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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Lowell Lindstrom on Scaling Agile to the Enterprise and VersionOne's Service Strategy

Lowell Lindstrom on Scaling Agile to the Enterprise and VersionOne's Service Strategy


1. Good day this is Shane Hastie with InfoQ and we are here at the Agile 2014 Conference with Lowell Lindstrom. Lowell thank you very much for coming along, you are with VersionOne but have been around the Agile Community for a fairly long time. You and I know each other but would you mind briefly introducing yourself for the audience?

Sure, currently VP of Services for VersionOne, I joined VersionOne last November, going back to the early period of the evolution of Agile I was with Object Mentor from late ’98 through 2005. During that period we developed a partnership with Kent Beck and a number of others around Extreme Programming and launched the XP Immersion. In the fall of 1999 which was one of the early training activities around Agile and Object Mentor was involved in kind of bringing together the group that developed the Manifesto and some of the early conferences that are the predecessors of this one and so that was a very exciting period back then; it’s interesting to be back at the conference because in the first conference we had 150 people down in Rally and now I think under nearly 2000, so it’s very exciting to see all the growth, and then I went independent in 2005 and I was an Independent Consultant in the Chicago area until last fall.

Shane: You were one of the track chairs in 2010.

Yes, we have three tracks, we called them themes that year, we are experimenting with something a little different, so we had a business theme, a leadership theme and a technical theme, and so I led up the business theme and it was a lot of fun. Jim Newkirk was the Organizing Chair and we’ve work together our whole careers actually, and so that’s was fun, that was the year that we supposed to be Nashville and it flooded, and so we had to do that last minute kind of turn around to come down here to the Dolphin [in Orlando].


2. What do you see different between 2010 and today at the conference?

Well clearly scaling has taken shape and we’ve dealt with scaling issues and program and portfolio issues since all the way back in the early days because we had, back in kind of the 2000 time period we didn’t really know how applicable these Agile techniques would be, and we knew they work with small teams and collocated teams and all the constrains that we thought we had, but then someone would approach us and say: “We want to try with a large distributed team”. The principles aught to work but we’ve never tried it; if you want to give it a go let’s try, and we learned and found that a lot of constraints we can overcome, so we’ve dealt with that for a long of time but really clearly in the last 4 years is taken shape in various forms, obviously SAFe is the most popular framework that we are seeing out there, but there are other approaches to scaling that are now I think trying to catch up in terms of keep staying on the map, and so that structure I think has shifted the definition, and I think that’s a good example where we’ve been learning how to bring this into the enterprise in a way that’s teachable, that people can absorb it, that they can understand it to a much broader audience.


3. When we think about helping or bringing that broader audience, larger organizations along, what does it take for a large organization to be successful with Agile?

The number one thing that I kind of express to people that are kind of embarking on that path, is enterprises are very large, they are very complex, there is a lot of constrains and impediments that we have to confront, and the one thing particularly at the senior leadership level is to be very clear on exactly what we want people to do and a lot of time what I see is Agile is popular enough and it had good enough results that senior leaders, somebody advocates to them that they should be Agile or maybe they came from an organization that had a lot of success with Agile. They say ok, we are going to be Agile and that’s not a goal that you can really deploy to a large group of people and expect any sort of consistent result. So big organizations really have to be mindful of how do they deploy that goal of being Agile, what is that really mean, does it mean Scrum, does it mean Kanban, does it mean a hybrid, does it mean … what is that, so that the people who are actually trying to get work done, aren’t trying to figure all that out, what exactly expected of me, expect to kind of process and improvement, and it can be a conversation, it’s not kind of a top down do Scrum and whatever, but I see is being deployed at a very abstract level which causes a lot of noise and confusion and I think that’s where some of the dogma comes from, we just haven’t really been clear on why are we doing this in the context of our business.

Is it time to market, is it better quality, is it both? So that’s I think the main thing and the other thing that I think particularly in the enterprises a little more difficult is just collaboration in general, really what I believe the Agile techniques are doing is they leveraging collaboration to a better result, and that collaboration, like sharing a file, it took me a lot of time realizing that people consider file sharing products collaboration tools. I’m talking about having a conversation and saying this is what I think and synthesizing that with what others think, and so the larger the organization in every dimension, the harder that is and so that’s kind of at a more principles level is how do we get people collaborating and how do we leverage collaboration and put in the systems to allow us to do that, because that’s really one of the main engines that allows Agile to help us deal with complexity and change.


4. Moving to your role in VersionOne as VP of Services, what’s happening in VersionOne, where is the product going, where is the organization going on?

So we are trying to help people be successful with Agile, trying to make Agile easier and trying to help people do Agile their way, “Agile your way” is how we describe that, and that’s a very, it’s a nice kind of tagline for us, but it’s a very difficult challenge. For the product, the big concerns within the Agile Community with respect to our products is that they are getting in the way and they can, and I think VersionOne is as I’ve known over the years, has always been the vendor that’s the most aware of that and it’s not a problem you’re going to eliminate, but it is a problem that you can thoughtfully overcome and so we have a very flexible platform and that gives us a lot of options to work with customers as they use the platform to help them scale. Collaboration requires communication, communication across a broad distributed organization, we’d love to do that face to face but that’s really not an option for the most part, so we still want to leverage that as much as we can, but I’ve been doing this 15 years and I’ve never worked with a team that didn’t put their backlog items, tasks in some of electronic form, it might been a Wiki, it might been Excel, but the notion that we are doing it with stickies on the wall was actually never really true. I mean we did, that was our information radiator for teams that were collocated and we advocated for teams that didn’t need the electronic tool, but they still did, it’s still there.

So now if we are going to have the assets in electronic form then we’ve got to make it ok, how do we make them easier to use, how do we make them visual, how do we add other things that are the types of assets that portfolio managers need and senior leaders need and how do we get the data for them so that they can make their decisions to help the teams be successful. So we are really focused on the features that allow us to do that through enhanced strategic planning features. Here at the show we are really focusing on mobile collaboration which were really excited about so that you can kind of keep in touch with your team when you are not in the office and we also are showing the estimably remote planning Poker game, and therare those are out there, it’s certainly not the first but it’s integrated with VersionOne, so we can take an item and instantly bring that into a collaborative estimation session. So those are two items on the product front, but collaboration as I said earlier, affects us across the whole company, so on the services side we’ve always had a very healthy and vibrant ecosystem of partners that we work with and we are evolving to collaborate with them even more. As we get into the enterprise it’s very difficult for one company to try to solve all the problems that an enterprise has as they try to deploy this. So we are working hard one to enhance our service capabilities, so we are better position there, but also to extend the collaboration with our partners so that we can go in together and give a common face, a common solution and a common guidance with that. And it’s also driving, it’s driving us as we grow as a company to get better at collaboration internally and that’s something we always focus very heavily on.

Shane: Lowell thank you very much for taking the time to talk to InfoQ today, really interesting stuff and good to see where things are going!

My pleasure, thank you very much!

Dec 26, 2014

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