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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Samuel Crescencio on the Lean Pyramid and Agile Adoption in South America

Samuel Crescencio on the Lean Pyramid and Agile Adoption in South America


1. Good afternoon, this is Shane Hastie with InfoQ and I’m here with Samuel Crescencio, who is a member of the Agile Alliance Board, deeply involved in the Agile Community of South America and runs his own business down there. Samuel welcome and thank you for talking to us, do you want to just briefly introduce yourself?

It’s my pleasure to be here, thank you very much for the invitation. For those that doesn’t know me yet, my name is Samuel Crescencio, I’m from Brazil and I work actively in the Agile Community in Brazil and also in South America helping with the Latin American Agile Conference and I believe it was because of that that I was, I could join the board of the Agile Alliance in 2010.


2. At the Agile 2012 Conference you are presenting a talk, do you want to tell us a little bit about that, the Lean Pyramid?

The Lean Pyramid it’s a concept, actually it’s a model for software development that I devised from my experience and during all these years of practicing Agile, since 2003 when I started practicing Agile, I could understood that were relations between Lean, Scrum, XP, Agile Modeling and other practices. So I was trying to find the way to put this in a visual, in a visual way, so that people can really understand how we connect Lean with the other practices, so basically the Pyramid is split in three parts, it’s like the layers of a company, so you have this strategic layer, you have the project management layer, you have the operational layer.

In strategic layer you have all the Lean principles and values, including the values from Agile Manifesto, and these principles and values will guides the formation of the culture of the company and how they will manage their projects, so including how they will manage product backlog, how do you deliver software, how do you make it visible, how do you manage portfolio, and then, in the bottom of the Pyramid there is the engineering practices that are needed to make a safe development let’s say, so things like how to make automated testing, emerging architecture refactoring, continuous integration, continuous delivery and so on.

The idea behind the Pyramid is that you can balance your efforts in terms of managing your projects, conducting the culture of the company and also the engineering practices. What I’ve learned is that usually companies start using Agile by implementing Scrum, which I think it’s a good way to start and probably is the easiest way to start. The thing is when they don’t have the right business value, the right understanding of the business value and the company’s strategy, they maybe guiding projects to a wrong place, and also if they do not apply the correct techniques to have a sustainable codebase, it’s also hard. The benefits from Scrum can be harmful if you try for example to change the direction to accommodate the marketing, a market change, and if the codebase is not prepared, so it might be very dangerous for the company.


3. The combination of social and technical?

Exactly, especially how you lead people to achieve your goals.


4. And in your own organization, your own company which you are the owner of, you’ve applied this?

Sure, actually when our company was born, it was exactly because we were getting all the benefits of applying these principles and one thing was very interesting, by that time it was in 2005, we were developing a very, very interesting project for Risk Monitoring and then we use to go to customers to present our product and they seem more interested in knowing how we were doing that than what we were doing, then we noticed that there was an opportunity there and then we decided in 2006 to launch the company and the company was born Agile, and since then we are working and helping other companies and now we are also helping Governments to adopt Agile and this is been a very interesting and challenging opportunity in my career.


5. Governments adopting Agile, isn’t that contradictory?

Yes, actually we just started an engagement with the Brazilian Health Ministry and they wanted to know if Agile is capable of working in Governments along with Service Oriented Architecture Implementations and I can tell that it’s been really tough. We had already some results, good results, but there is a lot of resistance and other interests and this is kind of boring a little bit that the process. But with the persistence I think we will be able to achieve good results and maybe we could even transform the way that Brazilian Government is buying software, which is not compatible with what we think could be the best way for that.


6. Leading on from that, what is the level of Agile adoption in Brazil and in South America as a whole?

This is really interesting, we have seen in the Brazilian market some companies adopting Agile very successfully and some other big companies, mostly the big companies, they are not yet Agile and I’ve seen also some developing teams that have never heard about Agile, so that it’s kind of scary for me because we have already 10 years of Agile in the Software Industry and people who have never heard about that, and that happens especially in big companies and multinational companies, where they have a heavy and strong bureaucratic culture and that also happen in the Governments, especially in the Governments because the way they use to manage their projects and to buy software development is, in my opinion, completely wrong considering what we have as a right way to develop software and all this.

Sometimes I’m sad of knowing that because there is still lot’s of people suffering because they don’t have the right environment, usually the environments are very, very stressful and we have some engagements in Brazil, like for example the Brazilian Agile Conference where we get ready a lot of people, like in the first edition we got 800 people, the second edition around that too, and this years is going to be in San Paolo next month and we believe we are going to have a very good audience too. The problem is that most of this people that go to this conference, they are like, developers or middle management, it’s been very hard to achieve like executives and to show then the benefits of adopting Agile and there is also another problem, since they are like small teams or sometimes one or two people or a group of people trying to adopt Agile in their companies. Is like just improving a small area, a small team inside the company, so it’s not a system thinking and I really believe that to achieve the goals, we have to improve the whole and we have to improve not only software development techniques, but also business analyses, how we prioritize software and how we prioritize our backlog of deliverables and so on. Including also the vision of the company, how the executives run the companies and this is I think a piece of the industry where you still have a lot to do in front of us.


7. How do we tackle those big problems?

The Lean Pyramid is a way to do that. The idea behind this model is to show everyone in the organization including stake holders, executives, project managers, product managers and developers. What they have to do in their on specific engagements to improve the whole, so what I mean by that is executives, they have to promote the vision in the company and they have to empower people to achieve the goals that they set and also project managers, they have to work along with executives and along with software development teams to be able to conduct that line that will lead to successful results and as well as software developers, they have to use the correct techniques to make the product able to, how can I say, to be adherent to market changing conditions and I believe that really the right way to do that is by balancing your efforts. If you just try to improve one part of your organization, you probably won’t succeed and the even the worth part of that is that you may believe that Agile doesn’t work because of that, and that is what I’ve seen especially there in Brazil.


