Agile Community of Practice is an organization intended to support and promote the use of Agile practices at Cal. During the Fall and Spring semesters, they hold bi-weekly brown bags that explore different applications of Agile concepts and practices. This article is based on a presentation created to introduce Agile concepts. For more information on the Agile Community of Practice see Agile at Berkeley.
Our greatest asset we bring is our ability to learn quickly.
–Pat Reed, UC Extension Agile Program Instructor
Agile is a mindset and practice that is part of a long history of Quality Improvement philosophy that can be traced to W. Edwards Deming. First and foremost, the idea is to learn as quickly as possible in order to make adjustments as we develop products or deliver services to better suit the customer in a timely and efficient way.
A common agile cycle is to:
An important element of our approach is its iterative process…To be successful, we must allow ourselves to leverage new knowledge and make course corrections. We must also be more willing to take risks and tolerate failure.
Agile ideas aren’t new; in fact you may have already been doing Agile even if you didn’t have a word for it.
Agile was originally developed in software development in order for companies to keep up with the rapidly changing marketplace. Companies that could get their software to market faster had a distinct advantage. Most people experience this every day in their smartphones where apps are constantly being upgraded. Today, its use is expanding outside of the technical world.
In 2001, a group of software developers who were experienced in various forms of software development methodologies convened and brought together the ideals that were shared amongst the methodologies in order to create better software. This became known as the Agile Manifesto:
- Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools
- Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation
- Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation
- Responding to Change over Following a Plan
These are not either-or statements; rather, they remind us of the ultimate purpose. Processes and tools support individuals and interactions; people need working software more than they need comprehensive documentation; contract negotiation is really a tool to develop customer collaboration; plans need to change as change occurs.
Why Agile.Berkeley.edu now?
Adapt to the extraordinary amount of change happening. Not only is technology changing but the needs of our students and faculty are changing as well. From Campus Shared Services to learning CalTime to getting a new Chancellor, change is happening. We need better tools to manage change.
Learn quickly. Change brings about new ideas and experiences. Learning quickly helps us orient and understand how we can best react to the change.
Deal with the unknown. With change, often we can’t rely on what we did before. We might only know part of the problem. The more people involved with dealing with the problem creates more unknown because there isn’t one person that knows every piece of the puzzle.
Get out of analysis paralysis. We work at Cal with lots of smart people with lots of great ideas, but how do we move from thinking to doing?
Agile Business Practices
Increments. “You can’t boil the ocean,” “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” are common sayings about breaking down work to small manageable pieces. And it works!
Learning from failure. By combining this with increments, allows you to fail at smaller manageable items. Perhaps you learn we need a course correction or perhaps you learn we should bail out on the project altogether, but this is way better than getting to the end and realizing we’re entirely off the mark.
Add value. Is the thing we’re doing the most effective use of our time, effort and/or money? It’s important to measure value in order to get better value out of things.
Creating a learning organization. We do this for our students. How might we do this for ourselves and our colleagues?
Self-Organizing Teams. People who do the work, know most about how the work can be accomplished. Particularly for managers and supervisors, it’s important to create an environment that allows staff to speak up and participate in solutions.
Collaboration. Especially when you don’t own all the pieces, we need to rely on others to get their part done but also be active in creating the best hand offs and knowing how your piece affects other teams.
Good Enough for Now. Not good enough for tomorrow nor good enough for yesterday. Good enough for now helps us move forward without getting bogged down by the perfection of tomorrow. It also forces us to evaluate whether yesterday’s solution still works for us today.
Agile Triangle. Most people are familiar with the Iron Triangle in which we balance between time, money, and resources. In the Agile Triangle, the Iron Triangle forms one corner called Constraints, which is balanced off by Quality and Value. It’s the difference between asking the question, “What do you I want for lunch?” and “I have $5 in my pocket. What do I want for lunch?” It’s actually a value question we ask and answer for ourselves almost every day.
Learn more and connect
- Agile.berkeley.edu – website for the UC Berkeley Agile Community of Practice
- University Extension – has a Specialized Certificate for Agile Management
- Doing Much More With Less: Implementing Operational Excellence at UC Berkeley – Andrew J. Szeri, Richard Lyons, Peggy Huston, and John Wilton: CSHE.10.13 (June 2013)