Friday, September 20, 2013

Business Wolves in Agile Clothing

Sorry if this upsets anyone, but I'm going to be transparent about something I've been wrestling with ever since I've gotten into agile coaching and training. These are just my thoughts as I'm processing them. I don't have a concise summary, and certainly not an answer, for it. But I'm hopeful it will resonate with like-minded people in the community, and perhaps, together, we can change the world of business.

I understand that most of the world behaves in ways that are not transparent, open, respectful. They used processes and tools, such as $100 Billion in ads or commissioning sales forces (odd, because we don't give programmers commissions for doing more work) to do get more business. And most business grows their business for no other purpose than to make more money and grow more.

Yet we know it shouldn't be this way. Seth Godin makes fun of the Revlon and Betty Crocker model. Daniel Pink warns of when the profit motive gets unmoored from purpose (which we all need).

And as agilists, I always felt it was going to be different because our work was values-based. We'd be freed from the profit-driven model, and we'd show the marketplace how it could be.

I mean, how do you teach about collaboration over contracts and then ask someone to sign a large contract? How could you work intimately with others while not having the openness or respect to let them know any of the business agreement details - the dollar value put on your service by the customer vs. the value from your business partner? What about teaching about the importance of sustainable pace, while putting three times the standard working hours? Where is courage to tell a client that there are others who could provide the same services you provide and letting the client choose what they think is the best for them?

Below is a fictional conversation stitched together from many that I and others have had.


A customer needs help and asks ACME for coaching. ACME doesn't have a coach, they hire on a contract basis. ACME doesn't tell the customer this, but says "We should have one available in about two weeks." "Great!" says Customer.

ACME then calls up Joe Coach. "Hey Joe, this is Don. Are you available for a coaching contract? We have an excellent opportunity. You're the best one out there, and we'd love for you to be part of our team on this." 


"Okay, let me send over some documents and set-up your email account real quick. "

"Email account? Why?"

"Because you're doing it under our brand."

"Okay, but why as ACME and not just me, a trusted partner brought in via your valuable network?"

"Because we found the client. It's our opportunity."

"Yes, but I'm known for [X], and that might be confusing when you guys are known more for [Y]. I'm happy with the rate you're offering, and that is monetary compensation for the lead, but I'm confused why you want them to think I'm ACME, when I'm not. I'm not right now, haven't been, and even when I'm there, I'll only be introduced by the ACME sales rep and handed off. You don't offer anything in the way of supporting me on the engagement, do you?"

"Ummm..well, no."

"So I'm not really ACME, am I? I'm a subcontractor. Since we both teach about transparency, shouldn't we model it ourselves and be transparent about the arrangement?"

"Well that's different. This is business."

"Aren't we helping businesses become agile? This might be an opportunity to help your business be more agile, too."

"Look, we landed the deal. It gets arranged according to how we want it set up. The name it's under matters because that's what we use for further lead generation."

"Uh-huh. To get more opportunities that you can't staff. I see. It's your deal, but aren't we partnering on it? You said I'd be part of your 'team', so doesn't that mean collaboration over contracts? 

"Look, I want to grow the business. It's that simple. Same as everyone else."


"What do mean why?!"

"I mean what's the purpose in more business? We both know the importance in purpose in work, the big vision. What is it for ACME?"

"Our mission is to be the market leader."

"So that you can…what? Let's say you became the market leader tomorrow. How is the customer, the market, the world any better?"

"Look, it doesn't sound like this is going to work out, and we're not really getting anywhere with this interesting conversation."

"It seems to me that you need to wrestle with some tough questions. It's just my observation, but it appears that you might be teaching principles that you don't fully practice, or perhaps even fully believe yourself. The short term goal of immediate gain overshadows any core values. It seems like the same problem we're trying to help business avoid. We're all on a path that is taking us somewhere. Where will we be in one, two or five years? Is it success, or significance? I understand we're not on the same page now, but I hope we can keep this dialog going. I appreciate the offer, nonetheless."

Don gets back to say inform them there's a delay on getting the coach in there due to some reason other than the real reason. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Unanswered Offshore Question

Student: "But how does agile work with offshore team members?"

Me: "Well, let's start by asking another question - 'Why are you offshoring?'"

