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Thoughtful Nordic musings on Agile in 2019

Written by:
Risto Kinnunen

Agile practices in the Nordics are maturing. Practitioners are no longer taking pre-cut models and applying them to an organization, but rather customizing solutions that make room for complexity. These musings for 2019 go right down to the principles of Agile.

The state of Agile in the Nordics

By our estimation, the state of Agile work in Northern Europe is in pretty good condition. One of the reasons for this might be the meritocratic culture we are used to, which has historical roots too.

The conversation in the Nordics has moved on from implementing specific models to hybrid solutions, where different models are mixed together to come to the best possible solution for the company in question.

The anthropology backs developing a model that fits

Let’s take cargo cults, which refer to cultures in South Pacific where islanders worship airplanes and act like traffic controllers hoping this would bring the cargo planes back. This dates back to World War II when there was a lot of cargo delivered to the soldiers in the South Pacific islands and some of modern goods were distributed with locals.

When the war ended, supplies ended but the memory remained. The main message here was: don’t follow a framework or create a cult that someone else has brought to you, instead figure out the best way to organize work in the specific business you are in.

Get the big picture and get rid of waste

It's really important to have an end-to-end visibility of the system you're part of, from the initial idea to the delivery of that idea and the support of the successful running of that idea.

If you do not have an end to end visibility, you most probably will end up optimizing something that does not really have that big an effect to the throughput of the system.

As an example, if one focuses on optimizing the way a development team operates and manages to streamline development to a couple of hours per task, but getting approval to start development still takes three weeks, where is the bottleneck in the process?

A cornerstone of Agile is that the key to improving efficiency in any complex system is to get rid of waste.

In Agile terminology, waste equals time spent waiting. In many cases, optimizing throughput in one link in the chain does not have that much effect in the whole chain if there are waiting times between the links. One way to handle the issues brought up by complex systems and get things done in a more efficient way is to visualize the whole delivery chain from idea to delivery.

Having end-to-end visibility of the whole chain that makes up the system makes it possible to have constant feedback loops that will require changing the behaviour and culture on every level of the chain. This is a key to working more efficiently. Kind of like a scientific method with hypothesis, test, and feedback loop. When talking about monitoring progress in development work, automated software delivery lines like Eficode ROOT are extremely valuable.

How do you make waste reduction happen?

Agile ways of working are about organizing the work in a way that minimizes wait times in a process.

Organizing the way of working is a constant effort. Think of it like rolling a really big ball. Getting that thing to move requires energy. Sometimes the ground is level; sometimes there’s an uphill where you need more leverage. There might even be occasions where there’s a downhill and needed force is smaller for a short period of time.

The best way to keep the ball rolling is to constantly evaluate the status with retrospectives and utilizing a scientific approach with a hypothesis, followed by applying changes and monitoring what was the effect.

Complexity: Don’t ignore it

Any organization is a complex system. There are varying needs and wants from different subsystems, customers, other stakeholders, and the surrounding environment. A complex system is like the weather: you can complain but the complex system just does not care and nothing will change. The only way to evolve is to actively look for new ways of working and new ways of organizing that work.

One needs to always remember that a couple of development teams utilizing Scrum or Kanban or working in a DevOps kind of way does not turn the company Agile. Only when you have an end-to-end visibility of the whole delivery chain from idea generation to market delivery and support can you start to approach agility.

The content from this blog was taken and derived from Scan Agile

In March 2019 I participated in a conference called Scan Agile. Typically in a conference, there are plenty of talks on how different models has been put into use. The mantra tends to go so that there are different schools of thought built around specific model. This time it was a different story.

Scan Agile is a community conference held in Helsinki on March 13-14. This year there were roughly 350 people participating two full days of talks and workshops ranging from case studies and practical tips on workflows to more inspirational talks around topics in agile teamwork and agile transformation.

The mutual factor in almost all the sessions was that the presenter had a deep understanding on the subject and had in-depth experience of the subject. Some had written multiple books on the topic, others done an extensive project e.g. on digital transformation. I really admire the amount of work the organizers had put to select the relevant speakers to the event.

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