Organizational Impediments and the Marshall Model

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Mar 272012
 

I attended a thought-provoking talk last week given by agile coach Bob Marshall which focused on his model of organisational effectiveness, which you can download a paper on here.

His descriptions of organisations that were ad-hoc (reactive, unplanned) or analytic (bureaucratic, rigid) were very familiar to me and provided a good backdrop to thinking about what are known as organisational impediments in Scrum.

Organisational impediments block or slow progress – just like other impediments – but are very difficult to resolve because they are baked into the wider organisation’s structure and processes. There are good lists on the Scrum Alliance website and elsewhere but ones that chime with me include:

  • Focusing on utilisation and ignoring productivity (an uncharitable but evocative term for this is busy fools)
  • Unsuitable office accommodation discouraging collaboration and/or causing distraction
  • Lack of organisational drive and (perhaps as a result) individual enthusiasm for getting great at developing software

Understanding what kind of organisation you are dealing with in terms of the Marshall Model categories (ad-hoc, analytic, synergistic, chaordic – or in transition from one to the other) is certainly not a silver bullet but it does help flesh out the business context. For example, an analytic organisation may have invested heavily in separate functions for business analysis, development, and testing and find the idea of cross-functional teams mystifying. Their whole mindset is reductionist – they believe that breaking things down into parts is the right way to make sense of them – so mixing it all up again can sound like heresy. Even suggesting that they try a different approach can run counter to the analytical idea that it is possible to solve an issue completely upfront by researching the problem, breaking it down, and designing the “perfect” solution.

There’s no easy way to break these organisational impediments down. I think the best approach is to go a little native – get inside the organisation, understand where it is coming from, and try to win hearts and minds. For example, in an analytical organisation, explain that the Agile approach is empirical rather than chaotic, its effectiveness is backed up by research and – above all – demonstrate that it works, even if at first that needs to be on a very small project. It is hard to argue with good results, and if you can carefully direct an organisation down the Agile path, remembering to inspect and adapt continuously, the payback in productivity, quality and morale should be plain to see.

work4source: Visual Studio 2010 Extension

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Mar 222012
 

I have just published on Codeplex a new Visual Studio 2010 extension that provides a simple but very useful function: it quickly finds work items that have been linked to a selected source file or folder. You can find it at work4source.codeplex.com.

This came about when I was rolling out TFS work items to a team that had subject matter experts regularly changing specifications for complex business rules. Another team produced configuration files based on the specifications, and both files were kept in source control. The experts often needed to review the change history and could identify which source files were relevant. I knew that changeset comments, diff tools, and the annotate feature (aka “blame allocator”) do a great job of showing what has changed, but these users wanted to know why a change was made – a business-focused description and justification. This is the job of work items, but you can’t easily generate a list of work items from a specific source file or folder.

To be fair, Visual Studio does make this information available. But to see all work items that have been linked to a source file you need to open the history, then changeset details, then the work items channel… now make a note of any linked work items and repeat for every changeset. For a source file with thirty changes that could take ten minutes or more, so is impractical for regular use. The work4source extension replaces the process with one click, and the query is performed on a separate thread so you can continue working.

If you too have felt the pain of searching for work items from source items (or are just curious) please download the tool, try it out, and let me know what you think. I hope the community find it useful and welcome contributions to its development.

Credit: This extension was coded by a friend and colleague of mine Dijon Smit, so thanks to him for agreeing to add it to Codeplex.

Mar 142012
 

I attended the first IT Kanban London Meetup last night and enjoyed talking to other Agile practitioners there. The format was informal drinks, which was great to get the group started; future sessions will hopefully build on that and feature some compelling speakers. There was a good mix of seasoned Kanban practitioners and those just starting or curious about the framework. If you are an Agile practitioner working in London I highly recommend you come along to the next one.

I discovered the IT Kanban website from the Meetup and am impressed by the quality of the materials on the site. Together with books such as David Anderson’s and the recent ALM Rangers guidance (including TFS 2010 and 11 process templates) the community support for Kanban is getting pretty strong.