Student: "It was a management initiative."

Me: "Why?"

Student: "To save money. The hourly rate is lower."

Me: "But agile depends on high team interaction and collaboration. This change in how work is done might have changed the economics of the decision. How do you measure how productive those offshore teams are? That is, how do you confirm that you are indeed saving money?"

Student: "Ummmm…I don't know."

I've asked this question dozens of times. Always the same answer.

When I am coaching clients, and ask management about this, and most of the replies are essentially "It was the VP's decision, and it's not to be questioned or challenged." Considering that the VP lobbied for it as a good decision, it may not be something most would like to look into and find that they were actually wrong about that $6,000,000 decision (multi-year deal given the resources I've seen). 

The only hard numbers we traditionally had to make a ROI decision on offshoring was the hourly rate, typically somewhere from $40 - $60 for developers, and I've seen as low as $20 for testers. Seems like we're saving money, given the typical $100 - $120 rates I've seen for US developers. But what if those developers don't get as much done due to the fact they can't talk to the subject matter experts and other team members in the U.S. (at least not much of the time, and not without delays, and rarely face to face)? If agile depends on that kind of collaboration, aren't we setting the offshore team member up for frustration and failure? 

Add to this the aging of the decision data. A senior manager in India recently told me, "Those CEO's in the U.S. made the decision to offshore based on very old data." Ten years ago, he told me, you could get a ridiculously brilliant 5 Star engineer in India for 1/10 the cost of the same in the U.S. Many companies rushed into India to take advantage of this - taking all the 5 Star/One Tenth engineers (Such a deal!!), then moving quickly to the 4 Star/Three Tenths engineers (Pretty good business decision). Then large outsourcing shops and system integrators rose up to take advantage of the great staffing and consulting business opportunity. By bundling long term, large team deals, they smoothed out the bumps that they were starting to run into with 3 Star engineers and a moderately lower rate. Now, my friend said, it is very hard to find good to great engineers, so the U.S. is being offered 2 Star (and sometimes even 1 Star!) engineers for a rate that might look like a deal on paper, but these engineers are often not as good as most U.S. company's own developers, AND we using agile. 

A year or two ago, I was coaching a team that was waiting to start their project after they go the resources from the offshore partner. But there weren't any. We waited several weeks before they got one potential to be interviewed. The interviewee didn't pass the technical interview. Not even close. Nor the second, third or fourth. Finally, nearly three months into the original project schedule, the team compromised for fear of either having the reschedule or cancel the project.

If don't get the benefit from the cost/benefit analysis, is this truly best for the company? If we extend the team to realize the value for a project, because it takes 50% - 100% longer due to communication exchanges, the value itself is diminished. And the hidden cost of the quality of resources is certainly higher than the information and stories based on 5 - 10 year old projects. 

And if a company is saying that going agile is a strategic decision, we have to look at the offshoring decision to see if that is best for the teams and therefore the success of agile.

My next post will be on how to objectively, quantitatively and qualitatively evaluate the productivity and cost effectiveness of the offshore teams.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Most Popular Event Ever? Free September Lunch on the Scaled Agile Framework

There's a September lunchtime event in Los Angeles (El Segundo) put on by Rally that will give a good enough overview to understand the basics of scaling agile including Vision, Strategy, Roadmaps and using the Scaled Agile Framework, and how it incorporates agile portfolio and program management.

I've been mentioning in my ScrumMaster and Product Owner classes that I really believe SAFe is the next wave, especially for large, Late Majority (risk averse) Scrum and agile adopters. My opinion was validated when a recent enterprise tool vendor said that their recent webinar on SAFe was the most popular EVER!

I recommended taking a look if you either:

  1. Aren't familiar with the SAFe, 
  2. Have more than 50 people involved in one project or program, or 
  3. Don't have your program or portfolio management tooling directly connected to your agile team's data or 
  4. Aren't currently using rolling wave planning via strategic portfolio allocation.

I covered part of this at the Orange County PMI event in July on Agile Portfolio Management and the Scaled Agile Framework.

If you are interested in becoming certified as a SAFe Agilist, or using the 15 credits from the class towards becoming a Certified Scrum Professional, take a look at my Leading SAFe class in November.