Why Am I an Agilist?

I was originally a scientist by training and profession, so in many ways growing and learning as an Agilist has been a very natural progression for me over this last decade. Unlike some of my colleagues, who started careers as technologists or business persons, the mindset, philosophies, practices, environments, and adaptive delivery ethos of an Agile team makes intuitive sense to me because of this background.

I have been using empirical process control methodologies and frameworks of one type or another for more than 20 years. When I focused nearly 15 years ago on information technology production and management, I – like many – pursued and acquired my PMP so that I could provide an integrated governance of the projects I led. I also completed my masters’ degree in computer information systems, the advantages of which to me cannot be overstated.

But I quickly experienced – as we all have – the fatal, common, repetitive failures of plan-driven, phase-gated development methodologies when applied to software development projects. I watched as the failures (in my firm’s projects and throughout the industry) continued to mount, and I watched as the next projects were organized and executed exactly the same way.

About eight years ago, I had had enough: poorly-written, inscrutable BRDs that were treated like Bibles; stressed out production teams; uninvolved, uninformed sponsors; low-quality products; insufficient testing pushed out to the end – and all the rest of it.

I had been reading and hearing about Agile for a few years by that time, and I researched its applicability for a project that I was assigned that seemed set for failure from the beginning due to its Waterfall approach: woefully poor product visions; vague, conflicting requirements; highly-siloed component teams with little inter-team trust – just a disaster waiting to happen.

So, I pulled the sponsor and the client project lead aside and pitched them this idea: Let me train the project lead to be a Product Owner, train the sponsor and the PO on how to let Scrum be applied to the project, start (the Agency’s first-ever) Product Backlog, and form multiple Scrum feature teams. They agreed.

We started standups, sprints, retros, and Scrum workshops. We started regularly delivering incrementally improving products and features, we talked and laughed, we worked hard, and we got the users what they wanted when they were expecting it. The project succeeded, and the success emboldened me.

The next two projects were also presented to me as “classic” scope-driven, plan-driven projects. Again, in both cases, I could quickly see that an Agile approach would work better. Again, I did the pitch; again it was agreed to. At a major California department, I had them form a feature team and set them to regular iterative production so that they could build their own risk management framework product — completely implemented in 90 days, as planned. Ata private-sector financial firm, they had a huge project late list that never budged – and we reduced it by 85% in 4 months using Scrum as our solution framework. It was beautiful!

Some have told me that actions like this don’t just make me an Agilist – they make me an Agile evangelist. I am humbled by the kindness behind these thoughts; but it would be enough for me to be able to consider myself a consummately professional Agilist.

During this time, I also saw the need to interact and engage the Agile community at large to better improve my acumen. I pursued and acquired, in turn, my CSM, CSPO, PMI-ACP, and CSP. The latter was a very challenging preparation process that I feel greatly expanded and honed my skills.

Also, concurrently with my 15 years’ experience as a technical consultant and IT developer, I have also been a professional, college-level instructor and trainer in multiple settings. I have produced more than a dozen complete IT educational curriculum for organizations such as UCD Extension and Sacramento State University, including multiple workshops and presentations on Agile and Scrum. I love working with people and teams to bring them to higher states of performance and excitement.

I am humbly honored that my colleagues consider me a recognized, dedicated Agilist – it’s something I work hard to deserve. My study of Agile is continuous – one book is finished, another is picked up; I finish a training video from SkillSource and am ready for another one; I must be dragged away from conversations with my Agile colleagues; and I am always ready to talk to anyone who shows interest in what Agile and Scrum are, what they mean, and how they are changing the future of product design, development, and delivery.

In Agile, I have found a home that comports with all the characteristics that I think I embody as a professional: close, interactive, collaboration with the customer; courage and fortitude in bringing people together; enunciating unspoken assumptions; challenging the team to be innovative; and a never-wavering insistence on simplicity, technical excellence, and delivery. That’s me, that’s Scrum – we go together very naturally.

Said plainly, without Agile and Scrum, I would be a less effective professional in my chosen line of work. I would be stripped of my ability to help customers prioritize their needs, I would be unable to quickly create lightweight, actionable frameworks to decide, communicate, and deliver. I would be lacking the body of philosophy and practice that is designed to accommodate and address the rapidly changing face of business and technology with adaptive, reliable products continuously available.

This power of performance that Agile and Scrum provide to me and other Agilists has truly changed the way I deliver – and definitely for the better. It’s created in me a perfection vision of how Scrum should be executed, and how anything less is just that – something less than Scrum. I have a clear and uncompromising perspective on automated testing and other aspects of continuous integration that I never possessed before; I am deeply immersed in the study of scaled Scrum approaches; and I have (based on the testimony of my colleagues) become a much more effective elicitor of the team’s ideas and suggestions. In other words, Agile has taken a command and control PMP and turned him into a team player. I am very grateful for that – really, that’s the only word that applies.

Being a dedicated and constantly-improving Scrum professional has also given me the abilities and wherewithal to constructively deal with teams who might be attempting to tailor Scrum ill-advisedly. Or to help that frantic POs who cannot get the PBL to make any sense. Or the team that just cannot get the hang of user story development or estimation.

For some, these might be obstacles. For me, as an Agilist, they are part of the delight of coming in every day. They represent the value that I can bring to a Scrum team. These challenges and the multitude of others facing a Scrum team constantly is what I love to do, and (I like to think) do well.

Tomorrow, I will strive to be an even better Agilist and Scrum professional than I am today. My dream is to face that day with the help of my colleagues in an ever-growing network of engaged Agilists.