First you’ve got Agile…

…and then you’ve got Management. That’s the main idea I remember from the excellent university presentation I attended this morning at Javapolis: the Zen of Agile Management, by David J. Anderson.

When the guy introduced himself and told us that he was working for Corbis, privately held by Bill Gates, a great deal of worry went through my mind because since the management fiasco with Vista, I don’t really see Microsoft as a reference in terms of agile project management. But then I remembered that Ken Schwaber has worked for Microsoft too. And it took Mr David only a few minutes to remind me that you can’t judge such a big company by only one of its mistakes, even such a big one.

First of all, it’s the first interactive presentation I’ve attended at Javapolis. Sometimes people can get a little disturbed when you ask them to bring their own content into the presentation. But at Axen, that’s something we are really promoting in our trainings, so we find it far worse when we do nothing. Here, there were 4 or 5 exercises that the audience were asked to do collaboratively. We gathered in groups, and discussed given topics and after 5 minutes, he came back to us with a microphone and we talked about what we had come up with. Interesting idea, especially for such a 3-hour presentation with such a big audience.

That was for the “layout”, now for the content.

There were really two parts in this presentation: first you’ve got Agile… and that was the main point of interest for me. First of all, he insisted on the importance of trust with knowledge workers, defining knowledge workers as people who know how to do their job better than their bosses do. And I love that definition. The thing is that sometimes it’s difficult to forget about the traditional role of a project manager, to remember that there are better ways to have visibility and control over the project than micro-management. And it’s even more difficult to limit yourself to just being a facilitator rather than a leader, to get out of the way when the team doesn’t need you and be there only when they do. That’s what a Scrum master is all about. And trust is obviously the basis for it to work.

I also saw a couple of very interesting usages of cumulative flow diagrams, reporting artifacts that I have never used before, but which give some interesting information. The main point there was that the best way to optimize your interventions as a Agile project facilitator is to consider a few metrics, but only the good ones, the best one according to him being the Lead Time, in other words the time it takes for a feature/task/use-case/whatever to go through your workflow from start to end. The thing is that if you implement things faster, you see bugs earlier so there are less of them, so you lose less time fixing bugs and you do things faster, and the virtuous circle goes. And how do you implement things faster? Simple! Do less in parallel. That’s what of the main things that I loved about this presentation: David destroyed many common beliefs, and at that moment, the way he explains this, it seems obvious. And it’s only when you think about it for a minute that you realize how most project managers do things the wrong way.

The second part of the presentation was more about making decisions at a higher level, analyzing metrics, identifying bottlenecks and reacting properly with surgical interventions. Sometimes I was a bit lost with all those numbers but it made it obvious to me that there should be more project managers at conferences like this. One of the exercises was about identifying the bottleneck in the project we’re currently working on, and what we would do about it now that we have some leads. I know exactly where the bottleneck is on my project, but what am I gonna do about it? That’s another question.

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