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Edwin Dando on the Agile New Zealand Conference and Agile Beyond IT

| Posted by Shane Hastie Follow 28 Followers on Jan 17, 2016. Estimated reading time: 9 minutes |

InfoQ: We are at the 5th annual Agile New Zealand conference, with Edwin Dando. Edwin is the chair of the conference this year.   Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. How many people are here this year?

Edwin Dando: Three hundred and sixty is our official limit, I can’t recall the exact number but there’s a number of sponsors and speakers etc. but we added a hundred seats from last year’s event and we still sold out a week prior so we are growing it every year.

InfoQ: The Fifth Agile New Zealand conference, for a little country at the bottom of the world it seems to be doing pretty well. 

Edwin: Yes, it’s doing well, there’s a very vibrant creative and passionate community here in New Zealand. 

InfoQ: What is the theme for the conference this year?

Edwin: We are looking broadly at transformation - we’ve got Agile transformation, digital transformation, Agile enterprise, but distilled into one word it will be transformation. Everyone is talking transformation. I recently passed through Heathrow and everywhere are signs from consulting companies about transformation. There is an interesting convergence happening in the world at the moment between mobile and cloud and Agile, and an increasing amount of complexity, and the reality is that organizations are finding that technology has reduced the cost of entry for very disruptive firms, for example AirBnB, or Netflix. These firms compete on a technology platform and disrupt entire business models that have been established for a long time. And that is the new reality of where we are today – software is eating the world - and in order to compete you need Agile. 

InfoQ: Given the theme of transformation, what are some of the key elements to the content this year? 

Edwin: That’s an interesting question. We are here in Wellington which is New Zealand’s capital city, and we have a reasonable government contingency, so we are very mindful that transformation isn’t something that just happens in the private sector - there is a very strong interest in transformation in government.  How do they stay relevant, given the modern world and the wave of what they are calling digital natives coming through, who want to access services in a completely different way? So we are very mindful of trying to be inclusive of government. We also have some very successful product companies here in New Zealand who are competing on a world stage, and we wanted to create an environment that’s accessible to them. And finally, to anyone involved in Agile beyond software.  Over the last five years in this conference we’ve focused on software, and now we are seeing a growing trend of Agile moving beyond software, and we wanted to offer something for those folks as well. 

InfoQ: There was an interesting keynote by Ian Taylor, great to see him there and tell us how did that come about? 

Edwin: It was an interesting one, he got proposed as part of IBM’s sponsorship and one of the things I am very mindful of as a chair is that any of these sessions can’t be purchased.  So I called Ian and had a conversation with him to check what he was going to talk about, and to be frank after an hour on the phone with him I realized this guy was way beyond just a track speaker - he was clearly a keynote. Because Ian is in essence the epiphany of the Kiwi “can do” attitude, and he has created a phenomenally successful business, out in a relatively remote part of the world, with all the values and principles that we aspire to in Agile and in particular the way he trusts his staff, it’s really an inspiration. 

InfoQ: It was indeed. Other highlights for you at the conference?

Edwin: Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd obviously have been quite significant contributors and have been over here for three weeks now training. I think the human side of transformation is absolutely vital and this is why we wanted them here. They are experts in behavior, coaching, and facilitation which is vital for the change and management and leadership required for this bold new world.  Ahmed Sidky is an absolute force of nature. He’s got a very important message to share about agile being a mindset and is talking about where Agile is going longer term. 

InfoQ: Excellent. Now outside of the conference, you are the Auckland Manager for Assurity Consulting and you were saying you are applying agile techniques in your own organization? What does that mean? I think you said it was a two hundred-person organization. 

Edwin: That’s right. We have broadly based our approach on Steve Denning’s Radical Management as a set of principles to follow. The first desire is to be extremely customer centric, and then around that to build a set of practices based on the Agile Manifesto. The way we run the organization now is in monthly iterations. We have an annual goal, but we plan what we need to do per month to step towards that goal, run weekly standups, as a leadership team we have a review and a retrospective at the end of each iteration to review the evidence of what have we actually achieved. And it’s a completely transparent process. We collect key data based on our KPIs. So for example we collect Net Promoter Score for both customer and employee satisfaction. Our performance evidence is collected by a tool. In our leadership iteration review we put all the data on the wall. We have a servant leader mentality where the leadership’s job is to enable the needs of people who are the real value creators of the organization. So leadership removes obstacles for branch management, branch management removes obstacles for consultants who deliver value to clients. We are only six months in this but it’s proving to be extremely effective. 

