Welcome back to the Meet Our Team Q&A series. My name is Daniela Williams, Project Manager at ISE, and I'll be asking ISE team members questions to help give insight into what makes us tick.
Ready to meet another ISE team member? This time it's Andrew Smith, Senior Systems Architect and the practice lead for the Software Engineering Process professional service. Our half hour session turned into an hour... the passion for the topic just kept flowing. So much so, that we're giving you the first half now, and we'll be posting Part 2 later this week. Be sure to check back soon for that!
How The Passion Began
Q: How long have you been at ISE and what did you do prior?
Andrew: I started with ISE at the beginning of 2004. I had worked previously for DSI, which is the company whose transformation actually caused ISE to be launched. In 2003, the division I worked for at DSI was sold to Snap-on Diagnostics, and one of the other pieces became ISE. I spent a year with Snap-on Diagnostics, and then they moved their business to Chicago, so I decided to stay here and rejoin Hass' team.
Q: How long have you been interested in software engineering processes?
Andrew: I have for a long time had an interest in "how we do stuff." Even back when I was at Rockwell, one of my jobs was with a software process group (1993-1994). We were looking at how to do CMM processes and also DO-178B for FAA certification for commercial aircraft. I've been working on and off with Agile projects since we did a large project with Qualcomm in 2008. That was probably my second encounter. My first encounter was with an earlier client who said that they were using Agile, but as far as I could tell, it was more of an excuse not to have any documentation. The thing I've learned since about documentation, is that the Agile approach is "just enough." Well, "enough" is context dependent. There's a great infographic from Finding Marbles about Traditional Methods vs. Agile Methods vs. what's off the other edge as "just plain bad" or "chaos." The end of that is "we don't write anything down, but we call it Agile." That is off the edge - that is the chaos version.
We have been working with John Deere for quite a while. John Deere was fairly public with their Agile transformation. There are Case Studies out on the web and Chad Holdorf is a big Agile proponent. So, I got to see and do Agile first-hand as part of a John Deere team. I was transitioning between John Deere projects at the time and got to go through Agile training with another group at John Deere. I started to see Agile really work and that got me interested - and that's the 2011 time frame.
Most recently we were working on the Wireless Roadside Inspection program, developing the software late 2014 through 2015. I was the tech lead, which is kind of funny because Scrum doesn't recognize titles like tech lead. We were not going fast enough to meet the timeline goals of that project, so that set me in motion looking for "how do we get better at this?" I could sense potential, and we were having a lot of struggles. Some of it was obvious things and some of it was not so obvious. That launched me into picking up every book I could read, and finding other sources about how we can get a software team really humming. We made a lot of progress on that project, and that got me excited about really doing it. Coming off the tail end of that project was about the timeframe that ISE started to establish the practices and practice leads. My enthusiasm combined with that event is what put me where I am at the moment.
Staying Innovative and Informed
Q: It seems that you continually like to learn everything you can about this area. Through our Agile Slack channel at work you are always posting different articles that you find. You went to the Agile Coaching Institute's Bootcamp last fall. How do you discover all those articles and books?
Andrew: One of the apps I have on my phone is Flipboard, which is a news reader app. You can tell it, "I'm interested in articles about Agile, or Test Driven Development, or something else," and then it will include those in your feed, and make it easy to find articles. I'll find something and share that to our Slack channel, or I'll email it to myself as a follow up, or I'll email it to Hass and say "Hey, look what I found. This is really cool! We should be doing this!" Flipboard is pretty nice when you're sitting at an airport. I also have a whole collection of books, and I continue to read a lot. Also, when I'm researching what we're going to do about a particular situation, or how we're going to talk to a customer when they have a particular area of interest, I go digging for more detail on that. I tend to stop and read and collect a lot of articles along the way and that's how those come up.
Q: In addition to Flipboard, do you specifically follow any blogs or any people?
