This week I had the pleasure of attending the Agile2012 conference in Dallas. If there is one word to describe the Agile methodology practitioners, developers, project managers, and vendors at the conference it would be passion. They are passionate about Agile itself, of course, but it's more than that.
They are passionate about the jobs they do every day, and they're passionate about continuing to improve what they do. It occurred to me this week that many of the techniques we discussed for continuous improvement in Agile can be applied to all project and portfolio management (PPM). Your teams don't need to be pure Agile to benefit from some of the Agile techniques, you just need the passion to improve what you're doing.
One of the themes that came up in sessions was the concept of building in quality as you go rather than relying on testing to find problems. This is much easier said than done and it's not exactly a new concept. As Jez Humbles pointed out in one of his sessions, it has roots back to Deming's influence on the auto industry in Japan. But the team dynamics of Agile encourage an emphasis on initial quality, with a buy-in from everyone on the team. While Agile teams may more naturally foster this, it's a valuable concept that can be leveraged in every methodology with the right encouragement and collaboration.
Another reoccurring theme was that 100% utilization doesn't necessarily equate to 100% productivity. The greatest value of production from your teams isn't found when their schedules are perfectly filled.
Teams need slack time for retrospectives, innovative research, or just fixing issues from earlier work. This is an Agile concept that is relevant for all project management. It's particularly important to keep in mind in a world where PPM tools allow managers to assign work down to the allocation percentage point.
The last theme I want to share (there were many others) is on the importance of collaboration. Effectively collaborating, or even communicating, is difficult in the distributed environments many of us work in. Ideally Agile teams are co-located to maximize collaboration, but that's often not possible.
Many of us, agile or not, work in distributed environments where we rely on phone, email, IM, chatter, video, and travel to collaborate with each other. The good news is that there is no shortage of tools out there that help teams effectively collaborate. Ultimately the lesson from Agile is the importance in maintaining collaboration among and across teams. As collaboration goes up, quality and efficiency go up. Agile teams use daily stand-ups and other means to encourage collaboration, but non-Agile teams can use daily check-ins or other collaborative techniques as well. It's a matter of finding the right tools or techniques for collaborating and putting them into practice.
I want to thank everyone I met at Agile2012 for a great week and for some inspiring ideas. I'm already trying to apply the concepts we discussed in my Agile and non-Agile work. See you there next year.