Thursday, August 24, 2017

Where do you get the inspiration to successfully lead agile teams?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser – we came across your blog while searching for practical information on how to become more agile, and how to maintain our agility. Where can I get some inspiration for leading teams to embrace all things agile? ~ Zach M.

Hey, Zach – It’s always a pleasure to hear from engineering and software professionals like you who care about agile, engineering strategy and performance innovation.

When searching for inspiration, I turn to Charlie Parker.

Charlie “Bird” Parker was a brilliant, though seriously flawed, pioneer of the American jazz scene. While his personal challenges are well documented, Parker is known as the undisputed master of the idiom, who understood that being great was not simply about being talented. His legacy, regarded by music historians as one of the most powerful in the history of American music, was not an accident. It was arrived at through years of disciplined study, practice, and experimentation, which resulted in the very definition of the art form. But it was not simply about study, nor was it only about a disciplined adherence to structure. Parker knew what so many in software engineering still struggle to understand today: that great accomplishments are achieved through mastering and synthesizing all three elements — talent, learning, and discipline.

What really set Bird apart was his ability to master these concepts with extraordinary agility. When he performed, he heard something very different from the music of his predecessors. While standing firmly on the shoulders of the giants who came before him, he created a new, agile style that catapulted jazz into an entirely new dimension. With its short bursts of creativity, rapid real-time adaptations, and incremental, iterative improvisational character, this style — which came to be known as “be-bop” — would be better described as real-time composition.

Unlike the music that preceded Parker’s 1939 debut, his was incremental and iterative in three dimensions:

The first was internal to the skills of any accomplished musician, who learns to hear the sound in the split-second it takes for it to escape his or her instrument, and then incrementally inspects and adapts the tone, inflection, and pitch — sometimes before the sound wave has even reached the audience.

The second dimension was the real-time collaboration among and between the members of his group: between saxophone and piano, between drums and bass, between piano and guitar, and a continuous build of those collaborations across the ensemble. The magic of be-bop is in the real-time composition created when a group of accomplished players collaborate as a team, fail fast, and deliver the minimum viable product throughout the course of the composition.

Finally, Bird would collaborate with his audience — reading their reaction, inspecting and adapting, and recalibrating his compositions to meet the desires of his fans.

If it sounds as though I’m saying that agile methods have been around a lot longer than Scrum, XP, and the spiral model, I am. While I have immense respect for the authors of the Agile Manifesto, they were 60 years behind Bird.

The lessons from Charlie Parker are as relevant to agile teams today as they were to musicians in the 1940s — most software organizations still struggle with the synthesis of talent, learning, and discipline. It’s not for lack of trying. The landscape is littered with models, techniques, and tools in search of software’s perfect chord, yet we continue to struggle with the processes required to improve productivity and increase the predictability and stability of software projects.

Here's a way to learn more - quickly and easily!

The 2017 Agile Leadership Summit on September 22, 2017 in Washington, D.C. offers a solution to this problem, by presenting a first: A framework for adopting, transforming, and mastering Agility.

At the Summit, you’ll experience a live jazz performance that demonstrates agility, iteration, and excellence right before your eyes. To deepen your learning experience, there will be two fantastic keynotes by industry leaders, and six entertaining vignettes on Agile leadership, craftsmanship, and teaming. Lunch will be served, and you’ll have opportunities to network with other Agile leaders.

Inspired yet? Then join us at the Agile Leadership Summit! You’ll learn from your peers about how to take agile leadership, and your organization, to the next level of agile performance.

More information is available at

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Cutter IT Journal.

Jeff Dalton is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, Certified CMMI Instructor, ScrumMaster, author, and consultant with years of real-world experience with the CMMI in all types of organizations. Jeff pioneered agileCMMI, the leading methodology for incremental and iterative process improvement. He has taught thousands of students in CMMI trainings and has received an aggregate satisfaction score of 4.97 out of 5 from his students.

Visit for more information about engineering strategy, performance innovation , software process improvement and running a successful CMMI program.

To download eBooks about CMMI, including the complete “CMMU Users Stories,” visit Jeff’s Author Page on Amazon.

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