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Agile is not just for software developers

I was presenting at the PacRim Service Desk and IT Support conference last week where one of the most memorable presentations – apart from mine, of course 😉 – was by Ed Cortis, the Head of Solutions Delivery at Bankwest. Ed was so taken aback by the lack of awareness of Agile amongst the conference delegates that he made a last minute decision to present on a completely different topic from the one he’d prepared. Brave, reckless? Regardless, Ed pulled it off, giving a passionate presentation on why Agile is not just for developers and becoming the inspiration for this post.

What is this Agile thing all about then?

In our ITSM world it is easy to overlook Agile, especially given that its stated goal is to provide a better way of developing software.

At its core it is a set of four values described in 68 words in The Agile Manifesto and fleshed out into a set of supporting Agile principles. Unlike the ‘waterfall’ method of software development that’s been around since the 70s, Agile welcomes changing customer requirements and aims to deliver working software in increments rather than in one big-bang finale.

So, Agile itself is not a methodology but a set of values and principles upon which more prescriptive methods are based. There are a number of Agile software development methodologies out there, such as Lean Software Development, Kanban and Scrum.

What Agile practices can ITSM practitioners use?

Here are three Agile practices that could benefit project teams of all shapes and sizes:

1. Card Boards – Use a physical board instead of a project plan or task list.

Card Boards (also known as Kanban Boards, Scrum Boards or Card Walls) are physical boards with index cards or post-it notes stuck to them. Each card represents a project task and the board is divided into columns where each column represents a different work status, e.g. To Do, In Progress, Complete. The cards are moved from left to right as the task progresses through each status.

Card Boards are a great way to increase the visibility of a project and the progress being made. With a good card board, anyone who is interested in the project can easily see what everyone is working on, what’s left to do and what’s blocking progress. Team members also report a degree of personal satisfaction from physically moving cards from one column to another as they complete their work.

I know this all sounds very old school, but card boards provide the sort of visual impact that a Microsoft Project plan or Excel task list just can’t reproduce. And the board is a great place to have conversations about the project.

2. Daily Stand-Ups – Hold stand-up meetings at the start of each day to communicate progress.

These meetings are called ‘stand-ups’ because they are held standing up in front of the Card Board. This makes sure the meeting stays short and everyone stays focused.

Everyone on the project team attends and takes it in turns to answer three questions:

  1. What have you done since yesterday’s meeting?
  2. What are you going to get done today?
  3. What obstacles do you need to be removed?

Daily stand-ups are great for communication (everyone knows exactly what’s going on), great for accountability (there’s nowhere to hide when each day you’re making commitments to your teammates and sharing your progress) and great for teamwork (when you get stuck the whole team are on tap to help you).

3. Retrospectives – Hold periodic meetings focused on identifying ways to improve.

The project team should hold regular meetings (e.g. monthly) dedicated to identifying ways to improve. These meetings are called retrospectives (“retros”) because they are a look back on how the project has been going with a view to improving things moving forward.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to conduct these retrospectives is for each team member to answer three questions:

  1. What are we not doing that we should start doing?
  2. What are we doing that we should stop doing?
  3. What are we doing well and should continue doing?

Team members can then vote to identify the ideas that should be adopted.

In his impromptu presentation, Ed gave examples of Agile principles being used to deliver a wide range of projects that had nothing to do with software development, including data centre moves, staff recruitment drives and hardware refreshes. At Silversix we only ever deliver ITSM service improvement initiatives this way now. Goodbye Gantt charts and goodbye project status reports. I’ve deleted Microsoft Project from my PC and I’ve never looked back.

This Post Has One Comment
  1. Nice work Jay
    Have just come out of a 2-day Agile fundamentals workshop at LP, full of a room of 12 non software or IT development types. This all resonates very nicely with that. Much to benefit all of us in working out where Agile can change how we think about managing the business.

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