8. And what is that level, how is the take up of Agile, is it increasing in South America?

Yes, for the companies that are already applying Agile for a couple of years or more, what I’ve seen especially been able to be here in the Agile Conference and talk to experts, I can do a benchmark of how good we are there in Brazil and what is considered there high performance for Agile Development in the world in an average. So for those companies who are already doing that, I believe we are really in the cutting edge of Agile, so there are a lot of companies in Brazil but small companies, usually small companies, that are capable of doing very good iterative development, sometimes it’s continuous flow, sometimes it’s continuous deliver, very deep involvement of the customers and users. So I’ve seen that the companies that are able to really embrace Agile in the whole organization, these companies are really doing well, but on the other hand, there is a lot of companies that think that they are doing Agile and actually they are making some mistakes that usually leads them to bad results and then they blame Agile, they said that: “No, Agile doesn’t work here”, and actually I think this is lack of knowledge and sometimes lack of attitude. Some people they may have the knowledge but they don’t have attitude, sometimes people have the attitude but they don’t have the knowledge, so I think the benefits that these gatherings, like this conference here, the Brazilian Agile Conference, I think this is a very good opportunity for this kind of people to go, learn and specially get involvement and motivation from the people who are already doing this.


9. Spreading it through the community interactions?

This is being really interesting and I’m looking forward to have a very successful conference in Brazil this year.


10. Other conferences in and around South America?

We have some smaller conferences, some of them are itinerant conferences and they go from one city to another from time to time. Usually this kind of conference, they gather around a 100 people together, but they are very interesting because they are very active, it’s like you have your hands dirty, when you go there you can really act and practice Agile in small workshops, in these small gatherings. And we also have another successful conference, it’s called Agile Valley, so there is since Brazil is a big country we have some regions where they have their own conference already and this Agile Valley Conference they join 400 people last year and this is really interesting because especially in this region where we have a lot of companies and factories, we have for example the Embraer Plant which is the Brazilian company who make aircraft and in that whole area there is a lot of companies that can benefit of this kind of regional conference.

Beside that we also have the Achilles Conference that this year is going to its fourth edition, so the Achilles Conference started in 2008 in Buenos Aires and all of these conferences are run by volunteers and I think that these guys really are doing a very good job because they act sometimes like heroes. We don’t have that good infrastructure, we don’t have for example a legal entity behind these conferences and sometimes these guys put their own bank account to do the financial transactions, sometimes they assume the risk and in 2009 I had the opportunity to be the char of the second edition of the Latin-American Agile Conference, that edition was in Florianopolis, my city, and that was the same with me. We were about, let me remember, I think we were about 8 active organizers and plus a lot of collaborators, so a team of about 20 people, but 6 to 8 people actively working in the organization and that was a really hard year in terms of we really had to work very hard to make that happen and I remember that in the last 3 months before the conference I had like to give away my job, my day-to-day activities, just to concentrate on the conference and that I think was the only way to make it successful, and this is happening year after year with Achilles Conference and with Agile Brazil, Agile Valley, so I think these guys, the community leaders that are behind this, they are really doing a great job.


11. A huge amount of effort there, deep commitment; that is passion. In your role on the Agile Alliance Board, what you’ve been engaged in, what are you doing there?

Before I joined the Agile Alliance Board, actually the theme behind the conference in 2009 was “pushing frontiers of Agile”, so I really believe that we have to take Agile to places where they are not yet practicing Agile and I’m not only talking about companies or markets, but I’m talking about countries, and some places, some countries especially in South America, Central America, and I believe Africa all that places, they don’t have anything about Agile yet, and when I joined the board I think this was my mission, this was my goal. My personal belief is that I wanted to see the Agile Alliance more internationalized, so there is a good point here. I learned Agile, I have about almost 20 years in the software industry and in 2003 I had the opportunity to be introduced to the Agile techniques and by that time the Agile Alliance was really important in my formation as an Agilist, because we had the articles library could access good and fresh information that helped me a lot, but along the years I’ve always seen the Agile Alliance as an American organization and it was like focused on the American Market, it was for the American people, and we like people from Brazil or other countries, we were just like picking the information but we did not have any attention from the Agile Alliance, so this was my goal when I got in this organization was to help improving this, to help taking the Agile Alliance to other places and specially in countries like Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and some of these countries are still very weak in Agile, they are just starting.


12. And your hopes and wishes?

My hope is that I really would like to see the software industry more healthy, I just think we have too much waste, especially if we go to big companies, to the Government, it’s very sad, the amount of waste we can notice in those kind of environments and not only in terms of money and time, but sometimes in terms of people’s happiness, the way people live. I’ve seen people working very hard and even though not been able to get the results and this for me is something that is very sad. I started my career as a programmer and as a programmer and especially before adopting Agile I was, I used to say that was in an environment with a lot of pressure and very stressful environment and I wanted to do something to change that and when I learned Agile and I could put like information on the wall and make it visible, I learned that there was a better way to do that, and my hope is really that we could do that and specially if we can do that before next ten years, so ten years of in a software industry that has roughly about 40 maybe 50 years old, ten years is a lot of time, so I think we should do something but I don’t know what, we should do something that could improve and accelerate the Agile adoption in these countries, companies, government, and specially in universities, I’m not seeing universities in Agile and that is something that it’s really worrying me.

Shane: Samuel, thank you very much for taking the time to come and talk to us today and good luck!

It’s my pleasure, thank you very much!

Mar 13, 2013