The goals of this article are to (1) irritate Agile purists and MVP advocates, and (2) provide pragmatic, you-can-do-this ideas to improve your product creation or service improvement.
There are certainly situations where your organization should work hard to implement formal scrum teams, LEAN program exercises, and follow the detailed consultant scripts for Lean Startup efforts. It’s hard work up front, but the returns will come later.
There are even more situations where you can pragmatically use elements of agile to your advantage. These may be useful in almost any project, but are especially useful when the problem is known but the solution isn’t figured out yet – or when you are time-constrained. Agile approaches allow you to iterate to a solution, getting feedback all the way.
Let me work through the mind-map illustration of these elements, and why they’re useful.
Transcendent purpose – all projects do better when the big Why questions are answered, and there is clarity about what success looks like. One friend of mine successfully tells groups, “This is a ditch, and that’s a ditch, and here’s the road.”
Frequent dialogue with customer(s) – Instead of assuming a one-and-done set of requirements and expectations, arrange for ongoing conversations. Seek feedback early, multiple times in the middle, and at the “end” about deliverables. Structure the work in terms of units of capability, parts of the device, part of the process, etc.
Expect results in short, focused sprints – Think in deliverables. Don’t say “we’re working on it” unless you also say, “and will deliver the next part on X day.” Arrange for people to have focused working time. Get the political aircover you need to arrange for full time, uninterrupted work from key people for 3 days or 10 days. Bring them pizza, let them go to the restroom, but otherwise they are only working on your project. It’s amazing how much more can be accomplished this way. In fact, most of them will be very pleased with the opportunity to work differently than their usual distracted pattern.
Orchestration – Even without the formal scrum morning standup meeting, you can begin and end each day with a brief team update so everyone knows what has been done or will be done next. Get the team to talk about how to make the project fly.
Team dynamics – Small teams work best, and arrange for people to be face-to-face. Each person has specific skills and unique assignments. Each person should have something to contribute each day, for each deliverable. Use the Amazon rule that 2 pizzas should be sufficient to feed the whole team. Make sure you have the right skill sets for the project. You’re counting on the team dynamics to be 1+1 = 15, because that’s the source of the creative solution.
Summarizing: Find the right people, arrange for focused working time together free from other responsibilities, and foster teamwork which leads to creative solutions. Worry more about those three factors, and much less about whether you are following textbook agile.
Look forward to telling people the story about how the team generating an amazing result in far less time than anyone thought possible!
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