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Transforming Businesses to Agility
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| Interview with Mike Dwyer by Shane Hastie on Jan 27, 2011 |

Bio Mike Dwyer is an Agile Coach with BigVisible Solutions. He is a Certified Scrum Trainer and coaches teams and organizations as they continuously improve their Agility. Mike's practice goes beyond development to include Quality Assurance, Test Management, M&A, support, help desks, product visioning, maintenance, operations, architecture, and infrastructure.

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The Agile 2010 conference is created by a production team of highly respected Agile experts and practitioners to present a program that spans the whole spectrum of agile practice.The Agile conference series is a organized as a program of the Agile Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to uncovering better ways of developing software inspired by the values and principles of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.


1. We're here with Mike Dwyer from BigVisible Solutions. Mike, would you mind just briefly introducing yourself?

Sure, my name's Mike Dwyer, I'm an Agile coach, and a certified Scrum trainer with BigVisible Solutions. We're company that goes into helping organizations transform to Agility. Our mission is not to teach anyone, our mission is to work with companies to get to the point that their organizations transform their business to Agility.


2. So in this transforming businesses to Agility what are the areas, what are the approaches that you take?

Well, we come in, look at what you need to do and we are not dogmatic in our approach. We're more than happy to look at a company and say, "Kanban might work well, Scrum might work well, Agile might work well" or some combination. The core of our approach is to find how to make you agile, and how to help you learn how to move forward.


3. One of the things that you are doing here at Agile 2010 is using a marble moving game.

Oh, Marble Movers is a real fun exercise. What it is is we've run into people who are skeptics. I've done it at some of the testing of software areas and as a matter of fact I'm doing it at a couple of others. And the fact of the matter is what we are after is the skeptic and the enthusiastic new person. Or the experienced Agilist that doesn't quite feel comfortable about scaling, so, the game starts off with the typical mindset of someone who says, "Oh, we can be Agile, look how easy that is!" A bunch of principles, a bunch of things on the manifesto, there's a bunch of steps, and these really easy work forms. No problem.

And so Marble Movers is a company, it is an LLC, it's a start up and you sign up to come and look into the exercise and actually you are employed. We have a corporate mission, a corporate goal, we have objectives and we have venture capitalists. My role is the facilitator or the coach; I'm also the pointy-haired boss, the manager of Mel. The focus of the thing is to give the experience. The goal is for people to learn what it is to start Agile and what it means to have Agile scale and I will say without any professional support -- just try to do it organically. So, the first pass, of course, they wonder what they are doing and I'd say, "That's real easy. Here's all you're your tools and I'll give him a box of LEGOs and some story cards."

And simple things like be able to move a marble down three levels and across the footprint into a holding place. And we run two- to five-minute sprints. As in real life most Agile small enterprises are very successful - lots of enthusiasm. So then somebody says, "Hey, let's have them build something bigger and you have two teams work together." Well, this is the first stage of scaling. It's the first time you've got to add in overhead of communicating between two groups. And we put them into the same scenario and where they have to do the same thing. We don't give them any management, we let them self-organize. That is important because it gives them the chance to understand what goes into that and appreciate the role of a Scrum master, of a product owner.

They do those things. It's a little bit harder; we give a little bit longer time. I usually have a second role-player in the game and that is a venture capitalist -- the bright young business wizard venture capitalist with the money. And his job is to become more and more specifically critical in the acceptance criteria. And we get into what happens when you have two product owners. So all the scenarios we can build, that come in, we put in so people can immediately see it. About halfway through the second sprint people start to get bored. This is the difficulty as you wait for somebody to start to leave; you ask them to please stay. Because people get bored it's this grind, the Scrum death march thing.

And you pull them back and you say, "Hang on a second. We're going to go to Sprint 3 and you give them a hint that Sprint 3 is like a big enterprise, really neat thing. And about that point, the VC comes back and it says, "Wait a minute, we just got a call from Gigundo Corporation, and if we can meet this proposal they want, we can hit the big deal." And I slip in, "And we can all pay off the IPO." Here's the interesting thing: this is an exercise with a box of LEGOs for 4-year olds. There are no prizes involved. But the level of intensity is so much that all the issues we have collected earlier are never brought up. Interesting problem: why do the skeptics, when they get engaged become junkies? Which is one of the key lessons is that if you're going to do Agile, you can't talk about it; you can't read about it, you can't watch it.

