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How Agile Are You?

How agile are you? Are you doing the common agile practices but missing the point behind them? Here are three questions to ask yourself:

Are you focusing on the things that will have the greatest impact on the business?

There are lots of things on which you can spend your time. In waterfall, these might have been broken down into musts, shoulds and frills. Broad categories. One problem with this is that in the name of compromise lots of things got added to the must list which probably shouldn't have been there (similar to "pork" in bills going through Congress). Ranking things forces the discussion. Which is really more important?

By attacking the highest priority items first, you're least likely to be wrong about their importance. And better yet, you ensure that if only some items are going to make the release, it will be those which are most likely to have the biggest impact.

Once you have your priorities ranked, it goes beyond that. Is each item down to its essence? Or are there additional things which should be broken out and prioritized separately?

Another thing to consider: are you thinking of the business as a whole or just your piece of it? It is reasonable to focus on those things that you can control. But often times local optimizations can actually make the bigger picture worse. Think systemically.

How quickly could you release what you're currently working on?

The answer to this question has changed over time. In waterfall, you might have measured this in months. In agile, weeks or days. With the advent of continuous deployment, this has the potential to become hours or minutes.

Asking the related question "What is preventing us from releasing?" is a great way to help focus your efforts to improve. These are the items that are preventing you from really being done with your stories.

Another area that this question exposes is whether your functional areas are collaborating well. For everyone to answer this question with a short time frame, your product management folks have to be working closely with developers who have to be working closely with QA, etc. You also have to be working on things in small chunks.

Releasing more gives us more feedback on where we need to focus next. Do a little, get some feedback, do some more. And that leads us to our third question.

Are you constantly improving your understanding of the business problems you're trying to solve and the way that you go about trying to solve them?

Ultimately, what you're creating is going to be used to solve a business problem. It can look wiz bang, but if it doesn't solve the problem, what have you really accomplished? The difficulty is that it can be challenging to figure out what that problem is and what would effectively solve it. To do so, you have to be working closely with your users. Otherwise, you're just guessing based on limited knowledge.

Releasing often and getting the people involved who will actually use your product can greatly increase your odds of success. Constantly refining your priorities based on this feedback is critical. It doesn't matter what the ranking was when you started your release. What matters is what the ranking is now.

Similarly, as your team works more together, they can learn how to work together better. But only if the team takes the time to do so. Frequently retrospecting on how you can improve, making those changes and then reassessing is key to making your good team great.

Those are the three questions I'd ask if I was trying to get a feel for your agility. What would you ask?

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