Dirty Agile

The other morning I was a guest presenter (I really don’t like that word… I interacted with people) at a breakfast with Deloitte in Brisbane.  The topic was, agile, how I’ve implemented it and the results achieved at my latest client.

Half way through this session I chuckled to myself and coined the phrase ‘dirty agile’ – agile from the trenches.  Since then I have received a lot of interest in dirty agile.

The term dirty agile reflects scrum after many retrospectives.  The flavor of agile that we now run throughout this program can be clearly traced back to the manifesto principles and you can see its roots are in SCRUM, however it fits the organisation, their risk tolerance and low project maturity very well.

Jeff Sutherland – the founder of SCRUM explains that SCRUM is ‘onboarding for agile’.  It is a set of ‘rules’ to get you going, it is not a set of rules that should never be changed, modified or challenged.  From my experience teams that have held onto 100% SCRUM end up exploding – they have not harnessed the true concept and have not molded into a tool that ads value to their company.

As part of this  latest interest in ‘dirty agile’ I will write some posts that go into detail on what it is and how it works.  We now run weekly tours for interested external and internal parties to share our journey and our success of implementing agile in government.

Successful self-managed teams are a large part of our success and a common question I get asked all the time is “Where do I start when building teams like that?”

I have drafted the few points below as a simple way to explain how we build self managed teams.  These are steps to get a pilot up and running that will create ownership, accountability and continual improvement.  These teams will increase quality and reduce the need for supervision and management.   I will write specific posts about each one of these over the next few months.

  • Turn managers/team leads into coaches and leaders – not managers
  • Turn the org chart upside down or flatten it – make the managers roles to support their teams, coach teams on how to make decisions, manage resourcing and training, ensure goals align with org strategy.
  • Train your new leaders on how to coach.
  • Trust the team – guide them don’t tell them.
  • Teach the team how to make decisions.
  • Celebrate wins.
  • Analyse failures.
  • Focus on culture and environment – let the team define it and team them how to create and maintain it
  • Remove a decision making culture and replace with hypothesis testing.  This drives innovation and learning.
  • Run retrospectives (reviews on how you did things) every two weeks and get the teams to ask “What is working?”, “What can we improve?”,  “What hypothesis should we test this time?”

This is a lot to capture in a short blog so i’ll try for a series of videos.  I talk a lot about this when I consult.

When you need a new team try and find an existing team and give them the challenge.  When is a team most productive?  Right at the end of the project… that’s when they have been together the longest, they have been through pain and success, they know each other and how to operate together… then most times they are pulled apart and put into new teams.  Keep them together, they will, like a fine wine, continue to improve!

Have the team FIRST clearly define the desired result.  This is obviously with engagement with the sponsor or product owner, but it is important that the team is not told the result, it is important to commitment and quality that they define the result.

then have the team define the process(es) needed to get that result.  What level of governance to they want, assurance, leadership.  How will they communicate internally and externally?  How will they track their progress?

Next, they set metrics to measure the steps in the process to create the desired results (quality, quantity, speed, etc.,)

Implement the Innovation To Improvement Cycle and have open discussions around its value and its overheads.

This part is usually left out… have the team decide what will happen if the metrics aren’t met and define how the team will move team members along if they are not contributing appropriately.

Obviously have the sponsor/product owner review and approve but be very careful how you suggest changes!

This is a great way to start the self managed team process.

One of the hardest parts during this stage it to resist the temptation to jump in and make decisions – you must coach the team on how to make those decisions for themselves.  Its like raising children – let them make mistakes in a controlled environment!

Hope that help you!


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