Interview with Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is an author, founder and Lean-Agile thought leader. It was an enriching experience to discuss with him on Agile Implementations a decade back and now. He also shared his thoughts on growing and developing as a leader, and why teaching and coaching approach needs to evolve with passage of time.

Q.1 What is your definition of being Agile?

Al: Agile is about teamwork (where the team can be small group to the entire organization) towards an agreed upon goal.  People must work together in a respectful, collaborative way. They must also respect the natural laws of product development and understand that planning only goes so far and therefore must always be looking to adjust as needed.

Q2. Do you see any change in Agile implementations a decade back and now?

Al: Yes. Agile has fractionated into a few camps, some not qualifying as Agile at all. There are those who believe the Agile Manifesto is still the basis for the definition of Agile (I am not one of these). There are others who believe Agile is a combination of being and doing in an attempt to improve the way people work and their general effectiveness (I am in this group). And then there are those that call themselves Agile but have either a degree of dogmatism or non-Agile practices to be considered truly Agile.

Q3. What are the challenges to Agile Software projects beyond the single team? How to overcome those?

Al: The biggest centre around lack of alignment and poor eco-systems within which teams work. Agile’s definition centering around the team (the Agile Manifesto mentions the team 17 times, management not at all) doesn’t address these issues. Focusing the realization of value predictably, sustainably and with high quality should be the basis for overcoming these challenges. Don Reinertsen suggests “if you quantify one thing, quantify cost of delay.” This is an important insight – achieve greater value by reducing delay. How to accomplish this depends upon the organization but there are many patterns of solution.

Q4. When Agile approaches doesn’t work?

Al: Most Agile approaches are really sets of practices that may or may not be applicable. Lean, however, will always work. Lean should be the basis for any Agile adoption as well. Lean is based on the following:

  • Take a systems thinking mindset
  • Create environments within which people can thrive
  • Use small batches of work and avoid delays in workflow, feedback and value realization
  • Attend to quality

Q5. How to ensure that you grow and develop as a leader?

Al: The focus needs to be on questioning your long held, cherished beliefs. It is very easy to get into tribes of knowledge. When someone disagrees with you try to see the truth of what they say. There is very likely some. Even if you don’t agree with them understand their perspective.

Q6. Does the coaching and teaching approach also needs to evolve with change?

Al: Definitely. The vast majority of coaching and teaching violates decades of knowledge of how people learn. I believe the Scrum model of “learn the framework, stick to it until you understand it and figure things out” is a very poor one – but one that has been adopted by most everyone except those who promote TDD/BDD/Kanban – all of which have a different adoption style. I believe Agile, having hit the mainstream, needs to start adopting scaled learning methods where people learn over time and in cohorts of their peers.

Q7. One message you have for our readers.

Al: Remember your goal is to improve and help others improve. Everything you learn is a tool for that. Question everything. Set time aside for that.

 

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and Agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas. He is a popular speaker at prestigious conferences worldwide. He is the primary author of Design Patterns Explained: A New Perspective on Object-Oriented Design, Lean-Agile Pocket Guide for Scrum Teams, Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility and Essential Skills for the Agile Developer.

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