Roland is away, so I’m posting his interview with PM Boulevard. The original is available here: Enjoy!

Roland Cuellar, Vice President at Lithespeed, lists the two greatest benefits of Agile as the ability to hit moving targets and the obvious financial implications of early releases. See what else he has to say as he answers our 5Qs on Agile.

Q1: Why use Agile methods?

When I explain the motivation for Agile methods to managers, I focus on two reasons.From an engineering standpoint, the process that one would design to hit a moving target would be very different from the process that one would design to hit a fixed target. Standard waterfall methods are all about hitting fixed targets. You define the scope in great detail, fix that scope, and then put strict change control in place. From this approach you can develop accurate (?) plans, schedules, and costs. The problem, of course, is that many real-world problems are moving targets. That is where Agile comes in. Agile has the feedback loops and requirements flexibility needed to hit moving project targets. Traditional project management treats requirements change as a project risk. But from a business standpoint, this is exactly the wrong approach. In the marketplace, changes are competitive weapons. The firm that gets changes out into the marketplace fastest wins. Waterfall change control is all about minimizing change and therefore it minimizes competitiveness! Agile is all about dealing with change and hitting those ever moving targets. Very competitive firms such as Google and Yahoo have been using Agile for years with obvious financial results.From a financial standpoint, Agile provides financial options to release working software sooner. By producing working software every few weeks, we give our project sponsor the financial option to release working products sooner at their discretion. I have seen many occasions where by working in an Agile manner, a product owner has decided to release early, not because the project was necessarily done, but because so much valuable software was already up and running that it would be a financial mistake to withhold it from customers who could benefit from the partially implemented system. As I like to ask my customers, was Microsoft right to release MS Word 15 years ago with only a handful of features or should they have waited until now to release because only now is it fully featured? The financial implications of early release are obvious and Agile makes early release more of a possibility.

Q2: Biggest challenge of implementing Agile methods?

Ultimately, Agile is all about cultural change. The Agile process is simple, but changing people is hard, and changing large groups of people is even harder. There is a lot of ossified behavior at most large organizations: “This is how we have always done it.” In fact, most organizations have processes and controls that are expressly designed to kill change. Don’t get me wrong here. Process standards and audits are necessary and useful except when they keep organizations from growing and learning! People invested in the status quo use standards as corporate “antibodies” to kill invading ideas. Organizations can best adopt Agile by treating it initially as a “proof of concept” that is expressly allowed to deviate from the standard controls for purposes of discovering whether Agile methods are applicable to their business.

Q3: In what environment will Agile be most successful?

For our customers, Agile has been most successful at organizations that have a culture and history of experimentation. Companies that are always trying to improve their game, have a culture of continuous improvement, and who have leaders with organizational change management skills have been the most successful in the adoption of Agile and in getting the benefits that Agile offers.

Q4: What is the future of Agile?All indications are that Agile is growing.

We see more and more interest in the use of Agile from all sectors of the economy. And as the economy, the technology, and the business get more complex, solution providers will be looking for tools that help them to better adapt to this ever-changing landscape. I believe that the ability of Agile to better deal with change is what is driving its adoption.

Q5: Can you recommend a book, blog, podcast, website, or other information source to our readers that you find interesting or intriguing right now?

My favorite book related to this is actually not about Agile at all. It is about manufacturing. The book is Lean Thinking by Womack and Jones. The book contrasts Japanese manufacturing and American and European manufacturing of automobiles. Another piece that I really like is “The New New Product Development Game,” which is a Harvard Business Review article from quite some time back. Once again, the article is about Japanese manufacturing, this time in the electronics space but the parallels to software development will be obvious to the reader. Readers will be stunned at the similarities that old school manufacturing has to “modern” software development. Agile is all about “small batch” manufacturing and using “work cells” of integrated teams. In a sense, one can say that Agile software development comes from Japanese manufacturing thinking. It seems that the manufacturing world learned 30 or 40 years ago what the software development world is just now catching on to.

About the Author: Roland Cuellar, Vice President of LitheSpeed, is a leader in helping enterprise level clients to adopt the use of both agile and lean in their organizations. Roland has helped executives prepare their organizations for agile transformation by identifying challenges and opportunities related to agile and lean implementation and developing action plans and risk mitigation strategies to insure that agile and lean initiatives are successful. Roland has led numerous agile product development teams in the areas of marketing applications, mortgage, compliance, and logistics. Roland has also given numerous agile training classes to both management and technology teams. Roland has prior experience leading large software development projects for Capital One, Freddie Mac, IBM, Lockheed Martin, and DHL. Roland has a B.S. in Computer Science and an M.B.A.

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