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The Agile Architect

Protecting Your Fragile Agile Culture

An agile culture is both precious and fragile. Our Agile Architect points out some warning signs that yours may be breaking down.

I've been thinking a lot lately about agile culture and how difficult it is both to create and maintain. In many of my previous columns I've talked about how an agile environment manifests itself as increased responsiveness to customer need, higher business value, higher quality products and a better understanding of project risks. 

So imagine this: You are working at an agile company. It hasn't been easy getting there. You've suffered through the learning curve of embracing the agile manifesto and implementing the practices, had your share of both successes and failures, convinced the naysayers that this stuff actually works, and managed to create a pretty sweet working environment.

All is good with the world. But you can't let your guard down lest you find yourself backsliding. If you see the following situations develop, you may want to take them as warning signs that your agile world may be in peril!

Bread and Circuses
You are growing too fast. This can happen at a company, department or even project level. Too many new hires are being added who don't have an agile background. One day you turn around and realize that the non-agile folks outnumber the experienced ones. And suddenly their majority voice is pushing you down a non-agile path, informed by their non-agile experiences. 

Patterns of Force
The company is under financial pressure. Teams are being cut and everyone has to do more. It seems so seductive to give up some of those time-consuming practices like automated testing.

A Private Little War
Your project or department may be agile but others in your company are not. You face constant pressure from them to take shortcuts or otherwise compromise your agile culture. Members of your team, frustrated and war-weary, begin to comply just to shut them up.

The Enemy Within
You've built your agile team, gotten some successful releases under your belt, and won the adoration of the rest of the company. Now the company wants to replicate your success. So, one by one, the members of your team are picked off and put on other non-agile teams. Not only do they not have enough critical mass to affect change on those teams, but your existing team has disappeared.

The Paradise Syndrome
Your agile team is solid as a rock. You've got the agile principles and practices down solid. Everyone lives and breathes agile, becoming more and more confident with every successful release. You replicate success for years. And then you go to an agile conference and realize what dinosaurs you've become. Agile isn't a prescription and it isn't stagnant. It's a frame of mind, one that constantly strives to improve and change for the better.  

Management can't create an agile culture singlehandedly, nor can they sustain it. They have to foster it and groom it. Ultimately, it's the employees who determine the company culture. Hiring the right people, providing them with the proper training and letting them work as a team is the best way to ensure that your agile culture will continue.

About the Author

Dr. Mark Balbes serves as Vice President, Architecture at Asynchrony Solutions, and leads multiple Agile projects for Government and Fortune 500 companies. He received his Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics from Duke University in 1992, then continued his research in nuclear astrophysics at Ohio State University. Dr. Balbes has worked in the industrial sector since 1995 applying his scientific expertise to the disciplines of software development. He has led teams as small as a few software developers to as large as a multi-national Engineering department with development centers in the U.S., Canada, and India. Whether serving as product manager, chief scientist, or chief architect, he provides both technical and thought leadership around Agile development, Agile architecture, and Agile project management principles.

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