If you're going to do Agile, you have to do it. And the lights go on. This is the reason there are death marches is because the people won't stop working. The reason is there is a constant strive for excellence is because of the intrinsic intellectual competitiveness we have. But now I take it out of the doer level, the playing with these little LEGOs: like modular code, .NET stuff. And I say, "Ok, fine. I want all teams to start to work together in their combined things." And each set of teams will come out with an independent proposal on how to do a certain combination of really hellacious little stories that we got in here. We have where the VC will always reject both of those. They have 10 minutes, by the way, to do this proposal. And about seven minutes in, we call it up and reject them both.

You give them 2 or 3 minutes to do, as a single team, they have 2 minutes to come up with a viable proposal and defend it. And when I get done with that I say, "OK, you now understand that Agile goes beyond software, goes beyond the doers. Agile is a way for your company to manage that big opportunity quickly. You may have to kill projects you're in the middle of, to focus your key resources on putting together the right proposal, you have to kill proposals and tell people to get together and work and do it under an incredible timeline. This is the essence of the game.


4. So how does this help teams learn about scaling effectively?

First of all, you realize that there is a level of trust beyond team. You've got to trust your business owner. They are going to making some crazy calls. Trust them to know what they are doing. That's why Gigundo Corporation's made public. But it's not made public that you have to have this administration between two teams. They have to tease that out. There is also the issue of muscle memory. How we did it before and under stress we always go back to the familiar and how that can be counterproductive. So those are the two things that they experience. Now what they take away with them is something entirely beyond that. I had one person in one exercise who sat by herself over here and the rest of the team was over there.

I said, "Why aren't you there?" And she said: "I've never used LEGOs". She had grown up in a culture that didn't have LEGOs. And I went to the team, "Why aren't you helping her? Twenty-five percent of your team can't participate because you are not helping them learn." I thought, ok, that was a nice lesson learned. In the retrospective, that's when she looked at me and said, "I've just learned an enormous lesson about how people I do not engage in what I am doing can feel." She said, "I'm a systems programmer. And I want to do it by myself, but I just realized how other people feel and how much more productive I could be if they were engaged." That's the amazing thing. I mean the people who come to these courses think they learn a lot. I hope they do.

What they don't understand is watching what people take away really leverages. It's better when you're coaching, in a sense, because you can watch it continuously. But that's the secret for what I do.


5. You mentioned that one example. Any other really interesting or surprising things that come up?

I had a bunch of testers, test executives, directors, very skeptical. All these issues on the wall. It was a 7-hour workshop. Three hours in it and I said, "It's time out. Why aren't you mentioning the stuff?" And this senior director of test, said, "Don't bother me; I'm in the middle of getting this done!" And you watch the lights go on and he goes: "No wonder they don't pay any attention to us. They are having too much fun." I said "Yeah." So by getting the people into the other set of shoes all these surprises come out that surprise the person as well as me. I think the other important stuff is they actually rock back when they realize they just did an executive set of decisions in 10 minutes.

After coming off the stuff. So, it's one of these emerging types of surprises every time I do that. But I have to tell you this in all fairness: it's a really easy game to do, but I think what adds flavor to it is having people that have made the mistakes and have actually done these types of jobs. I have got a long career. I've been in all sorts of different stuff. So, I can actually assume the role of the pointy-haired care boss because I was one at one time; and the manager from hell, because I've been under tremendous pressure some times. So this adds authenticity that reverberates with their core business experiences that helps drive this from a game to a simulation. I'd love to think that's why they walk away surprised.


6. What are the terms that I've heard you use and if you wouldn't mind just speak about it, Agile localization in terms of global efforts?

I'm seeing this and I think most coaches and trainers are seeing this as Agile gets mainstream, we're seeing, I would say maybe 90 percent of all the cases we run into with distributed teams. And distributed teams are in South-East Asia, in Asia itself, in the former Eastern blocs, so, you're dealing with multiple time zones, multiple cultures and we have taken Agilists (Giora Morein and George Schlitz are probably the most formal at doing this), and have set missionary zones and they've been training people. That's the globalization. We're trying to create a village of Agilists in a very real sense. I'm wondering if we're doing a good job because it's so simple.

