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Don’t Just Change the Rules, Change the Game

indoorsoccerSeveral studies have shown superior software development success rates when using an agile approach like Scrum or Kanban versus a waterfall approach. Does using a waterfall approach to develop software cause many projects to fail? Conversely, does using an agile approach cause projects to succeed?

I wish it was that simple. Ultimately people cause projects to succeed or fail. People are drawn to people like themselves. People are drawn to environments and cultures they prefer. What characteristics do you look for in the people you hire?

Waterfall approaches to software development are prescriptive. They use command-and-control, phases, gates, documents and approvals to get things done. What kind of people, do you suppose, are attracted to those techniques?

Agile approaches are collaborative. They use teamwork, self-organization, conversations, visuals and feedback to get things done. What kind of people, do you suppose, are attracted to those techniques?

Real Change Takes Time

I’m not a psychologist or sociologist so I’m not going to attempt a deep dive into these ideas. My point is that if you want to improve your software development results, you need to take a hard look at the messages you’re sending and the people you’re attracting.

Why is this so important? If you decide to change your development approach, you’ll need to change your people too. How are you going to do that? It won’t happen in a sprint or two. It will likely take a year or more to completely transition from one approach to another.

In a large organization, you’ll have multiple development teams. Are they all going to transition at once? If so, it will be a huge undertaking. If not, how will interteam dependencies be managed when one team is using Scrum and the other is using waterfall? Their deliverables will not be aligned.

Adopting agile software development is not simply a matter of changing the rules — you need to change the entire game. What would you do if you wanted a basketball team to play ice hockey? How about a soccer (football) team converting to basketball? It would be a colossal transition requiring plenty of training and conditioning. Some players would not be able to adapt. New players would need to be recruited.

That’s what you can expect when going from a traditional, prescriptive, software development approach to Scrum or Kanban. You can make it work if you’re willing to invest the time and effort. Do you have the time?

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Updated: February 28, 2013 — 10:07 pm
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