InfoQ: As you were talking about with the conference theme - taking the general ideas beyond software.  Assurity is a training and consulting organization not a software company - how are your customers taking this?

Edwin: Very well. We had to approach this sensibly. For example, implementing net promoter is not just something you do overnight and then it’s over. You have to design all the background processes and thinking around that. For example,  we are all KPI’d to respond to a detractor score within twenty-four hours, asking them why, what happened, and then working together to fix it. So there’s a lot of background effort setting up those processes and making sure everyone is on board, like any change initiative. Customers are taking it very well because we are clearly a more responsive organization than we were twelve months ago - not that there was anything wrong, but we are better than we were and overall it’s seen as very positive. We’ve got a number of initiatives that we want to run with our customers, based on this philosophy of involving them more in the business.

InfoQ: How do you do that?

Edwin: One example I am toying with at the moment is bringing some of our clients into our office to show them how we run our organization using Agile approaches. I want them to come see our sales Kanban wall, how consultants on the bench use agile techniques to remain focused on value. We have created a concept called The Hive, which is the bench as a self-organizing team that is designed to add value to Assurity, our clients, delivering branch backlog items and helping other Assurity consultants out on client site. So, we are using Agile absolutely everywhere in our business and I want to demonstrate this to our customers by getting them in and showing them around.

InfoQ: And then helping them to implement?

Edwin: That’s right. If the customer and Assurity overlap, we share common ways of working , principles and the values, and that’s just better for us all. 

InfoQ: And this really is Agile beyond Information Technology.

Edwin: Absolutely. It’s Agile business.

InfoQ: We hear a lot about Agile business and business agility, Agile beyond the IT. Where do you think it’s going and what does it imply for some of the brands like Scrum and XP and so forth? 

Edwin: I think it’s kind of like a tree coming up out of the ground, where the trunk of the tree is Agile for technology (without a question Agile was born in software), but it’s sprouting all these different branches. We’re seeing an incredible burst from the HR community at present. They are passionate about how they can support this culture and this way of being. We’re seeing marketing people adopt Agile, and legal departments spontaneously uptake Agile and visual management boards, often using Scrum. I personally think there is a liberation happening where organically people are taking the concepts of Agile and using them as they see fit. I think that’s one part. There is also a second part that I mentioned in the opening speech today: I personally think we are the first or maybe second step into what is an absolutely fundamental shift in how human beings work together in organizations. This is probably a hundred year journey and the Agilests just happened to be probably ten to fifteen years ahead of most. Probably by the time I retire the culture we aspire for in Agile will be the norm. Management is undergoing an absolute radical upheaval right now.  Many don’t see or feel it as it’s happening slowly. 

InfoQ: And work by people like Steve Denning with radical management is going to have quite an impact. 

Edwin: Absolutely they do. I think Steve is doing some fantastic work. Penetrating a publication like Forbes he is really stirring the pot and starting to challenge leaders to think and act differently. And certainly in my experience helping companies with agile transformation, there is this glass ceiling concept where the leadership doesn’t want to necessarily change but expect the rest of the organization to. And I think the work of Steve is a huge contribution towards fixing some of that. 

InfoQ: Edwin thank you very much, pretty interesting stuff. Congratulations on the conference, and enjoy the rest of it.

Edwin: No problem, thank you Shane.

You can see the video highlights of the Agile NZ 2015 conference here.

About the Interviewee

Edwin Dando is the Auckland General Manager for Assurity, and was the conference chair for the Agile NZ conference. Edwin is a creative disrupter, always seeking new and better ways to solving problems. By nature, he is an unconventional, yet passionate leader and thrives when challenging incumbent paradigms and complex problems. He is a skilled communicator, a seasoned coach and leader – only by the fact that people tend to follow him.

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