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Peter Pilgrim is an Oracle Java Champion, Software developer, designer and architect for the Java Platform, Agile SCRUM practitioner. Peter is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 40 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Can’t Change; Won’t Change

02.01.2013
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I have called this piece: Can’t Change, Won’t Change. It is about what I found in recent years working in the financial services industry, in particular inside investment banking. I witnessed Agile adoption inside these organizations. Sad to say, it did not happen. Instead, lip service was paid to say SCRUM, for example.

A lot of banks talked the game of Agile with a big “A”, but in truth their efforts was in a very small “a”. Daily stand-up meetings were actually, in fact, sit-downs. They did not less than 15 minutes, typically, but were regularly overtaken by database integration and production issues, project management tasks, and ran for almost an hour, whilst the whole team was wasted by business as usual matters, which most of the team did require the whole team to be present. Agile adoption was a complete waste of time, because banks did not have time for user story boards, nor did their employees or contractor really want to stick paper and/or cardboard tickets onto any type of board.

The heart was not in it to begin with. There was a lack of space for even for user story boards. It was impossible to stick papers to glass windows and the modern building architecture. Their game was just to rely heavily on JIRA or TRAC, there was a distinct lack of motivation, opportunity or innovation to extend the electronic task board beyond the machine.

In the end, they  continued to fail in any way to get close to a self-organising team. Even if there was buy-in from the senior management, sometime leading by authority could have helped, but there was somebody in the lower management that torpedoed any attempts for better agile adoption. In the end, there was no chance to practise agile software development with a big “A”; and if you wanted to try your hand at pair-programming and pragmatic test driven-development then the answer was a resounding not a hope of a chance, ever. Therefore continual improvement was at stand-still.

I have found out now that if you really want to learn how Agile with a big “A” is done, then step away and outside of an investment banking environment as I have done this year. My advice is to find organisations that do practice what they preach and not dream, where there is true transparency and integrity. In the past few years, it has become more important that developers and designers have some experience of Agile techniques and not just lip service. It is sad, but true. I can change and definitely I want change.
Published at DZone with permission of Peter Pilgrim, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

Comments

Daybreaker Gijane replied on Fri, 2013/02/01 - 8:28am

I agree.

Having working in an 'Agile' startup and investment banking I strongly believe 'Agile' has no place in banking whatsoever.

The startup is 2 years old and has worse legacy than said investment bank, and I believe will ultimately bring it down.

Ahhh I hear the 'Agile' crowd say - you're not doing 'Agile' right!

It seems very few people are. Obviously the success of correctly run 'Agile' projects is down to the proper use of post-it pads and index cards, and not the development team.

Karol Lalol replied on Fri, 2013/02/01 - 10:09am

I don't have direct experience with agile in banks, however I know the environment. And I think that  everything there is runnning CYADD - Cover Your Ass Driven Development...

Since most important thing for most of the not very competent people there is to stay there...

Anytime I hear that EU commission sets a new regulation and Banks are screaming and whining about gigantic implementation costs, I'm just laughing...

Loren Kratzke replied on Fri, 2013/02/01 - 5:18pm

 The fact is that Agile is not a cure. While it has value, I have issues with those who claim that when it does not cure a disease that you are not doing it right.

More specifically, that is a bad thing that standups lasted one hour but that is not because they were sitting instead of standing. We sit during our standups and we finish 6 people in 15 minutes and enjoy a few laughs while we are at it. So are we not doing it right?

And personally, I don't like looking at swim lines made with blue tape on every wall, sticky notes everywhere, and I really hate those stupid definition of done posters written in various colors and handwriting styles. They are ugly, messy, and offer zero value in my opinion. I am perfectly happy using Jira for backlogs, stories, tasks, and all that. That is where the information belongs, not plastered on every wall and window in the building. JUST STOP!

One fatal flaw of pure Agile is the notion of no deadlines. Guess what? Business has deadlines and what are you to do? You instantly rearrange your sprint to meet the deadline which means that sprint planning is of marginal value at best if the plan changes half way through a sprint. Yes, it is better than no planning, but with pure Agile, so much energy goes into planning every little aspect of a sprint and tracking every little bit of progress that it becomes a liability more than an asset in the real world.

