Bango attended once again the annual Agile Spain conference that took place in the lovely city of Vitoria-Gasteiz in the Basque Country. Two days of great talks, keynotes and workshops discussing the Agile methodologies. And, just like in the last two years, we found it incredibly inspiring, creative and full of bright ideas to optimize and understand better how we can motivate and drive our teams.
Bango has embraced Agile within our development team for the last three years, but it’s only been since the beginning of 2016 when we became full Agile in sync with our company values, believing in quality products created by an awesome team of sound and brilliant professionals in a healthy customer-focus, results-oriented working environment.
The CAS conference has become one of the reference highlights every year to recharge batteries, do some networking between Agile professionals and interchange ideas and challenges. Here’s a small summary of the topics we covered this year.
The conference began with a very interesting Keynote by Chris Matts, creator of the Given/Then/When template. The title, Challenging Agile, tried to answer the questions about the trend “Agile is dead”, with a very sound approach on real options that have value but en up expiring. Special mention to his comparison between Memes and the Agile cycle, and how early adopters of a process come up with the same solution, end up dominating, and the process of uncertainty becoming certain. Keynote available here.
Xavier Albadalejo spoke about Enterprise Agile, the maturity levels on companies becoming Agile, as working in Agile doesn’t mean they’re Agile. The speech had very interesting thoughts on bigness being the opposite of fast and flexible, the enterprise silos where each department has their own agenda, killing teamwork and customer-centric cultures. Most importantly, he spoke about the importance of independent small teams, knowledge sharing, communities of practices, complexity of a non-linear world where the reason of a problems is the combination of many others. In a natural way, teams identify transversal impact of business initiatives. Need of business agility, the right people (open minded, organic people asking for Agile), ready in the right moment with key Agile roles in place.
Jerónimo Palacios explained how Kanban is more than just a board, where things go beyond Not done/Doing/Done (protoKanban), and work is organized around work itself. How we need to have into account the Customer lead time, and the Flow efficiency. Understand the latency time, and how long we’ve been working on things and how long they’ve been in the queue. As a common agreement among all the speakers, he made a remark on how important it is to get agreements to change our organization’s cultures, letting people have their own space, with multiple levels of leadership, leading to a safe, guilt-free environment.
Enrique Rodriguez spoke about Silos. The company departments, separated by their own agendas, and the four barriers for cooperation:
- Not invented here barrier
- Hoarding barrier (people not willing to help)
- Search barrier (Where is that thing documented? Does anyone know what that was?)
- Transference/handover barrier
Many interesting concepts arose such as the optimization or division of labour, the Allen curve (physical distance vs frequency of communication), misalignments, classification systems and labels (I’m a web designer, I’m a backend developer, I’m the boss) being the creators of Silos.
Of course, solutions to these were proposed. Knowing the Silos are not going anywhere, as their creators will always be there, all we can do is use them in our favour: blurring borders in functions, joint actions in departments creating opportunity, having lunch with our colleagues, align organizational vectors (make happen what’s in paper in the org chart). Overall, understand that above our professional titles we’re essentially people and much more than just professionals.
One of my favourite talks was one with a quite explicit title: Your code is shit, by Xabi Sáez. I thought it would be about code reviews, but turned out to be far more than that. It was essentially about subtle communication skills and building the capacity for teams to be able to tell each other such a explicit sentence in an ego-free, non-destructive, positively critical way, with the sole objective of growing and improving teams.
The talk explained, in a nutshell, that communication is a simple thing that usually fails due to interpretation. Lack of context, losing your own context, increasing lack of understanding leading to frustration. Emotional context is also transmitted adding up more confusion to the interpretation, or powerfully enhancing it if used properly. We people are the key for this adaptatively complex system, and how we need to be fully aware that non-violent communication is what you observe, feel, need and ask. Communication is, of course, translated into budget, as it is expensive for companies. And how using relative truths in the way we code is the way forward (TDD, Code reviews, Retrospectives). We all should be able to speak the same language. We need to let our anger out, otherwise it will rotten.
Antonio de la Torre is one of my favourite Agile speakers from previous conferences. This time he spoke about the necessity and solutions communities. With a similar approach to Chris Matt’s keynote, he also spoke about the Diffusion of innovations, and the chasm between statuses. Viral concepts, communication becoming mainstream evolving into majorities through natural selection. When something becomes mainstream, it normally goes without principles or areas where it fails. And we can’t expect people to have an answer to that. Can something survive without principles?
My favourite part of Antonio’s speech was an example he made about him buying a bus tickets in advance that he ended up not needing. He didn’t keep the options open until the last responsible moment, and that made him lose money. In a nutshell, fear and uncertainty prevent us from reaching that moment. And we need to learn to master this problem.
The Story of an Agile transformation by Mike Rötgers was also very clarifying, and very similar to Bango’s story when it comes to adopting Agile and Scrum. On how they were successful in implementing Agile but not without a lot of struggle, demotivation, cross-functionality transition, specific roles, lack of self-organization, acceptance criteria and definition of done, the importance of a Roadmap, and the fact that Agile is not for everyone and some people were lost in the way, but attracting other kind of talents and mindset, ending up in a successful implementation of the process.
I save the best for last: Israel Alcázar‘s Team evolution models talk. Israel was one of my favourite speakers in previous conferences as well, and he is a brilliant Agile coach that start his conferences by saying “I don’t work at, I have fun at”.
Israel’s talk was a very thorough reflection on the concept Team vs Group. Groups are interdependent in their tasks, share responsibility for outcomes, and view themselves as a unit of an organisational system and they have boundaries within that organisation. Agile tells us how teams are: they need to be small. Humans are not bees. Bees work more the more they are, but the Ringelmann effect or the Apollo syndrome tell us humans work less efficiently the more together they are. Teams need to be, nevertheless, cross-functional and empowered with autonomy, responsibility, awareness, trust and respect.
Group development needs to be adopted as a practice. This means small groups need to be changing. There’s a tremendous amount of possibilities: Linear, hybrid, etc. Have into account the interesting Dexler & Sibbet model, despite it has several flaws as they come from therapy groups from 1965.
There were many other talks, keynotes and workshops, all of them with a lot of interesting points and topics, but here are the ones that summarize best the core ideas of this conference. All the talks and keynoted mentioned above can be found in the Autentia Media channel in Youtube.
Special mention to the fantastic Keynote by Steve Freeman called Why everyone should care about Test-Driven Development stating that TDD has become so mainstream that it’s somehow not fashionable anymore, but it’s a critical process we need to care for deeply due to its unlimited added value to product development.
We believe in Agile at Bango, and sharing knowledge on our challenges, victories and defeats with professionals of similar mindset is critical. The CAS 2016 was fresh air and an absolute boost for our motivation in improving our company and teams, with the sole purpose of providing our customers with the highest level of product quality.