I mean it's like I could show you all the Scrum and Agile and the principles and most of Kanban in about 5 pages of notes. That's it. Here! Go do it. Because of that, `everybody presents it a little different. And everybody who hears them hears them a little different. Now if you go to threads and different communities online, it's pretty eerie to think that all these people have had the same information given to them. I see some companies that are saying, "We're going to pick one organization that we're training. We're going to send them around the world so everybody speaks the same language. Right where we were different, it's the same set of trams and the same approach and the same methodology.

And I think that's going to be a bigger problem than anything else we have come up with Agile is if we do not have a disciplined community of trainers and coaches that all agree that there is a core pipe that has to be embedded in every statement. And every time we're experiencing this. And it has to build as we learn. That's what I mean by "localization" versus "globalization".


7. Somebody who's learning Scrum or Agile in Korea who is going to be part of a global team?

Let's take some teams that we know about. We have teams that have their analysts in New York City and they've got the developers in Rio. They've got teams in Dubai, in Singapore, in Belgrade, in Bucharest, and in Dusseldorf and Ireland. And they're all creating components to a master program. And the cycle time for delivering the program's shortening because of the demands of the market. And you're buying an Agile mindset and Agile approach to be able to deliver high value. If you just take more and of your time working up at disconnects, your losing some of the investments you make. The famous "what is done?" is a great example.


8. How do we get that commonality? How do we help these global organizations, these global teams?

I think conferences like this are very important. I think that some of the threads that are out there, that are becoming more mature in their management of conversation are important. I think it's not only more conversation, it's the recognition of what the differences are, based on a commonality because that's where growth comes from. I look at the ossification if you will, of some of the core classic Agile things and it's ossified because people will not accept change.


9. So Agile itself must be adapting?

Oh, you mean drink our own Kool-aid? Sure. How can we not be Agilists if we are not continuously trying to improve? What's the definition of an Agilist? Someone who sits back and says, "Ah man, I made it. I'm an Agilist… "Nee-Eee, not going to happen. It's that position of commitment and leadership through action and thought. What do we did well this time? What was terrible? What don't we like at all? How are we going to improve it? What measurable thing can we do to show we made a little bit of improvement? In my opinion, that's the essence of an Agilist, that's the definition of an Agilist.


10. How do we have those conversations around the world?

I've got to tell you something funny, but hanging on this one for a long time. Very fortunately I have a daughter. I have two daughters, both very wonderful. But I have one daughter who is a Theater Arts teacher. Except she went to grad school with a bunch of people from around the world and she used to tell me about how they teach classes. They teach a class: "Oh, tell me about it!" "Well, Dad we get into the social networking software and they bring up a class in Dubai, in Turkmenistan, in Singapore and in Boston." And they have a class project. And that class project is, in her case, was to create a play, she has a theater class about adolescents dealing with parents in a cross-cultural, global world.

I've seen the results but I said, "What? She never liked computers." And she's like taunting.I was in another reunion in New York City and there was a fellow doing a presentation to a user group. And he kept talking. And I said, "I'm sorry!" and he turned his monitor and said, "I've got my team here back in the Dominican Republic." On a web cam. "So put it on the screen!" In 5 minutes they were part of this conversation. I think it's time for, quote "the dinosaurs," I'm one, to realize that we're the last generation that may need face-to-face. And we have to realize there are toys out there, there is stuff out there that shrinks the time and distance. And we don't know how to use them. Like I said, "ossification."

So I'm really encouraged to see all these people coming who are "new Scrum and Agile" but have been treating what we crafted for so many years as a wrench, a tool, a toothbrush, you know, as a game. How do we take it and make it part of our arsenal? That's the question.


11. How do we give Agile to the next generation?

How do they help us understand how they want to use it and take the fetters off the prima donna concept of "Oh, we're developers, oh, we're expert this or that" This is a ubiquitous tool and people are making these great tool sets out of it and we're not taking advantage of it. I don't know the answer to that question. After you're done with this current crusade I'm on, which is moving quality assurance to the front, and that means not just follow the cycle, but to follow the organization. That's my current, the one after that is going to be well, I'm going to lift up my head and have everybody pour the social network and stuff in so I can mix it and stir it well and not mix it up too much. And I'm going to drink that kool-aid. I think that's the next place. I could be very excited about it, but I don't have time right now. I've got to finish this little task.

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