Our First Agile Project : Mindset change, Learning and Yes, we did complete it subsequently

The year was 2011 and the month -November.  Agile was still the talking point in my delivery team of 200+ resources and my esteemed client from Europe – being advised by the industry leading consultants, wanted to get hands dirty in a proof of concept development. Everybody, the stakeholders from client side and us, everyone with a level of understanding different than others of this new way of working, was in the learning curve on a day to day basis. At the behest of a senior executive, a challenge was taken up to get a ringside view of how agile would work in a distributed environment – teams separated through geographical distance and cultural differences.

With a planned budget of 4 sprints, we, a team drawn from client and vendor, got thrown into executing our first agile project.

On this journey, we got Mrs. Swati Garg, an experienced agile practitioner by then, as the coach cum scrum master to help us sail the boat. The day Swati called us – the multi-disciplinary team comprising of functional and technical fields, for a pre-project workshop, many eyebrows were raised. We, the so called experts of project delivery by all the standards practiced till then, had frowned upon the idea of the workshop at the beginning but by the end, came out as a more learned team on the concepts of this agile way of working (wow), the parlance, and the associated ceremonies to reap maximum benefit. As it involved quite a bit of unlearning and re-learning, not everything that was discussed in the workshop could be digested with our already molded mindset in the usual client-vendor mode of working. With set role and defined expectations between the client and vendor party, the concept of one team drawn from members of client and vendor did not go down well as we were apprehensive of getting exposed too early too soon and our faults could be found on a daily basis of execution.

Teams were spread across onsite and Bangalore. We had one business analyst and an additional scrum master at onsite to be close to the business –the product owner and also take part in scrum of scrum meetings with two additional teams- supposedly more experienced in agile from the overall project perspective. Though it might be pointed out that it defeats the purpose having two scrum masters facilitating and helping the team, it was a conscious decision taken and agreed by all the stakeholders with a view to smoothen out the initial hiccups and teething challenges arriving out of teams not co-locating.

The team of eight, named “Phoenix” coined by the team members, started breaking down the epics to stories to tasks along with the corresponding efforts under the careful vigilance and guidance of scrum masters. Story point estimation done in the classical way of “pack of cards” was an eye-opener for all the participants. Limiting the stand-up meetings to the 15 minutes and to limit to three questions arranged at a mutually convenient time at 2 PM IST to suit onsite time zone -not dragging the same to be a technical clarification meeting, was a huge challenge in the beginning few days.

There were initial trepidations from few quarters of client side management- coming from the traditionally biased mentality during usual trust building timeframe, to review and monitor the work being executed at offshore and wanted to have physical camera fitted at the workplace.  With help of Microsoft lync based technology, enabling AV meeting where everyone could see each other, these worries got replaced by confidence in no time.

The impediments on workspace creation for final delivery had dependency on a third agency – not made party to the whole project from the beginning and hence stories could not be delivered on time satisfying the agreed definition of done (DoD) till third sprint. From a metric perspective, this resulted to the story point delivered against story point committed as zero. Knowing the overall situation and shouldering the responsibility equally, there was no finger pointing for the failure, rather the invaluable learnings from the exercise gave credence to the overall objective – tuning the way of working in the context and devising the overall transformation charter.

At the end of each sprint demo and retrospective sessions, team gained in more knowledge with the nuances of being agile and the beauty of this simple process. When the project was over, the wisdom gained far outweighed the failures in the below mentioned areas.

  • Team is accountable and supreme.
  • Team self-manages itself.
  • Transparency is the key between product owner and team to be successful.
  • Scrum master is not a project manager rather a facilitator to remove impediments.
  • Team needs to budget time in Sprint n+1 to take care of the technical debts arising out of deliveries till sprint n.
  • Test automation is must for regression and integration points.
  • The ceremonies, if observed in the truest sense bring real value to the team.
  • There is nothing like semi Agile- either you commit to it or don’t.

We did not hesitate to conclude that the crucial 3-4 weeks spent in our first agile project – in distributed mode, was a new beginning for all of us opening a new chapter on how a project gets delivered with involvement from all the stakeholders from the word go on day one. We agreed to commit ourselves in this journey going forward as the benefits – less cost of correction, bringing business value faster; were all looming large and too obvious to ignore.

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Importance of Continuous Learning-21st Century Work Environemnt

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Life is like liquid in motion – it takes the path you will it to take. You can allow it to stagnate and gather moss or keep it flowing sweeping across all the obstacles. Learning in every step and turn, nook and corner is the only way in one’s possession to keep life flowing and roaring. It is the way through which life finds a new way out every time it is faced with new challenges in the face of odds.

Importance of learning in life lies in the very fact that life becomes listless and indolent when one stops learning. The other day, one of my uncles from neighborhood, my friend’s father, was lamenting the fact that how handicapped he feels not able to use computer or email. While I was trying to reason out in an effort to soothe him citing the age factor, his opinion was that his failure is causing misery in him and the dissatisfaction was writ clearly on his face.

This is more so in the current situation and context when the environment is constantly changing. At the risk of sounding clichéd that change is the only constant in today’s life, all of us recognize the fact that it is the new normal. With all the technological revolution, we witness it in our lives every day. The world has gone through major milestone changes in the past century, initiated by the industrial revolution. But the social change brought in by that was no match to the impact of technology driven digital revolution that commenced in the late nineties of 20th century. Internet –at the center of today’s this revolution and digital lifestyle, being the catalyst for the new age momentum, has fuelled this change in all directions. Innovation in getting things done differently – in significantly easier ways; is the mantra of this age and one has to keep learning the outcomes just so as to not lag behind and be outdated and outsmarted.

With so much importance on keeping pace with the changes and of continuous learning attached, it is imperative that similar thought process is followed and practiced in a contemporary technology driven company having direct bargain on the overall business impact. In terms of technology enablers towards maximizing output, there are newer tools and options coming into play very frequently obsoleting the old way of working. Let’s take a look at the shelf life of the technical gadgets available today. It is at a maximum of 6-8 months by the time when a newer alternative is available with better, sleeker and more powerful features. The rate, at which android OS are being released, advanced analytics techniques are put into play to understand intricate details of customer behavior to tailor offerings or on-premises applications are finding new home in the cloud for lower maintenance cost added with accessibility features, call for rapid change in the technology mindset of a company and staff members with the added responsibility of adapting to all these. To keep stride with these advancements, the shelf life of the related implementation technologies is also changing fast in today’s work environment. The four pillars of technology growth – mobility, social networks, analytics and cloud are dominating today’s technology landscape to drive innovation and one’s awareness of continuously evolving new skills is a must. One has to be open to changes, take active part in researches supporting these innovations –a great number of them primarily available through open source projects on internet and be skilled before these become commonplace in the market. There is very little or no scope of complacency as someone else will grab the opportunity making the other person redundant in the workplace.

 To sum it all, continuous learning and new skill development are the only ways to keep one relevant in today’s work environment and keep pace with the new normal– the change.

Let me know your thoughts.

–Jayanta Tewari

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