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Keynote at Agile2015: Modify Agile to make it work

The keynote at Agile2015 emphasized why companies should modify Agile based on needs, rather than following core values.

Agile is as Agile does, apparently.

That was the message from Agile2015 keynote speaker Luke Hohmann, founder and CEO of cloud collaboration vendor Conteneo Inc., and a co-founder of the Every Voice Engaged Foundation. Hohmann encouraged attendees to modify Agile to make it work in their companies. The goal, he said, was to take what works in Agile and tweak or improve it, as necessary, for a particular need.

"The four Agile core values are timeless, but the ways of doing Agile can change," he said in an exclusive interview with SearchSoftwareQuality after the session. "There is espoused theory and actual practice. We want to modify the game with a different mindset and believe adaptability is OK," he said. "If we're feeling guilty about how we're doing Agile, we're not helping our teams."

The timing of his talk was perfect, attendees said, as enterprises struggle to implement the popular, but radical mindset shift that makes Agile what it is. "I thought it was so refreshing to finally hear someone say that," said Panam Brahmbhatt, director of mobile project management for Ticketmaster. "It's a practice, and you can't just do everything that's written down and expect it to work in your company."

With a superhero theme sprinkled throughout his speech -- and the popular Batman theme song playing occasionally -- Hohmann spent more than an hour talking about how he and his Every Voice Engaged group used Agile theory to solve tricky social problems for the city of San Jose, California, and other clients. With each example, he made it clear that he "mod-ed the game" to make it work for the situation.

It takes time and you have to try a lot of different things, but you can make it work for you.
Vincent Tietzsenior consultant for technologies and application development at Saxonia

While working with San Jose leaders over several years, the scope of the project, which was helping the city to reduce its budget deficit, grew to the point that it had to be distributed and put online -- even though that's against the "rules" of Agile, Hohmann said. "We needed distributed teams to scale, and we can have both. I like to call it 'yes and,' as in, yes, even if it conflicts with someone's dogma and some consultant's income."

Hohmann asked how many in the audience knew the actual rules to Monopoly -- which don't pay a player for landing on free parking and allow trading to occur at any time -- and pointed out, "We modify the game because we want to play longer." That metaphor works just as well in a business setting, he said. "There are rules of the game for Scrum, and if you don't follow them, you're called a 'ScrumBut.' I say, ScrumButs unite."

Pointing out that everyone attending was effectively a game designer, he asked the audience to see how far they can push the "mods" to their Agile. "How far can we take this?" Hohmann asked.

Saxonia Systems AG, based in Dresden, Germany, has one answer to that question. The IT consulting company has successfully implemented distributed Scrum for the last three years, said Vincent Tietz, senior consultant for technologies and application development at Saxonia.

"Everyone tells you that Scrum has to be Scrum and not change, but you can go out and adopt it to your needs," Tietz said. "It takes time and you have to try a lot of different things, but you can make it work for you."

Hohmann ended his talk by calling on all the "Superhero game designers" in the audience to go out and play two games somewhere that matters to them. Modify Agile frameworks to solve social problems, he stressed, pointing to his ongoing work with San Jose.

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Does your company follow the Agile Manifesto?
No. We do try to use the manifesto as a guide to help us apply agile practices in our development processes, but we don’t follow it. There was an article a couple of months ago about the manifesto being out of date. My argument would be that our interpretation of the manifesto is out of date, and hence not really agile.
We agree with its principles, and we follow it loosely, but we do change and adapt to suit our needs. What the manifesto actually says is pretty high level. I think there's plenty of room for teams to follow the Agile manifesto and still implement their own interpretation.
Much like art, it is important to understand the social climate when manifestos are created. The agile manifesto was a reaction to the highly prescriptive and inflexible methods that were being used. It is themed around getting work done. So if you are focusing on getting work done, and removing the parts of the job that don't help with that, then you're "following the manifesto"
The Agile manifesto is not followed.  It is not a checklist of things to do or not do.  It can only be lived, breathed and explored as your company grows and changes.
I can't help but wonder how many took this as license to return to failed methods of the past as part of modifying 'agile'.
I’ve never supported “Agile” as a noun to which you can do anything. Instead, I see it as an adjective that describes or modifies a noun. So, I can’t really modify agile based on company needs, but I can use agile practices that change based on company needs. I think that it what agile should really be about, and that the use of “Agile” is the result of propagating an incorrect interpretation throughout the industry.
We do follow a somewhat loose interpretation of Agile. Our process is something of an Agile/Scrum/Kanban hybrid. It works for us.