Executive Introductory Overview on Agile
By: Joe Little, CST (certiﬁed scrum trainer) and MBA
• These slides are prompts for multi-lateral discussion.
They do not contain the whole story (which is conveyed
via voice and body language). They might be read as
overly-simplistic. Reading them in isolation can be
Goals for this discussion
• This is a ﬁrst (second) introduction to Agile. We want you
to start to get a ﬂavor for it. It is simple, and yet also
• This is from an Executive perspective. So, for example, it
will not enable you to start to be a Scrum team member.
• To really be effective as a manager of Agile teams, you
will need more. This is just an introduction.
• This is a 1-hour brieﬁng. We WANT you to ask questions.
What is ‘Agile’?
• It is hard to deﬁne and some people disagree.
• First try: “Agile is a more successful way of innovating
new products so that customers are happier. Scrum is a
disciplined approach to doing knowledge work in Teams.
An approach that has proven to be much more
successful than the traditional ‘waterfall’ [Royce deﬁned it
• It is meant to meet business needs to be adaptive to
change, and iterative and incremental in delivery.
• Scrum is a ‘ﬂavor’ of Agile.
• Scrum is the most widely used. (Others include: Extreme
Programming, Lean Software Development, Kanban,
DSDM, etc, etc, etc.)
• Scrum was ‘invented’ in the early 1990’s. It has been
used by all types of organizations around the world.
Top Top Goals
• Become the most admired credit union in the country*
• Provide an amazing experience for our members and
• Firm more successful (by usual metrics)
Keys Goals for ‘delivery’
• More adaptive to change
• Deliver faster*
• More delivered in a given quarter (eg, more Business
• Employees are more motivated (eg, retention)
• Deliver better quality*
• More visibility or transparency
• More accountability
• Easier to manage
• We need to learn faster.
• Make decisions based on analytics*
What are your goals?
• How do you articulate your goals for Scrum?
• Key point: Always connect Scrum to helping you achieve
some of your top goals. We are not ‘doing Scrum’ just to
say ‘we are doing Scrum’.
What is Scrum?
• I want to level-set some of you. And remind all of you.
• And this section, for most of you, makes Scrum
something practical instead of just a vague abstraction.
Agile Release Planning
Develop Product Backlog
Identify Business Value
Risks, Dependencies, Learning, MMFS, other
Then ‘ﬁnish’ the Day Zero plan
Then — release plan refactoring every Sprint.
• Let’s discuss some key issues for management.
• These are:
• Things you need to know
• How it works
• Things you must take action on
• Typical problem areas
8 Key Issues or Ideas
1. We have knowledge workers
2. Minimize WIP
3. A Team learns
5. “Random carbon units”
6. Subtle control
7. “Failure is good”
8. “The bad news does not get better with age”
1. We have ‘knowledge workers’
• We have to enable ‘motivation’ to happen differently
• Daniel Pink (Drive): Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose.
• We have to help them learn.
• It is all about knowledge creation, and, almost surely, in
2. Minimize WIP
• Minimize work-in-process. Related: Single-piece ﬂow.
• Makes people more productive
• Faster delivery
• Less ‘task-switching’
• FEWER ‘projects’ IN-FLIGHT, but more delivered and
3. A Team Learns
• Scrum is a Team sport. BIG IDEA!
• A strong, dedicated, multi-capable, real Team.
• Problems: People don't understand the value of a Team,
Silos, lack of dedication, not fully capable, etc, etc.
Why is a Team important?
• The Team does knowledge creation
• Only the output of the Team is meaningful
• “We must all stand together, or assuredly we shall all
hang separately.” B. Franklin
• We establish some basic structures and constraints (few),
and then we let the Team self-organize, self-manage,
self-direct to achieve the mission.
• “We expect them to act like adults. And, usually, they
rise to the occasion.”
• We tell them: “Figure it out.”
5. “Random Carbon Units”
• People: can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without them.
• Two sides to the same coin.
• We want innovation, creativity, learning, the unexpected,
inventiveness, clever solutions to hard problems, the magic of the
Mona Lisa smile.
• We have to accept their ‘individuality’, their uniqueness. (Well, we
have to accept our own uniqueness too.)
• We have to accept that they can be ‘random’ and ‘make mistakes’.
• They are not ‘plug-replaceable’ resources, and they are not ‘reliable’.
6. Subtle control
“Management establishes enough checkpoints to prevent
instability, ambiguity, and tension from turning into chaos.”
“At the same time, management avoids the kinds of rigid
control that impairs creativity and spontaneity.”
“Instead, the emphasis is on ‘self-control’, ‘control through
peer pressure’, and ‘control by love’, which collectively we
call ‘subtle control.’”
7. “Failure is good”
• As managers, we hear these words, and it makes us
uncomfortable. Some of us very uncomfortable. So, let’s
• “Day Zero is the dumbest day of the project.”
• “We learn fastest by making small mistakes.”
• “Everything changes, nothing remains the same.” Buddha
• So, in innovation work, in knowledge creation, we have to
accept ‘failure’ or mistakes.
• And, if they learn faster, we can and will actually win ‘in
• “Fail fast” - a key Agile phrase.
• BUT: “We made too many wrong mistakes.” (Yogi Berra.)
So, don’t let them do that.
8. “The bad news doesn’t get better with age.”
• While we ‘accept failure as good’ yet we relentlessly and immediately
ﬁx all problems (eg, defects). Seems paradoxical?
• Three reasons:
• It is much cheaper to ﬁx it immediately (while the knowledge is
• Motivation: He does not like to write good code on top of bad
• To measure progress better, we need to know it is ‘done’.
• “You have to slow down to go fast” is the saying.
Plus One: Better channel with Customer
Keep the noise out, and
let the good stuff in
• What should managers do?
• We will not cover everything, but only the most important
Help Fix Impediments
• Not hard…
1. Ask the Team what their biggest impediment is (now).
2. Help them ﬁx it. Quickly. Give them $, people, ‘yes’
• Small ‘quick wins’, ﬁxed quickly. With beneﬁts accruing
• “Little things are big.” Yogi Berra.
What are your biggest impediments?
• For one or more teams, if you know.
• Or, take your best guess … for a Scrum team …
or the biggest impediment for adopting Scrum at [ﬁrm].
• Anything (anything!) slowing the Team down is an
impediment. (Anything!) Imagine that everything could
• 1 Minute.
ACTION: Learn More
• For example, see the next two articles
The New New Product Development Game
1. Built-in instability
2. Self-organizing project teams
3. Over-lapping development phases
5. Subtle control
6. Organizational transfer of learning
6 Myths of Product Development
1. High utilization is good
2. Large batches are good
3. Just stick to the initial plan
4. People working on multiple projects is good
5. The more features per release, the better
6. No mistakes are allowed!