Why should we be Agile or Lean?

I’m on a plane destined for a city a couple of thousand miles away from home.  The time away from phones and email allow me some reflection on what I’m doing and why.  And one of the things I’m doing is advocating adoption of Agile development methods and Lean management principles.

How long will your constructions last?

There is a lot of pushback on these principles from consultants and managers who have not lived with them in real projects.  And a certain amount of skepticism from business managers who don’t want to embrace a new “method of the decade” fad just because it is becoming more widespread.  I don’t blame them.  There are some good reasons for skepticism.

First of all, any movement that has passionate followers and promoters tends to acquire a fringe element that pushes everyone to follow the trend, to get on board.  And we all know that not 100% of projects, environments or companies a suitable candidates for an Agile conversion.  Why?  Sometimes they have extensive requirements-definition phases imposed on them from a contractor (such as the Federal government or the military).  Sometimes they simply do not have the support of top management to revamp their operations in a way that requires changes in management style or procedures.

Second, some companies have far-flung operations including offshore units, making effective implementation of Agile methods much more difficult.  Rather than going through the motions of Agile or Scrum teams with vast time zone differences and incompatible local management style, they are better off using traditional project management tools and methods.

Finally, it is threatening for some project managers, technical managers, or business managers to have to change their management activities and open them up for inspection by self-directed development teams.  For example, one IT Director I worked with at a client company was known by his colleagues as “The Hammer” because of his management style.  He was not a candidate for participatory decision-making in a team.

And yet, Agile and Lean transformations are worthwhile endeavors.  How do I know?  I’ve seen development teams move from ordinary results into higher productivity; business managers move from fear of the new into embracing Agile because of the greater confidence they had in getting results on a predictable schedule; and companies move from asking what the heck is Agile to committing tens of millions in development money to Agile projects.

I also recommend Agile transformations because of my own frustration with the failure of software development on the whole to improve significantly over the past 30 years.  Sometimes, you have to make your own predictions about what is going to work, what is going to make things change for the better.

I predict that ten years from now, we won’t be discussing whether to go Agile or Lean, because everyone will be practicing them to some extent, and no one will have any doubts about the payoff.


John Levy helps business managers who are frustrated by the lack of results they are getting from IT or Engineering.  He specializes in rapidly getting high-tech teams to align with business strategy and to contribute to business success of the enterprise.

John has been consulting for managers in industry for over 20 years.  John’s book on management for technology executives, Get Out of the Way, was published in May 2010. http://bit.ly/9pX1wS

For more information, please visit his website at http://johnlevyconsulting.com ,

Email him at info@johnlevyconsulting.com , or call 415 663-1818.


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