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Episode 10:

Our team wants to be more agile. What agile process is best?

Alex’s team wants to be more agile, and he’s wondering what process they should try first. With so many approaches out there, how does one pick the right one? Even though I’m a Certified Scrum Trainer, my answer might surprise you.

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Adam: Welcome to Agile Answers. I’m Adam Weisbart, your Certified Scrum Trainer and agile coach. Each week, I get your questions about Scrum and agility, and I answer them, here on Agile Answers.

So you and your team are thinking of switching to some sort of agile approach. You’ve heard about Kanban and Scrum. You’ve heard about XP, heard about Lean. And maybe you’re wondering how you should get your start. Maybe you’re doing waterfall or maybe you don’t even have a process at all. You’re just sort of doing things in the Wild, Wild West. Well, at some point, I guess you have to figure out how you want to move forward. And Alex has that same sort of question. His team is thinking about switching to some agile approach and is wondering which one might be best. So let’s give a listen to his question and then see if we can help him out.

Alex: Hi Adam. If you have a new team who wants to become more agile, which process do you recommend to start with? Do you recommend Scrum or Kanban or any other specific process or what do you choose? What do you recommend? Thanks for answering. Bye.

Adam: Alex, thanks for the question. So hey, the good news here is you’ve got a team that wants to switch to an agile approach. I think that’s fantastic. And while I have a personal favorite of all the agile approaches, I would be a pretty bad agilist if I say that here is the process you should follow. In fact, in the Agile Manifesto, the first value is individuals and interactions over processes and tools, individuals and interactions over processes and tools. So I would actually start there.

Before I pick a process or a tool, I would introduce my team to the Agile Manifesto. I take a look at the four values and the twelve principles, and see if we could start enacting some of those things. Maybe you’re already doing some of them. Frankly, a bunch of them are common sense. But maybe you can figure out how to do even more of them or focus more on them.

I’d probably start out by having a retrospective with my team. I take a look at Esther Derby and Diana Larsen’s book, “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great,” and I would have a retrospective about the last six months or a year of working together and find out what sorts of impediments or troubles we ran into. And then maybe figure out how any of the twelve principles or the four values could help address those things. Without even picking an agile approach, without deciding on Scrum or XP or Kanban, you’d probably make some pretty big improvements, and you’d actually be following the Agile Manifesto where you’d focused on individuals and interactions over a specific process.

To be fair, though, I guess I could answer your question. You asked what I would do, and I think that would depend on the nature of your team and really the nature of the work you are doing on your team. I think that most teams can benefit hugely from adopting the Scrum framework. It’s the place that I usually start, if I am faced with this question. And to be fair, I’m kind of biased. I’m one of 180 or so Certified Scrum Trainers in the world, so I focus on helping teams adopt Scrum. I do that because through my experience before becoming a trainer, I found it to be really, really useful.

I found that the little bit of framework that the Scrum framework implies helps you surface impediments. It helps you figure out how you can help your team and organization improve. It doesn’t actually do anything to fix any impediments you might run into other than helping surface them. I think the Scrum framework is just rigorous enough to help you deal with these things and bring them to light.

I think that if your team couldn’t possibly plan what they’re going to work on for a given sprint, then you might want to take a look at Kanban. Kanban, I use for all my personal work. I’m a team of one working on stuff, like this podcast or new training materials or articles perhaps. And for that, I don’t need all the structure that is found in Scrum, because it’s just one of me and I’m working on my own. If you’re a team of one, you could check out Personal Kanban. Personal Kanban is pretty fantastic. There’s a whole book about it written by Jim Benson. And I have found that really, really useful, and I don’t need the rigor that is implied in the Scrum framework when it’s just me.

Now with a team of five to nine folks, I think more rigor is needed and useful and helpful in helping surface impediments in the organization and within the team. For that, I would use Scrum. Now if you have production work, you’re a team that all you do really is put out fires all the time, maybe you’re an operations team, then maybe using Kanban for your entire team would be useful, because you can’t plan a single sprint. There’s no way to do that, because you’re always just dealing with what is most important to you at the time. But in most cases, in most cases, while working on projects with a team of people, I think is Scrum is amazingly useful.

So to answer your question, if I had to pick a process, I would pick Scrum. But before I did that, I would focus on the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto.

Thanks for submitting your question, Alex. For having it answered here on the show, you’ll get a deck of my Agile Antipattern Cards. If anybody else out there has got a question they would like answered on the show, you can submit it at GetAgileAnswers.com. That’s GetAgileAnswers.com. And right there on the home page, you’ll get to submit a question using a little widget. You can record it, and if I answer it here on the show, you too will get a deck of the Agile Antipattern Cards.

Also there on the home page, you’ll see the show notes from this episode. There’ll be a link to Jim Benson’s book, “Personal Kanban,” which is fantastic, if you’re a team of one and you want to be able to manage your work. There’ll also be a link to Esther Derby and Diana Larsen’s book, “Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great,” which I recommend for all teams, Scrum or not.

And if you’re interested in taking one of my Certified Scrum Master courses, you can go to Weisbart.com/classes, which I’ll also link to there in the show notes. If I don’t happen to have a class nearby you, heck, you can go to ScrumAlliance.org. And at ScrumAlliance.org, you can search the database, search the map all over the world for classes, just like my Certified Scrum Master course, or Certified Scrum Product Owner course taught by other trainers in your location. So if you want to get your team up to speed with Scrum, a great place to start.

Lastly, another resource for you, if you want to get your team up to speed without sending them to a class, or least giving them a taste of what it means to use a Scrum framework, you can check out ScrumTrainingSeries.com. ScrumTrainingSeries.com was put together by my friend Michael James, another Scrum trainer. It’s a great set of videos along with quiz questions that will help you and your team understand this Scrum framework in more detail.

Until next time, stay agile. Never change.

Past Episodes

Episode 22:

How do we make sure we have cross-functional teams and why does it matter?

Episode 21:

What agile practices can you recommend to our game development studio?

Episode 20:

How do we remove silos when doing government contract work using Scrum?

Episode 19:

How should we form new Scrum teams?