As I await my flight to London, a strange thought possesses me. How much of Agile is valid today? A lot of Agile practices are almost a decade old. Since then, the enterprise collaboration landscape has changed significantly, team dynamics have changed quite a bit and dare I say the market is a lot more mature, having been through two relatively bad periods. This has always made me feel that to be Agile, you almost need to be 'not really Agile'. After all, the dictionary meaning of 'agile' seems to be:
agile |ˈajəl|Well if that's the case, I feel like it's almost outdated to believe that a lack of colocation has to eventually mean a lack of collaboration and communication. Well there's no doubt that a colocated team in a team room will most likely generate great discussion, that said we've got technology today that can simulate team room like environments even without having people colocated. I say that a truly Agile team is so passionate about communication that they'll end up being resourceful enough to generate more communication in a distributed mode!
able to move quickly and easily : Ruth was as agile as a monkey |
figurative his vague manner concealed an agile mind.
It's not that you can't communicateThe fact is that today, more so than ever, the world is really, really flat. The notions of distance are almost becoming irrelevant with the advent of what some people are calling webvolution. Yes, there's not much one can do about 12 hour time differences. That being said, there's been significant advances in technology to ensure that if there's a fair overlap in timezones, teams can collaborate almost seamlessly without having to bother about colocation. Dinesh and I recently submitted a proposal to Agile 2010 to demonstrate how we're seeing teams adapt their way of working to ensure that distribution doesn't mean disaster! Here's a table from the proposal that indicates the various tool types that you have at your disposal to create rich communication within teams, distributed or not! Using a combination of enterprise social software and tools on the public internet, teams can actually make distribution seem much easier than we've traditionally made it out to be. Of course, there are some common sense considerations to distribution -- take a look at Mark Rickmeier's recorded talk for more information.
|Tools - How?||Potential Implication - What?||Agile Practice - Where can this be used?|
|Blogs||Personal knowledge management, Learning and reflection, provides opportunity to convert potential ties into actual ties||Team knowledge bases. Organisation wide knowledge sharing. Iteration reports. Daily Handoffs. Project timelines|
|Wikis||Project/Product Documentation, Co-Authoring learning||Retrospectives, Negotiating Requirements/Stories, “Handovers” across time zones|
|Workstreams - Microblogging||Ambient Awareness - Who knows what?||Standups, Distributed Dev Huddles, “Handovers” across time zones|
|Social Bookmarking||Knowledge Sharing||Particularly in the area of cross-project knowledge sharing and organisational knowledge bases|
|Social Networking||Serendipity||Finding experts in the organisation, leveraging weak ties, building relationships with potential problem solvers|
|Prediction Markets||Crowdsource complex decisions/outcomes - Estimation, likely release dates,||Estimation, Release Planning (this is one which we’re yet to see in practice)|
|Idea Management Platforms||Ongoing improvement to practices||Brainstorming, Design decisions|
|Web Conferencing Tools||Distributed pairing/reviews/||Distributed Pairing, showcases, training, workshops, really all sorts of meetings|
|Virtual Worlds||Virtual Offices, Realistic distributed simulations, synchronous learning, shared workspaces||All sorts of meetings, team room, Retrospectives, (There’s a state farm case study for this)|
|Video Conferencing||Meetings||IPM’s, Retrospectives|
|Collaborative Software Development Environments||Contextual Collaboration (one-stop collaboration platform)||All kinds of practices, but particularly improving on communication and visibility.|
You just need to communicate differentlyNow you may argue that while the tools have been there for a while your mileage has been different. I don't deny that possibility. I don't even deny the fact that your communication may not have been as rich as what you've seen when you communicated face to face. This though, is not a problem with the tool -- it's a paradigm shift that we need to adjust to. Just like we say today, "What did we do before Google?" we will say in 2020 "What did we do before the social web?". The change is destined to happen -- but before that we need to adjust ourselves to the context of the platform. I relate this to how we change our communication in various cultural contexts -- a conversation on the streets in England is significantly different to a conversation on the streets of India. Similarly, we adjust our style of travel based on the context; we change our style of eating based on the context too. So why not think of communication in a similar manner?
Conversations are great, but think of the value a facilitative tool like Google Wave brings you. The collaborative nature of tools such as Wave ensures that people like me who have a loud voice and can be extremely overbearing don't get an opportunity to derail the conversation. As a corollary, people who generally take time to get their thoughts organised or those that are generally shy, have the opportunity to now make their point in peace. Now to make best use of the medium, you need to appreciate these advantages and commit yourself to the context. In a similar manner, I believe webinars are far more facilitative than a face to face classroom session. In classrooms, people have to hold on to their thoughts for the fear of disturbing the sage on stage. In webinars OTOH, people can air their thoughts freely and without reserve at any given time. Now you may not be able to talk face to face, but can you communicate better - hell yeah! Take a look at some of the webinars from the virtual, free LearnTrends conference last year, if you don't believe me. As I always say, "The social web is more facilitative than facilitation!". You can keep making the comparisions and I suspect that if you're fair, you'll reach the same conclusions.
The future is so bright, I should wear shades!The coming years promise a lot in terms of enterprise collaboration. I was recently reading Karl Kapp and Tony Driscoll's Learning in 3D, and the way the world is progressing towards the immersive internet, it could mean great things for society in general. Better collaboration platforms will mean lesser travel and hence a smaller carbon footprint. The diminishing need for colocation will mean that working moms, people in underprivileged countries can work in the best firms without having to leave their homes -- a great diversity boon for the industry! The fact that people will be able to work from their homes means that companies can spend less money on facilities and channel saved funds towards better pay and new business -- good news for all of us! The future is very, very bright indeed!
As a knowledge worker, the possibilities of the webvolution really excite me. I believe big things can happen if we can change our perspectives slightly. What do you think? Let me know by adding your comments to this post. Hope you enjoyed today's article!