Friday, June 24, 2011
How I was Introduced to Agile
…A long time ago, it what now seems like a galaxy far away,
I decided to get a Master's degree. The employer I was with at the time valued the checkbox and was willing to help pay to check it. At the time I was the equivalent of a "tech lead" doing Java work. I decided I wanted to go for something interesting and challenging and somewhat related to my job so I began down the path of a MS in Operations Research with a concentration in Artificial Intelligence.
After getting about halfway through with that I started thinking I might want a new job as I wasn't enjoying the one I had anymore. So I started looking for Ops Research jobs and what did I find? About the best thing you can do with a Master's in OR is get a PhD in OR…not the life for me. Now, I had previously noticed that one of the other concentrations for OR was Project Management so I did some poking around. What I ended up settling on was switching my Masters to Project Management with a concentration in Ops Research. I thought if I wasn't enjoying certain aspects of my job I can learn about how it should be done and then work to change them. That didn't turn out how I expected, but that is a different story :)
So all excited to learn about PM and change the world I got my first text book for my first PM class, started to read through it…and was horrified. As I read though this book I thought "no No NO! this wont work for software! These are all the same things that are going wrong on the job now". At the time I didn't think in terms of "traditional" PM, but I did know that software was not the same as construction or manufacturing, and this book kept using those for examples.
Manage IT by Johanna Rothman, and after reading the reviews decided it was worth a shot…I had struck gold! Reading through her book gave me the exact opposite reaction to my course's textbook. As I read through Manage IT I kept thinking "yes Yes YES! This is what I have been saying, or thinking, or trying to say and think but haven't articulated well". Some where in Manage IT Johanna mentions agile, almost in passing. Something to the effect of "agile" is easier to say than "incremental and iterative".
Alistair Cockburn's Crystal Clear. I was originally leaning toward XP, but in the end decided on Crystal because Alistair referred to it as XP-lite as it focused more on the habitability of projects. I liked that Crystal acknowledged you wouldn't always have the best people and the best situations at work, and that was certainly the case at that employer.
And the rest you could say is history. I spent the next two years of my Masters refuting the concepts of traditional project management and the teachings of my professors using both Manage IT and Crystal Clear in literally every research paper I had to write. Along the way I kept reading more books and blogs and joined the conversation on Twitter and learned a huge amount. I also discovered a wonderful community of practitioners out there and it helped immensely to know that I wasn't alone in my ways of thinking, doing, and valuing things. I spent a couple more years after finishing my degree attempting to apply what I had learned to change my organization. Though I neither realized it nor appreciated it at the time, that huge futile attempt taught me a great deal as well.
So that is how I was introduced to agile.
Thank you Johanna and Alistair…you helped me get a 4.0 in my MS in PM, taught me a tremendous amount and introduced me to a whole new world that is now a career I love.
Posted by Matt Barcomb at 9:29 PM