My first introduction to agile

Today I was driving home after a two day Certified SCRUM Product Owner training. During this two day training I met a lot of new people, people who were unlike me, completely new to SCRUM. In the discussions and the questions that they had I recognized a lot of situations I encountered when starting with SCRUM. I heard a lot of comments like “Our organization just won’t work that way” or “It all sounds nice but won’t work in reality.”

While driving home I was thinking about how I got first introduced to SCRUM and what my first responses were.

In 2006 I was working for one of the top 3 internet development companies in The Netherlands. The company was working in a very traditional way. First concept & design would create the look and feel for the web project, then  information analysts would create the functional design. After the functional design was completed the software architect would create a technical design and after completing that, the developers would start working for several months to complete the functionality and then the test coordinator could let his team test everything. My role in this entire process was to be the information analyst who writes the functional design.

This typical waterfall approach resulted in many projects that exceeded budget and time and did not produce what the customer wanted. At some point the business unit manager of the development department called some of the key people of these projects together (including me) and explained an idea he was having; he wanted to put all the people that are participating in a single team, get rid of the huge pile of designs and depend on the creativity of the developers. My first response was that this man has to be insane and had to be removed from the office in a straitjacket, how on earth could we depend on the own creativity of the developers and expect it to result in something that the customer could actually use. Developing without functional designs, wireframes, use cases, class diagrams would be simply impossible.

After that first rage my blood pressure went down to normal levels again and, even though initially the concept seemed impossible to me, I was intrigued by the idea and started reading more about this thing called agile software development on the internet and methodologies like eXtreme Programming and SCRUM. I could really see the benefits of it and started reading more and more about it over the years. By then I had already left the internet development company and never got involved in projects that allowed me to practice the agile development principles. Four years later I ended up in a role in which I was required to manage a group of developers and I finally got the opportunity to introduce agile (and in this case SCRUM) into an organization. Now about one year after the first introduction of SCRUM, we are running 4 SCRUM teams and even though there is still a lot of work to do we already improved time to market and quality by a lot thanks to agile development.

The business unit manager that first introduced me to the principles of agile development did not get removed from the office in a straitjacket but got promoted and is now the COO of that organization. Besides the occasional tweet there is not a lot of contact between the two of us but Arnoud, if you read this, thanks for the eye-opener.

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