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August 01, 2011

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Well stated! Managing people is hard. Hiding behind process and policy is easy. Establish rules then criticize anyone who breaks them. Management 101.

That paradigm works in structured environments where you need repeatability. If you want creativity and competitive advantage, the paradigm will slow you down and hold you back.

However, the challenge of effective people management remains. We need to do a much better job training managers to "lead" not just "control".

Mike..using the patriarch Drucker with the knowledge worker comparison to Agile was not only extremely intriguing but really, really interesting and insightful. Also, as a management consultant, the two dimensionsal charts really graphically explain well the People/Process versus uncertainty paradigm.

Thank you for your continued significant contribution to the field.

Tom Sheives

The idea that "Agile is good at solving undefined / hard to define problems" is one of those assumptions which is rarely tested in real life. In fact, Agile has a history of making a complete mess of hard to define or undefined problems. If you know roughly what you want to build and it represents an instance of something you've done in the past (N-tier web shop for a small company), then Agile is a great way to put flesh on the bones, much better than the lists of bullet points waterfall demands. However, if its hard to define the problem and/or the problem and you need to invent an "algorithm", then agile will be more of a problem than a benefit. "Algorithum" has even become a code work for sweeping the limitations of Agile under the carpet.

That said, a lot of knowledge work is not hard to define or undefined, it's just manual. Take accounting for example. I've seem some teams apply Agile ideas to closing the books and it works fairly well. This is obvious in hindsight: the problem is well understood but the team needs a way of discovering all the details.

Claiming that Agile (as a method) is the solution to all knowledge work problems, or owns the techniques it uses, is just silly and ignores all the good work already done in this space. As always, the software people need to get out of the IT department and understand that there is a larger world around them.

Vin,

Thanks for dropping by and posting a comment. I am sorry for the late reply, but have been busy of late.

I believe leadership is the key to great results, as you identified.

best regards
Mike

Hi Tom,

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. Peter Drucker is widely quoted in agile leadership, as I read his work I usually think "Man, I should have read this years ago, I made every mistake he is talking about!" To me the guy was a star and I still continue to learn from the writings he has left us.

Best regards
Mike

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your comment, I appreciate you taking the time to drop by and outline your observations. If I understand you correctly you are saying that agile works well for adding detail to a solution once the basics are known, but is not great for solving a totally unknown problem. Also, agile is not a solution for all knowledge work problems, nor does it own the techniques involved.

Perhaps we differ on our view of “undefined”, I have successfully used agile on what I would call undefined projects, one where the remit was to build a “customer self-service portal” but the scope of functions that could be performed on the portal were initially undefined. Through personas, wireframes and eventually mock-up with the business, we determined the functions that were required and built them. I agree if you have no idea of what type of system to build then agile may not be as useful upfront, but still think it could help you narrow in pretty soon. This was the concept behind a company I was once involved with called Chaordix that used a similar approach to product selection.

On your second point, I totally agree. Agile methods never really invented anything, rather they gathered a collection of things that seemed to work and laid them out in a logical sequence, within a framework of complementary techniques. As I was trying to illustrate with the commonalities to Human Interaction Management they are aligned and compatible, but not owning, that was not my intent so thanks for pointing out it is possible to interpret my post that way.

I think we are close to agreement and differ on degrees of suitability which is understandable as everyone experiences different successes and issues with methods adoption. Thanks again for dropping by, I enjoyed thinking about your points.

Regards
Mike

Great article and guess that I was surprised when I found my self quoted. Thanks for the reference to my blog.

Keep up the good work.

Regards
Patrik Malmquist

Hi Patrik,

Thanks for dropping by and for your great blog.
I hope you are able to turn comments back on soon, spam links are a pain, but dialog is good.
I really enjoyed your June article on the Hero's journey model.

Best regards
Mike

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