Agile 2010 Impressions

Agile 2010 was held in Orlando near the Disney Epcot resort August 9 to 13. I focus on agile enterprises and attended many enterprise-focused talks. If you are interested in the developer focused view, Martin Fowler provides his thoughts here. My impressions follow.

Portfolio management is being implemented in conjunction with quarterly “sprints” in other places beside Citrix Online, including Motley Fool (Max Keeler), Tektronix Communications (Brian Miller) and Progressive Medical (Ben Blanquera). The four of us are starting to share ideas and experiences.

Value and Product Management is a hot topic. More than 50% of the time, speakers strongly argued that NPV and ROI was an inappropriate metric (this was largely from the folks dealing with team-level Scrum), but an intriguing minority asserted that Product Managers who don’t assess priorities using NPV and ROI are irresponsible. Deep thinkers, like Luke Hohmann, acknowledge that NPV and ROI are important at the portfolio level. One of the most interesting presentations in this area was the presentation “Extending Agile – to finance (really?),” where NPV is consciously part of every discussion, even at the story level. The CFO is part of the product stakeholder team and sits with engineers weekly. The company has a big chart showing how value and expense get aggregated into corporate financial statements.

Forrester is seeing that Agile engineering processes are transforming the enterprise outside engineering. This was a subtle undercurrent of many other presentations. Of course, we are seeing this phenomenon in Citrix Online, where APO is teaching marketing, customer support and human resources departments about agile processes. A year ago, agile advocates in Citrix Online, especially me, were bitterly disliked by many people both inside and outside engineering. Now we are highly regarded and sometimes sought after.

CMMI+Scrum continues to intrigue, as it demands that the organization find ways to measure and improve enterprise-wide processes, potentially complimenting Scrum’s feedback loops and retrospectives at the team level. However, almost all CMMI books provide examples exclusively from waterfall. Many people talked about needing an enterprise capability model  like CMMI that better reflected Agile thinking. Finally, Kent Johnson made a great comment that put it together for me: “CMMI dictates engineering and process quality metrics and improvement, but the real goal is value.”

Like Martin Fowler, I was underwhelmed with the presentation quality, finding myself stupified by many talks whose descriptions initially seemed interesting, but ultimately just rehashed long-argued religious platitudes (“you can’t measure value with NPV,” “you really should have teams co-located,” “it’s all about team self-organization”). Yawn.

I bumped into Tom Poppendieck, gushed shamelessly about his brilliance and fame, and then complained that I had heard most of the Agile 2010 material before. Why did he still attend? He found that most of the good exchanges happened for him in the hallways during the presentations: that’s where the bored people hang out, and many of the bored people are the advanced thinkers. Armed with this alternative, I sallied forth.

Advanced thinkers move beyond the platitudes to ask the tough questions, like “Why can’t we measure value with NPV?” and work through the Five Whys. Their Why not? talks captured my attention. Two rare examples from Agile 2010:

  • Scott Downey and Jeff Sutherland, the first to strongly argue for the highly-prescriptive Hyperproductive Scrum (Agile 2009), this year demonstrated an Excel spreadsheet that translated team productivity metrics into a letter to the team documenting its likely impediments. They called it RoboCoach. This generated interest from many and outrage from a few. Bravo!
  • Ben Blanquera described how his CFO helped develop a hierarchy of revenue and expense to motivate every Product Backlog Item. The CFO sits with the team during Sprint Planning to explain the value of every story to the team, in profit. This session was lightly attended, but I think it had everything to do with the title and description. “Extending Agile – to finance (really?)” sounds to me like a talk about making the finance department agile, doesn’t it? It wasn’t.

With a perspective on Agile 2010, I remain your humble servant.

2 responses to “Agile 2010 Impressions”

  1. Peter Avatar

    Thanks for the great report Dan. This report got me into a two hour excursion, ending up on the PlanningPoker site. Very interesting.

  2. Maheshsingh Avatar

    Hi Dan,
    I enjoyed your perspective on Agile 2010, especially your comments on the use of NPV and RoI in Product Management. Can you point me to other resources on this topic?
    Secondly, while I totally agree with the comment on the real goal being value, were there any specific proposals/ sessions on putting together an enterprise capability model that combined Scrum and CMMi? Do let me know.

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