When IT professionals have difficulty understanding agile methodologies, is it because they do not make real-life connections to its concepts?

I have found that if we compare some things we do in our daily lives to various agile activities, we can better understand the processes. Consider the maturity levels, for example. Agile methodology is a software development strategy that uses incremental, iterative improvements rather than infrequent large-scale updates. The maturity level scale indicates how agile an organization’s methodology actually is, ranging from a minimal level of small steps up to a complete, top-to-bottom implementation of agile techniques and tools.

So Agile is about team maturity, and life stages are about people achieving new levels of social and intellectual maturity. Using agile terms, a child is at maturity level (ML) 01, develops as a teenager to ML-02, and then becomes an adult at ML-03.

When you think about a typical day for a child―sleep, wake, eat, play, study, eat more, play more, and sleep again―do you notice anything relevant to agile? Maybe not yet, but consider this:

  • Most agile frameworks tell us to deliver value in small increments and get stakeholders’ feedback early on, and then often, throughout the process.
  • We create a product backlog, continuously refine it based on priorities defined by a product owner, and then bring in activities (a.k.a. stories) in a time-boxed event called a sprint.
  • We must complete the work during the sprint. If we cannot do so in the required timeframe, the work is returned to the backlog list.
  • Successes and failures are discussed in retrospective analysis.
  • We then course-correct and move forward.
  • In the next sprint planning, we adjust to what we can realistically deliver, right?

With me so far?

ABCs and 2+2: ML-01

Now, let us come back to the daily activities that we listed for a child. Each child has a typical sleep cycle—a time-boxed event. A day at school is time-boxed. Playtime is largely controlled by parents, so we can say it too is time-boxed. These events are roughly comparable to sprints.

A child also has things to do. Some tasks are short term and some are long term. These are the backlog. Now, the children have their own priorities for these tasks but parents reset the priorities from their perspective of greater maturity—no, you cannot skip school to play with your toys!—and the child ultimately gets a refined backlog of things to work on.

However, there are other stakeholders in this scenario, too. The schoolteacher determines many of these priorities, such as homework assignments, due dates, etc. In a child’s life, then, only a few activities are truly agile, because children do not control the selection and prioritizing of their daily tasks.

Learners’ permits and junior prom: ML-02

As children become teenagers, they start to get a better understanding of how to control backlog items (plans) in life. Teenagers become more organized and find new ways to do things efficiently. However, they still do not act in full independence. Parents retain some control over finances and teachers still have control over homework. Meanwhile, the teenager is still maturing, learning from failures and taking instruction or advice from parents, teachers, and in some cases, friends as well.

While it may sound like typical old-style project management, this transformation from ML-01 to ML-02 is not easy, and we all can relate to it as human beings. The maturity process from child to teenager brings confusion and questions. Our life priorities start changing, our friends become closer than parents, and we develop new interests. We all adapt, with greater or lesser degrees of difficulty, because we get constant feedback, coaching, training and discipline as we grow up. With all of these factors working together, we enter the next phase of life with an increasing level of maturity.

Are the parallels with agile becoming more obvious?

Mom, I’m a grownup now, stop babying me: ML-03

Everyone has a list of things they want to do in life when they become independent. When we start earning our own money, we start having more control over our life plans, and continuously add and prioritize the things we want to do. This list is the equivalent of the agile backlog, and the refinement process is now more mature, allowing us to make independent decisions and prioritize things with less external influence.

As we grow more relaible and become independent adults, we can say we have achieved ML-03 in agile terms. At this stage, when things are more predictable, a guiding framework is in place, team members have been trained and coached, and we have predictable outcomes from the team in each sprint or iteration, and we can say the team has achieved ML-03. We should aim for a team that can be predictable, cross-functional, process-matured, and most importantly delivers value.

If we embrace agile as a guiding light to achieve efficiencies, predictability, and a way to deliver value to stakeholders, then it becomes much easier to adapt. The fear of something new should not stand in the way of achieving something great.

In agile transformation and maturity processes, we do similar things to how we advance through life stages. Teams get feedback from stakeholders, coaching and training from agile coaches, discipline from Scrum Masters, and so on to become more independent and predictable in delivering the work.

For more on this topic, download our free white paper, “The Agile Culture Shift: Why Agile Isn’t Always Agile.”

About this author

Picture of Neelesh Katiyar

Neelesh Katiyar

Director, Consulting Services

Neelesh Katiyar is a director and sub-sector lead within CGI Federal’s Emerging Technologies Practice. He leads the Agile and DevOps practices. Neelesh has more than two decades of IT experience and has supported the U. S. federal government for much of that time in various ...

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