Tuesday, September 5, 2017

SPaMCast Interview: Are success and failure attributable to methodology or leadership?

Jeff, I have been recently asking people whether or not leadership is important to change. Is it true that failure really doesn’t have anything to do with Agile, non-Agile, RUP per se, it’s a leadership failure? ~ Tom Cagley, SPaMCast

[Editor's Note: Over the coming weeks, this CMMI Appraiser will be sharing excerpts from a recent conversation with Tom Cagley on the Software Process and Measurement Cast (SPaMCast) about leadership, and whether leadership is more or less important in today’s Agile world. Listen to the full interview at SPaMCast 456.]

Tom, that’s a fantastic point and this is something I try to talk about in the speeches that I give. This entire discussion … Agile versus Waterfall versus RUP versus chaos … is missing the point. There are attributes of strong leadership and well-run organizations -- as well as weak leadership and poorly run organizations -- that exist regardless of what methodology we choose.

I remember giving a partner speech with one of the main participants of the Agile manifesto. I won’t name him here but he started out by saying, “Agile is better than Waterfall because Agile projects are always on time and customers are happy.”

You know, that’s a pretty interesting statement. I ran lots of great projects in the 80s and 90s, where my customer were happy and the project was on time and on budget. So what really strikes me is that the thing that makes Agile so powerful isn’t the frameworks or the methodologies that are out there today. Because SAFe, Scrum, DAD and XP are all fantastic ideas. I fully support them, and think my customers should use them. But it’s the values part that nobody is really talking about.

Back when I was running software teams in the 80s and 90s, I tried very hard to be transparent, collaborative, high trust, and to fail fast. If you remember rapid application development, I was a big proponent. Sure, we didn’t have Scrum back then. We didn’t have XP, and those things are great. But it's the values, and leading through the demonstration of values, that really gets you the bang for the buck as an organization.

I tell my clients, “You know what, if Waterfall makes sense to you and it makes sense for your business, you should do that. Just make sure the values are in place. Make sure you have high trust, fail fast, collaboration, transparency and visibility, etc.” 

Back the 80s, we had big posters of our plans and our requirements on the wall. I remember I used to put a thermometer up there, so people would always know, “Here’s what’s going on.”

Going back to 1994, I was leading a team that wrote the point-of-sale system for Sears. We wrote the world’s first touch screen system, Windows 1.0. I won’t get even to that nightmare, but one of the things we did is we had calendar on the wall. It was a tear-off calendar so every day we tore it off, and that was an indication that our deadline was coming up. We used to do these types of things. This was before Agile, was you know Agile with a capital A.

The point is that the differentiator for leaders is not the methods you use. It's not Agile, Waterfall, RUP, etc. It’s values. If you look back at who the great leaders were in your career, you’ll probably think of people who demonstrated values that are consistent with the nine core Agile values, some which I’ve listed. Values are what really matter. Those are the things leaders work with and focus on trying to strengthen, because without values, nothing’s going to change.

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I hope my readers have enjoyed this segment of my interview with Tom Cagley on SPaMCast #456. We'll be talking more about leadership, and whether leadership is more or less important in today’s Agile world, in the next segment. Please check back soon.

For those interested in a deeper dive into learning about Agile Leadership, you are invited to join me and other Agile leaders at The 2017 Agile Leadership Summit, hosted by AgileCxO.org on September 22nd in Washington, DC. I look forward to meeting many of you in person for the first time!

Click here to register for The 2017 Agile Leadership Summit.

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Jeff Dalton is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, Certified CMMI Instructor, author and consultant with years of real-world experience with the CMMI in all types of organizations. Jeff has taught thousands of students in CMMI training classes and has received an aggregate satisfaction score of 4.97 out of 5 from his students.

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

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