Reflections on Scrum Day Europe 2013: Path To Agility

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Scrum Day Europe 2013 was a blast! Just like last year, the conference was held in the marvelous Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam, and was attended by hundreds of Scrum enthusiasts from all over Europe. This years conference focussed on how to extend Scrum practices from the team to the organizational level in order to increase enterprise agility.

 

Opening key note, by the dynamic duo of Ken Schwaber and Gunther Verheyen

The day kicked off with an interesting keynote by Ken Schwaber and Gunther Verheyen on the new Agility Pathtm framework currently under development at Scrum.org. Now that Scrum has really touched down at the team-level in most companies, there is growing demand for a more enterprise-level framework to help companies stay competitive and continuously improve their own process and agility. The Agility Path framework addresses these questions by applying a Scrum-like process to continuously inspect the current process and adapt it by adding Agile practices from a backlog of proven practices. 

 
Agility Path (tm) framework. Image source: Scrum.org

The agility of an enterprise is measured through its ‘Agility index’, a single number that is aggregated from a number of key metrics. Together, these metrics allow management to make informed decisions and evaluations based on more objective data, which is always a good thing in my mind. Because the framework is still under development, little is known about how the metrics are to be measured and how the aggregation will take place. Gunther Verheyen did tell me that the framework will be ‘open sourced’ somewhere this summer, just like the Scrum Guide, so more information will follow soon. And the community will certainly be involved. Cool! 

Screenshot of the agility index, as presented during the keynoteAlthough I’m very skeptical of using a single metric to express agility, I certainly like the general concepts behind this framework. Instead of trying to do everything at once (like shock therapy, of which I am no fan), implementing Scrum and improving overall agility is approached as a continuous process that takes time, effort and very frequent feedback. The Agility Path framework clearly borrows from action research models and organizational development practices that have been around for a while now. And this is a good thing, because they have proven successful in many organizational change programmes!

Next up was a talk by Henk Richmond, manager application development at PGGM (one of the largest pension administrators in The Netherlands). He talked in length about how his life as a manager changed because of Scrum and how it helped PGGM become more  competitive. I really enjoyed Henk’s enthusiasm and relaxed style of presentation, and can imagine that his conviction may have convinced some of the skeptics. I would have liked some more concrete examples though, as the talk remained fairly high-level.

After a short coffee break, the audience was given the choice to attend one of several workshops or open spaces. I opted for the “management without a whip” workshop by Paul Weghorst. The workshop was fairly straightforward, and can be summed up with a famous quote by change expert Peter Senge: “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed”. The workshop did feature an interesting fishbowl session where I was able to fire some questions at experienced CEOs and coaches on how to overcome or avoid resistance from employees. I was surprised that one of the strategies was to essentially fire people that didn’t fit in. Although I understand that this can facilitate a rapid change, I also feel that this approach is a bit harsh and maybe even unethical. Aren’t the initial skeptics also the people that will ask the really tricky questions down the road? I actually think that having some nay-sayers around is a good thing because it keeps you sharp.

The second workshop was more interesting for me personally and revolved around Agile Metrics. Rob van der Lanen and Jeroen van Menen did a great job at managing the massive number of attendees and put everyone to work in two rounds. The first round involved the generation of potential metrics in small groups, while the second round tasked the same groups to figure out which question(s) those metrics were trying to answer. We then applied Victor Basili’s “Goal, Question, Metric” approach (GQM) to check if the metrics and the questions actually had relevance. I liked this approach. Metrics are often “management porn” (I quote Rob here), so it is tempting to measure everything you can. This will take an inordinate amount of time and effort, so it’s better to focus on those metrics that actually tell you something that you need to know. Considering the focus on metrics in the Agility Path framework, I thought this workshop was highly relevant.

During the break, I met up with Johanna Bengtsson from Rally Software and talked a bit about their software and some other things. I’m not a big fan of digital tools for Scrum. A whiteboard is often more than sufficient, and actually has some major advantages over digital tools. But Rally does look promising. We are currently using Greenhopper, but will probably give it a try at NowOnline sometime. Because of the sunny weather, a lot of people gathered outside for lunch. I actually got interviewed for the Scrum.org podcast by Laurens Bonnema and hope to make the final cut.

Agile testing, and what we can learn (or not) from building construction

After the break, we got back to the main room for two consecutive talks. The first talk by Diego Lo Giudice from the Forrester Group was about agile quality and testing. The talk was well grounded in theory and research, which I really liked. But it was also a bit too theoretical for me. Writing unit tests for every line in your code looks good on paper, but it doesn’t work in practice. You just end up with massive batteries of useless tests that need to be maintained. I would focus on unit testing your business logic and those areas where bugs are dangerous or where the tests can act as documentation for difficult code. The same can be said for the advice to write regression, integration and performance tests for pretty much everything. Yes, given a limitless pool of developers and testers, I would certainly do this. In reality, no. Some of the insights from this talk applied mostly to large enterprises, like adding testers to your Scrum teams. For NowOnline, this is really second nature. We don’t have money for dedicated testers, so everyone is responsible for testing their own and each other’s code anyway. But I'm sure this talk was very relevant for the rest of the audience. 

The final talk of the day introduced us to Edgar van Zoelen, Head digital enablement from Philips. His talk was about how Philips implemented a major agile transformation. The results seemed very convincing, and I liked Edgars enthusiasm and energy. I also liked his statement that managers at Philips have one job: remove impediments. Edgar proved the importance of a strong vision for the future as a motivator for organizational change. I do wonder how the organizational change at Philips is perceived at the workfloor though. These kinds of “glowing testimonials” from management are very convincing and valuable, but risk being superficial. I would love to hear from IT managers or developers at Philips to see how they are experiencing this transformation.

The official programme for the day was rounded up with a forum consisting of several CEO/CIO/CTOs from organizations that implemented successful Agile transformations, such as Philips, ADP and Cablecom.

The day ended with a few drinks and pleasant conversation. I met up with Rutger van Dijk, Scrum Master at project HaMIS for Port Rotterdam, Wim Heemskerk, Scrum Master and coach at Cap Gemini and Gunther Verheyen, director of Professional Programs at Scrum.org. We got a nice goodie bag with a Rugby ball. Too bad it took me an hour to realize just why we got one ....

Overall, the day was really nice. I enjoyed the keynote and the two workshops that I attended. The community is also a very pleasant part of these conferences. Everyone is friendly, easy to approach and interested in exchanging experiences. Although the theme for this years conference was perhaps a bit less relevant for me (I don’t work for a large enterprise), I did learn a lot from it personally. I’m really interested in how organizations can be invited to become more agile and hope to make use of this in my future training and coaching sessions. These kinds of changes are difficult and require effort, time and a lot of perseverance. It’s up to the Scrum and Agile communities to make that happen!

P.s: I know I promised to put up a post with a description of an emergent change approach to implementing Scrum (based on organizational development, systems theory and action research), but this will have to wait for somewhere further down this week

Comments (2) -

Özmen Adıbelli
Özmen Adıbelli said:
Hi Christiaan,
You have really emphasized important points of presentations and the day. I am evaluating to participate in 2014. After your article, I am closer to be there.
Thank you.

christiaan.verwijs
christiaan.verwijs said:
That sounds great! Looking forward to your proposal!

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