Sunday, 27 July 2014

We are so (fr)Agile

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It's one of those buzz-words of the moment, is it not. Agile. There's even a mobile solution being touted with that name. You know who I mean, 'Agile Software Development'. But what's the crack, what's it all really about? In a purest respect, it is about how the software is designed/built, rather than if it is flexible in its deployment. 'Agile' is a great word to have in a sales pitch, as 80% of the audience will interpret it differently. Much like affordable (or 'Affordable' as I would term it). 

From a development viewpoint, it goes back to what my old BSc Applied Computing (Hons) lecturer, Ian Beeson (a super chap), would have called 'user involvement and prototyping'. Even then it was an iterative, flexible, holistic product development strategy where a development team works as a unit to reach a common goal. now, I don't know where you ended up Ian, but you were a good egg, ahead of the curve. last I heard, you were down in Bristol/Bath. If you ever read this, whiz me over a LinkedIn invite will you?

Just to set the scene, here are all the (sometimes challenging) Agile principles
  •     Customer satisfaction by rapid delivery of useful software
  •     Welcome changing requirements, even late in development
  •     Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months)
  •     Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
  •     Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
  •     Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
  •     Working software is the principal measure of progress
  •     Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
  •     Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
  •     Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
  •     Self-organizing teams
  •     Regular adaptation to changing circumstances
Still, back to Agile. it's really about putting your thoughts and designs, under your users (sometimes powdered) noses (Ann, you know who you are...), frequently, to test what you are doing is correct. Getting inside the mind of Ken Schwaber, Communication is the thing. As anyone who has worked with so called IT people, mostly it's fair to say, they are not often the most extrovert animals. It takes a particular IT person to be able to communicate well with your users/customers. In my opinion they are the most valuable IT people.

However, there are some tools that help in this respect and make this an easier path to travel. Wire frame tools are a wonderfully simple method of communicating designs, mock-ups, processes and concepts to your audience. When working with one of the top 5 housing system suppliers, to help design a key module for a true web browser based system last year, I was astounded how well wire-framing communicated concepts telescoped the process to just 8 weeks for me. Balsamiq was the one I used, although other wire framing applications are available.

My contract with that customer forbids me from sharing any of my designs with you, (you need to upgrade UH users to see those), but I can share this example. You all know I don't often name names here.

Only this week, I was in a conversation with a new housing group, to be formed from two fine large traditional HA's, looking at another wire-framing application, to help them with prototyping new applications and processes. In my experience, there will be plenty to evaluate and merge. My opinion was "go for it". It's a great way to communicate and validate your requirements.

How often have you had a process with 40 steps, that on discussion, rather than reducing, has expanded to 90 steps. Also with different experts, stakeholders or external consultants being involved, the wheel gets re-invented a number of times. with wire-framing, we have flexible representations that can be re-used and easily adjusted.

Read on to : Learn To Fly
You can link with me on LinkedIn here - It would be great to connect !

Gary Numan - We are so fragile.
(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting 07854-655009

PS As usual, if there are subjects you might like me to tackle on this blog, please get in touch and let me know!

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  1. One thing we should be clear about, Tony: Agile is not an overlay.

    This post is a useful synopsis and it reveals much around a common misunderstanding of agile. The agile approach outlined here is mainly focused on the tech and user ux tech stack, particularly in the context of wireframing by third housing as you say, 'system providers', rather than by the organisations themselves. This is actually the very opposite of agile. It's not new, either. Apple was doing 'user-friendly' a quarter of a century ago.

    Agile came into being (as a methodology) as a way of emulating start-up culture, that is to say rapidly evolving, developing and adaptive organisations, start-ups, responding to market intelligence and data insight from prototyping, testing and interaction.

    It is that state - the organisational and operational dimensions of agile - that are equally and fundamentally important. They're important in being able to solve management challenges and adapt quickly to opportunities.

    This is regularly missed in conversations around digital transformation. Transformation means 'radical change' and this element of agile should not be sidelined for convenience; it would be costly to do that.

    Operational agility matters and that comes from how Housing providers own and manage as much of their data as possible, that their data is accessible, on demand, as machine-readable, csv formatted data, with appropriate licensing. Without this, an organisation can't be agile. It has only outsourced some semblance of agility. The notion of agile being incorporated into a third party housing system for a Housing organisation highlights this.

    It might be tempting to promote agile, and talk about the benefits in that context, but I think it should be said this is not the full story.

    What agile is needs more consideration. Housing providers won't benefit from buzzwords without understanding - in depth - what agile management fully is as part of a robust digital strategy. Your headline hints at that.

  2. I agree Anne, very much Agile is more a buzzword in the sector, rather than a change in thinking, technique or philosophy, in creating better systems and outcomes. If I had £50 for the number of demos I have sat through where suppliers have trotted 'Agile' out as buzzword, I would have a hefty sum to invest in my pension, by now.