What is the Value of Agile and Scrum for New Managers? By Tony Ellsworth, MPM, MBA, A-CSM

Agile values were alive and well in the Developer Division of Microsoft. The division is not only implementing regular practices and methodologies of Agile, Scrum, and DevOps for itself, but promoting them for others.

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– By Tony Ellsworth, MPM, A-CSM

In my most recent ten years of experience as a Project Manager and Scrum Master, the companies I have worked for and with, are on the fast track to a full Agile methodology commitment. Microsoft was one such company. In a Forbes article, Denning (2015) states that Microsoft Vice President, Brian Harry, announced a corporate commitment to Agile in a blog post that was almost a love-letter to Scrum. With skepticism of whether a large corporation like Microsoft could ever truly be Agile, a discovery focused site visit was scheduled. Denning (2015) reported that Agile values were alive and well in the Developer Division of Microsoft. The division is not only implementing regular practices and methodologies of Agile, Scrum, and DevOps for itself, but promoting them for others. Everyone we spoke with, including unscripted conversations with developers is living, thinking, talking, and acting with Agile values. It is not only doing Agile; it is being Agile. There is a pervasive Agile mindset in which respecting, valuing, and engaging those doing the work in response to customer’s needs is at the core.

When I first entered the industry, I had an incredible mentor.  I am in the process of paying that back many times over. For someone coming into the business I would absolutely recommend their first priority would be to pursue Agile training and licensing. I often give an analogy to those I am mentoring in regards to the contrast between Waterfall and Agile. For example; Let’s say you are asked to explore a long dark cave that has never been previously seen and your primary tool is a flashlight. At the beginning of this journey, using the waterfall method you will be asked to anticipate and predict what the obstacles may be and what lies at the end. You may have the ability to pull in scientists, zoologists, and geologists. After you invest a substantial amount of time you decide to finally begin your quest. After your first ten yards what two things do you think you will encounter that we can predict? Illumination and change. Agile is a methodology where one can use Scrum as framework which is built for progressive elaboration. I am going to date myself, but I can demonstrate the contrast using a movie reference. How many readers have watched the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? At the end of the movie Indiana Jones needs to rapidly travel from the opening of a cave to a final unknown destination that is said to have the “Holy Grail” so he can save his dying father. Indy has no time for planning and has no idea what he may encounter. He thinks and processes quickly as he safely passes many deadly traps such as fast-moving saw blades, a deadly riddle and a hidden bridge over a bottomless pit and arrives at the Grail’s chamber. What methodology was available to Indy to perform such a feat? Agile. He could have never anticipated what he would encounter without boldly and courageously moving forward speedily in order to save his father’s life.   As a Project Manager or Scrum Master you may not encounter such a dire circumstance. I hope you don’t but, I would highly suggest new entrants to the industry. All things being equal, pursue their experience and education in Agile.

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              While I most certainly am an advocate for Agile, I would caution one not to omit the Traditional or Waterfall methodology. Most organizations operate with some complimentary mix or hybrid of both approaches. I highlighted the adaptability of Agile.  The waterfall methodology is more rigid in nature but tends to be much more tangible. Who likes tangible?   Customers, Stakeholders, and Executives.  This is very important to the ultimate success of a project. There are ways to integrate both ideologies and adapt them to the team and to the situation. This is the mix of art and science in project management. I’d like to close with another quote from the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade that demonstrates that practicality in project management often rules over ideology, “Archeology is the search for fact…not truth. If it’s truth you’re looking for, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall” (Dr. Henry Jones).

References

Denning, Steve. (October 27, 2015). Forbes. Surprise: Microsoft is Agile. Retrieved from:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2015/10/27/surprise-microsoft-is-agile/?sh=1db2f6702867

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. American Film Institute. Retrieved from:  https://catalog.afi.com/Catalog/moviedetails/67198

Tony Ellsworth, MBA, MPM, A-CSM., is currently a Scrum Master and IT Project Manager at Kiewit Technology Group. As a native to Nebraska Tony has worked with some of the well-known entrepreneurs in the area such as Joe and Pete Ricketts and Candace Gregory.   He has been able to use his personal and career experiences to help enable the teams and persons he works with the best they can be.  With faith as a foundation, Tony leads through servant leadership to accomplish organizational goals. ony received awards for manager of the year at Ameritrade after the initial public offering in leading the New Accounts Division.  Later, he also received a Civilian of the year Award at the Air Force Weather Agency while working at Offutt Air Force Base.  He lives on an acreage near the Platte River with his wife and family and they enjoy the outdoors greatly. In 2020, Tony completed is Masters in Project Management at Bellevue University.

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