Arlen Bankston: 5Q’s on Agile

Some time ago, I participated in the PM Boulevard’s 5Q’s on Agile series. Now, it’s my colleague Arlen Bankston’s turn. Do enjoy his interview below.

Arlen Bankston’s recent work has focused on combining Lean Six Sigma process improvement methods with Agile execution to dramatically improve both the speed and quality of business results. Read why he thinks Agile processes are about personal accountability and empowerment.

Q1: Why use Agile methods?

At an organizational level, the key drivers tend to be speed, flexibility, and quality—in order of demand. Much has been written about the general benefits of iterative and incremental development, so I’ll focus on what I consider to be a critical effect of the processes in the long term: Personal accountability and empowerment.
A favorite quote of mine from Dee Hock, creator of the Visa network: “Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex, intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple, stupid behavior.” Many currently entrenched processes, with their focus on mechanics over value and creativity, are detrimental to a feeling of personal ownership and control. This void initially blunts individual drive and innovation, and subsequently poisons team dynamics and effective project delivery.

Q2: Biggest challenge of implementing Agile methods?

When you give power to one, you take it from another. The division of roles and responsibilities in Agile is significant and new, which fuels resistance. You have self-directed Teams, which are scary to many managers, and often to the team members themselves. You have “servant leaders” in the form of ScrumMasters and Agile PMs, a strange and frightening concept to some control-oriented PMs. You have customers that now need to prioritize their requests and stay engaged throughout the life of a project. All of this change is not easy to manage.
Transparency is another key factor. In addition to the new responsibilities granted above, folks also have to learn to live without excuses and admit to mistakes without shame. Burning security blankets isn’t an easy sell.

Q3: In what environment will Agile be most successful?

Organizations that focus on generating real value, and foment partnerships between those with problems (e.g. business) and those with solutions (e.g. IT) are most likely to succeed. Extensive hierarchies and compartmentalized roles tend to play against this goal. Startup companies often provide a good model for what an Agile organization should be. They usually don’t have time or money to waste, so a focus on value is a matter of survival.

Q4: What is the future of Agile?

Agile is still maturing, and many recent advances are due to two factors: Blending of complementary methodologies, and a deeper appreciation and understanding of process methodologies such as Lean and Six Sigma. Case in point: Scrum is the leading Agile methodology now, but it generally incorporates XP principles, and leverages Lean approaches to reducing waste in repeatable activities. I have seen great tools drawn from Evo, the Dynamic Systems Development Method, Feature Driven Development and Crystal, and used within Scrum. The introduction of pure pull-based flow (a Lean principle) in place of iterations, championed by David Anderson and Corey Ladas while at Corbis, is very interesting as well.

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

Aside from our own blog , I currently like Corey Ladas’ Lean-fueled musings , Jeff Patton’s design-centered Agile Product Design Web site , and Confused of Calcutta , JP Rangaswami’s blog.

About the Author

Arlen Bankston is an established leader in the application and evolution of process management methodologies such as Lean, Six Sigma and BPM, as well as Agile software development processes such as Extreme Programming (XP) and Scrum. He is the Vice President of LitheSpeed, and a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and Certified ScrumMaster Trainer.