Really it boils down to what kind of software you are writing and who you are writing it for. Sometimes software can not be sliced into neat little sections and deployed in little bits and pieces at a time. It is just not real world. Bending over backwards to make this happen is the wrong thing to do. It takes a lot of energy to blindly force the square peg into the round hole and the value of doing so can diminish the value statement to a point where you are no better off with Agile than without it.

My point is that Agile is usually better than nothing, but rarely works in the purest form in the real world. You have to be smarter than Agile, in other words, smart enough to know when not to blindly follow a methodology and then blame failure on non-compliance of said methodology.

Senthil Balakrishnan replied on Fri, 2013/02/01 - 6:58pm

Interesting article, I guess that's one of the problem with Agile itself. It's very flexible, people adopt whats flexible to them & say they are following agile :). I meant the small 'a' :)

Karol Lalol replied on Sun, 2013/02/03 - 5:24am in response to: Loren Kratzke

I'm not agile fanatic, however it looks like that you are exactly that "agile" type of banking guy.

If you are not able to plan effectively for 2-4 weeks, how you can make some commitment at all? How many projects can make it on time? According to Mr. McConnell and his book Software Estimation its 28%. If you belong to this 28% you have my respect, however I dare to don't think so.

Probably in some time you will understand that you shouldn't change that square peg, but that round hole. If your managers are not able to decide what is most important for next 2 weeks, I'm sorry for you. I can't believe that writing of task to ugly post-it is more time consuming than filling of JIRA form - do you really have luxury to waste your time? According to one scrum trainer I know, even 15 minutes for 6 people should be needless....

And there are few more thoughts in your comment which looks like that your methodology has nothing with agile. You have some own system (which is completely fine) which your managers (and you) call agile because it sounds good (which is pretty typical). Agile is primarily about mindset change, and this didn't happen in your case. 

Loren Kratzke replied on Mon, 2013/02/04 - 3:30pm in response to: Karol Lalol

 First of all, there is zero scientific proof that pure strict draconian Agile and scrum is the one and only proper way to develop software. I prefer to think of it as a starting template not a polished solution. We plan just fine electronically and we don't need post-it notes to do so. But we don't freak out when something doesn't get done or other unplanned stuff does get done. We are not a slave to the system.

Don't be sorry for me, I'm doing just fine.

Just saying not to blame everything that ever goes wrong on not doing Agile right when Agile is attempted/implemented. To do so would be to assume that pure Agile is the exclusive and absolutely perfect solution in any situation and any shortcomings must be automatically attributed to not following Agile methodologies to the letter. You must be smarter than Agile. It's a planning and communication framework/mindset that must be properly applied to succeed, rather than be blindly worshiped. To be properly applied, you must bend and sometimes break the most sacred of rules, like sitting down during standup for starters. If you can do that, then you begin to have a mindset change of your own that transcends baseline Agile.

Loren Kratzke replied on Mon, 2013/02/04 - 5:40pm in response to: Senthil Balakrishnan

I agree, that is a problem indeed.

Agile == flexible
flexible == agile
agile != Agile

Karol Lalol replied on Tue, 2013/02/05 - 9:50am in response to: Loren Kratzke

I agree that agile is not a silver bullet. And I agree that follow rules blindly is not very clever.

However... one example.

Let's say that you(anybody) need lose weight. You can do it in countless ways, however you decided to do it by superdiet called AGILE...

Program of this diet is running every day for 1 hour, eating in fast food once per week maximum, and few others.

If you are going blindly follow this program, probability of weight loss is ... let's say 90% - easy. If you are clever, and you tell yourself, I really don't like running, but I'm going to swim every day for 1 hour, and yes I'll eat in fast food twice a week, but remaining time of the week I'll eat only salads.  You are very probably still fine. And you achieve what you want.

However there are people which just say, okay, running for 1 hour is way too much, I'll run 10 minutes, and what? Only one visit of KFC? No way! And guess what, given person is not losing  his weight. And he starts scream that AGILE superdiet sux...

This parallel applied to your case is that if someone is changing your priorities on daily basis, its simply something against AGILE. If you are sitting on meeting, it's very probably that this meeting is longer then it could be... etc etc. You can do that in that way, however is possible that you are not performing as good as you could and in worst case you are preforming same or worse than if you would follow waterfall diet....

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