Working to Innovate at the Agile 2017 Conference

When all of the best and brightest thinkers in the agile arena get together in one place, there’s no doubt you are going to learn a lot from one another and have fun. This year’s Agile2017 conference in Orlando was no exception. Great breadth of topics that loaded me up with ideas to bring back to our Dominion clients and our company itself. I want to share a few of the areas that top my list.

Making Time for Innovation is Good for Everyone

The innovation theme was prevalent in many conversations and areas, and there is a good reason – because it is important. Innovation is how people, products, industries, etc. get better. Allowing our developers, engineers and leaders the space to innovate will build higher performing teams and organizations. I spent Open Spaces time with some great agilists hearing about the innovative ideas they have implemented at their respective companies. This has fueled my fire to get this going even more at home.

Dedicated innovation time is something we have really struggled to enact in the Federal Government consulting arena in particular due to the need to articulate the tangible benefits of time and money spent on “open innovation.” My hope coming away from this event is that we can continue to demonstrate why high performing teams and individuals need this time, and start showing our clients its value. I also intend for Dominion to further this concept. We will expand on our existing internal DevOps and Hack-a-Thon initiatives, brown bags, and Community of Practices (CoPs).

More Adoption of Continuous/Rolling Wave Planning

Many of my clients have implemented the construct of 3 or 4 month increments and one week initial planning events. While this is a good approach, I actually think a lot of programs would benefit more from using a rolling wave planning model. In my experience, plans that are 3 – 4 months in duration inevitably deviate in the later sprints. Agile allows this, but it brings into question the value of doing all of the early planning.

Johanna Rothman’s talk recommends that by adopting a shorter timeframe, planning more accurately and frequently, you can achieve faster, better business value and results. This is admittedly hard in some environments where hard date and scope commitments exist. I plan to try and at least tailor this approach within those constraints to help our clients achieve better value.

Applying Agile to Non-Development Projects makes Total Sense

This is not rocket science I know, but a big takeaway thanks to the clarity of Mike Cottmeyer’s real business examples. The realization that decisions are truly the currency of value was meaningful to me. Your definition of done can be making a decision or enabling the next phase of work, etc. It does not have to be working software by any means.

I already try to apply agile principles across my work life. My goal is now to identify even more areas and projects in which to instill this discipline and get more of our clients versed in how to extend the agile concepts to non-development work.

High Trust Environments are Key

Especially in highly integrated and fast paced agile environments, exceptional communication is key to high performance. One speaker stressed the criticality of building a high trust environment where everyone can be direct with their teammates. Additionally, team members must recognize and adapt to how individual communication styles and approaches vary.  The hope is that this “just happens” through the forming/storming/norming phase, but it is important enough to actively foster. My takeaway was to focus more on this with the teams I support, and ensure I am doing everything I can to facilitate a high trust, safe, productive work environment to allow teams and individuals to achieve their potential.

Agile Transformations are Hard

It’s ok and (beneficial) to inspect and adapt as you go. You can’t have it 100% figured out from Day One, and your approach should evolve over time; there is no one size fits all approach. The non-negotiable key to any successful transformation is consistent executive sponsorship and leadership.  This puts the the benefits and the goals front and center for both IT and business stakeholders. Success stories from leaders at MasterCard and Salesforce highlighted how their paths and approaches differed, yet, both have made tremendous strides; growing their company’s products and operations in part through scaled agile and DevOps adoption.

If you attended Agile2017 yourself, I’d enjoy reading your thoughts in the comments below. Also, if any of these topic areas resonate with you, we would love to talk to you more about how we can help put these items in play at your organization.

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