Jean Tabaka on the Golden Circle of Agile & StackExchange for project management

By courtney in Agile on June 28, 2011

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Last week a group of us went along to see Jean Tabaka (from Rally Software Development) presentation at a special Agile Welly Meet-up.

The event was an interactive session called Tell Me Why: The Golden Circle of Agile Transformation. Casting aside the traditional slide deck, Jean used Simon Sinek’s golden circle model to get us talking about the What, How and Why of our adoption and use of Agile methodologies. We organised ourselves into small groups and went through three rounds of discussion.

First, we talked about the what. What have we done that tells us we’re doing Agile? So, things like writing user stories and acceptance criteria, and holding stand-ups and running retrospectives – these are the practices (or rituals) that we perform when we’re doing Agile.

Then we talked about the how. How do we know which practices we should be using, or trying to improve? So things like, if a product owner keeps rejecting delivered work, maybe we need to look at the way acceptance criteria and done definitions are being stated, because there seems to be gap between what the developers are hearing and the product owner is seeing. Or things like holding regular product backlog grooming sessions, so we know we’re always working on the most important features for our product. As Jean observed, this is how you avoid getting trapped in cargo cult Agile – going through all the right motions, but not seeing the expected benefits.

In that discussion, we started digging into the principles of Agile – the why. Why is it that we and our organisations have decided to adopt Agile? For some people it was about increasing returns, or decreasing risks; for some, it was about improving the quality and timeliness of work delivered; for some, it was about team morale. Everything about your take up of Agile needs to stem from this why – if you don’t know why you’re doing something, why bother?

Back at work I started reading over the Rally blog, and found this post from Jean about being a newbie on the Project Management StackExchange. This is one of 50-plus question and answer sites on the StackExchange network, where people can ask and answer questions on specific topics. The StackExchange sites are known for their exemplary community management (and Jean’s post gives a great insight into how this works). In fact, one of my favourite Webstock 2010 talk was Jeff Atwood’s Stack Overflow: Building Social Software for the Anti-Social, about creating the first of these sites, devoted to programmers and their detailed technical questions.

Having a quick browse through the PM StackExchange, I found some interesting threads on topics like whether there’s data to show that planning poker produces better estimates than individuals, how to handle an argumentative team member, and how to avoid micro-managing a dev team. Appropriately for project management – where the job is to figure out the best system for the situation you’re in, the thing you’re building, and the team you’re working with – the answers are often opinions or sharing of experiences rather than flat-out dictums. Maybe soon I’ll quit lurking and post a question of my own.