Prashant M J speaks at Agile Gururgam 2017

Prashant, is a Consultant at INNOVATION ROOTS, an avid Agile Practitioner, who has worked with industry experts, helping and facilitating their Agile transformation. He is also the organiser of Agile Network India, started by INNOVATION ROOTS. Prashant, is a highly industrious and amicable person, who doesn’t hesitate to help people when it’s needed. He is the epitome of a team player, who is all ears to constructive feedback and always willing to improve his competency and skill set.

Prashant conducted a workshop on “Team’s Agility Assessment” at Agile Gurugram 2017, a pioneer Agile Conference held in Gurugram in May.

Agile Software development is fast becoming the go to software development model in major companies across the world. Yet some companies are still not able to benefit from this switch because of various reasons that differ from one company to another.

“Is your team really Agile?” started off Prashant, to a room full of Thought leaders and Agile Enthusiasts with bags of Agile software development experience, seated in the Leela Ambience conference room. This was the ideal way to grab the attention of the best minds in the Agile industry , who were taken aback by the question. Prashant, unperturbed by the profile of the audience continued his introduction saying, “The problem lies basically with companies’ lack of understanding of Agility and it’s implementation.” He then went on to organise an ice breaker activity for the people seated in the room, asking them to draw a flow diagram of  how each of them organise their day to day activities. The audience was split into two teams, wherein the first team was asked to picturize their activities at work and the latter was asked to do the same for activities at home.

“Are you Agile?” was the next question Prashant posted to a dumbstruck audience, who immediately started analysing, if they were actually Agile. This activity caught everyone’s attention as it was intended to and served as the perfect foundation, on which Prashant could build his talk on.

So what really is Agility?

Agility is characteristics of an individual or a team to respond to uncertain condition or change. This sums up the motive of Agile methods quite brilliantly. The team that is truly Agile, delivers the desired output without compromising on the deadline and quality. Such teams are called High performing Agile teams declared Prashant, before citing a number of scenarios and examples that substantiated his claim. A High performing Agile Team delivers a number of benefits, quality being the most important one followed by business value and fostering a growth mindset within the organisation.

Now that we have understood what Agility actually means, how do we understand if a team is actually Agile? The answer to this question isn’t very easy, but not impossible. Prashant specified a set of questions to understand if a team is truly Agile. The following questions were posted to the attendees:

Do the team members feel engaged to the business goal?

This is a very important question that needs to be answered, if the answer is yes, then your team is heading in the right direction.

How responsive is the team to changing market conditions?

This is one of the most important criteria to judge the Agility of a team, if your team is highly responsive to changing market conditions and situations, then you have little to worry about.

Do people see intellectual growth by learning new technology or domains?

Every employee wants intellectual growth in a company, if your employees are happy with their learning curve, then they will stay loyal to company’s vision.

Do people in the team feel valued?

Everyone’s opinion is valuable and a successful company or team is built on the ideas of each and every individual.

Are people asked to think?

Monotony is the first deterrent to an Employee’s enthusiasm, if the job has no creativity, employees usually quit their jobs.

Is communication two way?

A two-way feedback system is the best one where the employee has an equal voice and can express his views about the management and challenges.

Do employees focus on organizational success or personal success?

This is a double edged sword, some might argue , every individual’s success ultimately leads to the team’s success, few others might say, individuals shouldn’t let personal gains undermine the team’s gains. There is truth to both the sides of the argument and requires the right balance for both individual and team success.

Does your team demonstrate collective ownership?

This again is one of the most important qualities of a team, where everyone should feel responsible for a team’s success or failure.

These questions were quite helpful and thoughtful, as it was evident people had started analysing themselves and the teams they were a part of. There were a lot of surprises and a big sigh of relief among of few , who were happy to know that their teams were indeed Agile.

Key Takeaways:

1. Make sure employees feel valued and their opinions should make a difference.

2. Employees should be able to express their ideas freely without worrying about the repercussions.

3. An Agile team always encourages thinking and creativity, and should be flexible, to meet the need of hour.

4. A system of constant feedback and trust among teammates will lay the foundation for a highly successful Agile team.

5. Build a team that strives hard to make the organisation successful and puts the organisation’s success ahead of individual’s success.

Prashant, ended the session by quoting the importance and significance of Agility in a team and how INNOVATION ROOTS has been Agile ever since it’s inception, to which there was a round of applause for a simple yet powerful talk by Prashant J Mavinkere.

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Interview with Alistair Cockburn

Alistair Cockburn needs no introduction to the Agile world. I have been lucky enough to get into a conversation with him.

For the uninitiated, he is one of the original signatories of Agile Manifesto, internationally renowned IT strategist, expert on agile development, use cases, process design, project management, and object-oriented design, and a Poet. Here is our conversation on what is Agile and what is not Agile.

Q1. People recognize Alistair Cockburn as one of the original signatories of Agile Manifesto. What alternative introduction you wish to give yourself?

Alistair: If there are only a few words, and to a technical audience, that is fine. If you have more time, more words, then I guess I would like you to say that I have spent my whole life traveling, living in different cultures. This brings to my work a particular perspective about not intervening in cultures. Maybe also that my favorite activities are dancing, learning, and traveling.

Q2. From 2001 to 2016, how do you see the Agile methodology evolving?

Alistair: There were a number of agile methodologies in the 90s: Crystal, Scrum, FDD, DSDM… XP was the dominant one in 2001 when we wrote the manifesto. At that time, people were very focused on finding the right methodology (XP was very good, for example). Two of us in the room (Jim Highsmith and me) wanted a multitude of methodologies available – we want all methodologies used to be this thing we called agile.

Adaptive was the other word we almost chose. Methodologies should be adaptive, that is, the team should change their working rules every 3-6 months, to keep up with changing team members, state of the project, changing competitors.

In 2001, that was still pretty strange, even in that room. They thought XP was already adaptive. By today’s standards, XP is very strict.

“Adaptive” methodologies are no longer strange, they are the most common thing, even though some people keep looking for a single scalable model (which they won’t find).

I love that these days, simply “delivering software” isn’t enough. We do that, we know how to do that, many teams do that. So now, we get to focus on the meaning and the impact of what we are delivering.

This is the new frontier, and it is exciting.

Q3. What is Agile and what is not Agile?

Alistair: ‘Agile’ is an ordinary word in English, it means “able to move quickly and easily” (online dictionary), with an emphasis on changing direction. It was for that reason we chose the word to match the sense of the way we wanted to work, when discussing our approach to software development back in 2001. Once we had the word in place, we had to decide what it meant to us for the purpose of writing software (and more generally, of designing products). We selected 4 values, or ways of centering ourselves in the world while working. We chose:

  • Individuals and their interactions
  • Working software (or product, or more generally, accurate feedback)
  • Customer collaboration
  • Responding to change

We decided that other people might center themselves in other ways and places, but these four would be a good to characterize our way.

That is all. There is no more to “agile software development” than that.

We added some principles afterwards, to help people get started, but didn’t have unanimous agreement on those as we did on the four values. Therefore, with the 12 principles, you might find some that you resonate more with than others, as do all of us authors.

So to answer your question,

  • Can we move and change direction quickly and easily?
  • Do we center ourselves on these four values?

If you are going to say you are doing agile software development, those are the only tests there are. All else is someone particular’s personal addition.



Dr. Alistair Cockburn is named one of “The All-Time Top 150 i-Technology Heroes” in 2007. He is a project witchdoctor and IT strategist, best known for co-authoring the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and articulating how to write effective use cases. His specialties are organizational (re)design and project management strategies.

When not doing all that, he likes to travel, dance, dive, or sit underwater.