Andrew: I do... there are several people's newsletters that I get. One is Ken Rubin, who is a popular blogger on Agile. The group 3Back, who ISE took CSM training through, has a blog, so I get their newsletter. Agile Coaching Institute has a boat load of resources. I'm often going back there looking at what else they have. I added myself to the Agile Alliance newsletter, so I get that. The stuff shows up in my mailbox at least a couple times a week. Through you in fact, I learned of the Eastern Iowa Agile Meetup group, so I get to hear about what's going on locally. In February I attended a presentation by Richard Lawrence, who is out of the Denver area. His company is Agile for All. He did a presentation on a technique called "Feature Mining," which I'm giving a Lunch and Learn presentation to the company on.
Q: What is the most recent thing you learned that fascinated you?
Andrew: One of the things I have learned that is fascinating, is something that the Agile Coaching Institute has talked about at many meetups and Agile conferences, which is this thing they called Integral Agile. They're coming from a body of work called Integral Theory. One of the aspects of Integral Theory is this four quadrant map of perspectives. The quadrant map basically says these four perspectives are irreducible to the others. So, this is sort of a minimum of four sets of perspectives you need to take into account in any research, discipline, or science. There's a perspective about exteriors and interiors, and the other line is about singular (individual) and plural (collective).
They use Integral Theory from the perspective that in any Agile situation, as an Agile coach or as an Agile practitioner, you might default to thinking about process. Do we have the right process steps in place? Well, that's an "It" quadrant thought.
Do you always default to process? Have you thought about what's going on in people's heads? What's their mindset? What's going on in the culture? How are people relating to each other? That's the "We" quadrant.
Is there anything going on in the entire system, for example, what if this team isn't functioning well? Maybe there's something about the way that the environment is set up around this team that is actually encouraging that behavior, such as the reward system of the organization, or the organization makes it really hard to get build servers set up or to overcome certain hurdles for getting into production. Now you're looking at an "Its" quadrant view.
What they are doing is encouraging people to go beyond their default, which for one person might be culture, and somebody else may always be thinking about process. If you take all these prospectives into account, you're less likely to miss something and more likely to find valuable solutions. So, that's really fascinating to me.
Q: What do you think the future brings?
Andrew: I'm really excited by what I see going on in the company, and also in the larger world of software and outside of software. The Agile principles are more compatible with us being more human and ourselves, and bringing more of who we are to whatever we are doing. Which is a positive feedback loop, in the sense that the more you can bring all of your gifts and talents and who you are to play in a role, the more likelihood of better outcomes in terms of the company doing well and achieving amazing things. There's also the personal outcomes of I love what I'm doing, I love who I'm doing it with, I'm constantly learning, and I'm reaching my potential.
There is a way that Agile done well is very compatible with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. He did a bunch of work in the middle of the 20th century around studying human beings from the perspective of needs. The first layer of needs is survival and safety. The next layer is things like community and belonging, and so on. As you work your way up, satisfying those lower level needs, you work more towards self-actualization. Am I reaching for my potential? Am I becoming what I am capable of becoming? Am I serving in a way that makes sense?
There is a great book by Dan Pink called Drive, that is about what motivates people. Part of what I see that really excites me about Agile is the way in which doing Agile well is resonant with that. We set up teams with purpose and the way we structure the work provides autonomy. You're not micromanaging on a day-to-day basis. As a self-organizing team you are saying: we are working towards this purpose. There are mini-purposes, like what the sprint goal is for this sprint, and then there is a broader purpose of what are we ultimately trying to achieve in the world? Our sprint to sprint autonomy is what are our next steps in that direction, how do we achieve that, how do we best each contribute to that, and how does that contribute to our own mastery and learning? Autonomy, mastery, and purpose are things that Dan Pink identifies in his book.
The other interesting thing is that organizations leap or tiptoe into Agile as a way of being more adaptive in their fields. An Agile way of thinking gets me closer to what my customers need and able to respond more quickly to what my customers need. But, there is this way in which Agile is this cultural change. What you'll find is you're creating a cultural change in the organization whether you realized it or not. That cultural change is moving towards what lights us up as human beings.
Are you passionate about Agile? What fascinates you and where do think it's going? Sneak peek on Part 2... learn how to get started with Agile and what Andrew has in common with President Obama.