVER following a plan?

Planning has a place in every organization, but plans shouldn’t prevent progress, and as the saying goes, “the only thing that is constant is change.” For organizations to succeed, managers need to enable adaptability through:

  • Self Reflection. How do you handle change to either scope of work or timelines? Is your initial gut reaction NO or do you start to figure out the “cost” of the change to the project? If so, you might not be serving yourself, your team or your organization well. Middle managers should model the behavior they want to see. Help your team by showing them your flexibility and how it builds partnerships and benefits the overall organization.
  • Focusing on Value. Many organizations try to prevent changes by making it very difficult, if not impossible, to implement changes. This resistance drives many business partners to include everything in their initial requirements to avoid the pain of adding changes later. While this seems like a good idea at the time, allowing change is imperative for companies to ensure they stay focused on what is going to bring the highest value in order to compete in a fast paced, evolving marketplace. By staying focused on business value, teams might actually deliver the product or project sooner with higher value features than originally planned.
  • Rewarding Responsiveness. Make sure performance evaluations/bonuses are not tied to inflexible behavior. Reward thinking and reward change that increases value. Don’t reward those who stay “on schedule” at the expense of strategic opportunities. Again, we aren’t saying that we don’t have a plan or follow a plan with agile transformations.  We need to be able to be able to adapt and easily change the plan to respond and react to meet our business needs.This concludes our journey through the Agile Manifesto. Middle managers play a critical role in agile transformations by applying agile values. Just remember–while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.