In the first installment of “Meet the Experts,” Excella’s Agile Practice Lead Tony Solomita talks about Agile Coaching and refusing to “wing it.”
What pushed you into Agile and then Agile Coaching?
My first experience with Agile was back in 2002. I was working on a large software development effort, and we really focused on Extreme Programming (XP) and the engineering principles that went along with that. I immediately was impressed by the collaboration that I witnessed. It went hand in hand with one of my favorite values from the Agile Manifesto: “Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.” Up until that point, everything I saw on software development projects always seemed very predetermined in nature. We were always talking about how to complete hundreds of requirements over a lengthy period of time. But, when we started to sit down and have planning meetings with stakeholders, users, developers, BAs, and testers all in one room, we’d just ask, “Okay, what are we going to do? This is what we’re going to do for the next three or four weeks.” Once I saw that happen once, I couldn’t think of doing it any other way.
Have you ever met people who were resistant to Agile? How did you get them on board?
I have never walked into a meeting, no matter who it’s with or where I am (even Agile meetups!), without encountering somebody that’s resistant to Agile in some way, shape, or form. I think that often we see people resisting and view it as a challenge to convert them to an Agile way of thinking. That’s the wrong way to look at it. If you take the immediate conversion approach, the resisters are going to get defensive right away. Instead, I try to focus on and listen to is what they are struggling with and simply offer suggestions that may make it a little easier for them.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about Agile or what you do?
The biggest misconception I see is that people often think that Agile = Scrum. Agile is not something you can “do.” You can implement Scrum, but Agile is simply a mindset that you try to increase across an organization, program, or team.
What’s something you wish you others knew about Agile?
Agile isn’t just for software development. I have helped many different groups (from HR departments to marketing and communications teams) become more Agile. Agile principles apply regardless of the type of team because, at the end of the day, this mindset helps teams deliver.
If you could make everyone pick up one Agile concept or habit, what would it be and why?
The importance of preparation. If you’re an Agile Coach or ScrumMaster, and you’re facilitating any ceremony or meeting, it’s very easy to know why something went wrong. If you walk out of a meeting wondering what just happened, or what the outcome was, it’s typically because the facilitator did not prepare properly. For all the meetings and workshops that my team runs, and for all the meetups and conferences that we speak at, preparation is critical and we don’t wing it. It just doesn’t work that way. I think that while the principle of good preparation isn’t in the Agile Manifesto anywhere (nor is it specific to Agile) when you see good coaches and good Agilists doing an excellent job facilitating or speaking, it’s because they’ve prepared appropriately.
Which Agile principle is closest to your heart and why?
The Agile Manifesto has four values and the 12 principles behind them. My favorite is the first principle: “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”
The reason I think this is the most important is because it encompasses all of the Agile concepts within that one principle. First, there’s the talk of satisfying the customer. Too often all the smart people get in a room, and hammer out a solution to a problem and think “Okay, we solved it, we figured it out.” But they don’t know what the customer wants. They’re not going out asking customers, they’re not doing A/B testing with the customers. Satisfied customers are critical to the survival of the business.
The second piece of the principle talks about early and continuous delivery – it all comes back to feedback. Feedback loops are super important because you’re not going to get it perfect the first, second, third, or fourth time through. When you’re showing a solution to the customer early, you’re getting feedback that allows you to react before you have gone too far down the path to course correct.
Last but not least, it talks about the delivery of valuable software. Everything that goes into making software – wireframes, mockups, user stories, automated tests, etc. – none of that matters if it doesn’t result in great software. It helps you get to delivery and software, but the only thing that matters is good, quality software. Make sure you’re consistently delivering impactful products.
Tony Solomita has over 15 years of Agile experience and leads Excella’s team of Agile coaches, experts, and practitioners. When he’s not coaching teams to Agile greatness, you can find him hanging out with his two daughters, sampling Kentucky’s finest bourbon, or wondering what happened to all of the good television shows.