My friend Bill Scott once said at a conference, “Agile doesn’t have a brain.” What he meant by that is due to Agile’s software engineering roots many organizations that have adopted Scrum, XP and similar methodologies have done so through their engineering departments. This has led to the creation of amazing software development departments that are incentivized for the efficient and predictable delivery of high-quality code. These teams write great code. And, perhaps more importantly, they SHIP great code — regularly and predictably. For this they are rewarded and driven to become even more efficient with fewer defects.
The questions that rarely gets asked in these organizations however, are:
- WHICH features should we build?
- DID we build the right ones?
- DID we design them well?
- DID we optimize them to achieve maximum value for our customers and our business?
That’s what Bill was hinting at. As implemented by many organizations today, Agile — and its methodologies like Scrum — have no mechanism for determining if they’re building the right feature and whether that implementation is designed well and/or worth improving.
This is where Lean Startup and Design Thinking come in. With an experimental mindset rooted in market-based evidence and user-centric advocacy teams begin to question the validity of their feature choices. This humble approach ensures that the Scrum process churns out features that have the backing of the market (i.e., reality) and not just the gut instinct of an individual product leader or team.
The cadence of agile teams plays nicely into continuous experimentation and learning. Teams can build repeatable, routinized research tactics into their delivery streams. This builds a continuous flow of insight into the product development and delivery cycle as well as further upstream into the decision-making process. Effectively, this puts the “brain” on the agile process. And with a brain we make better decisions.
P.S. – The next post will discuss the discipline required to actually respond to the insight this learning process generates.
P.P.S. – If you’re interested in learning how to build this “brain” into your processes join me in one of the following cities for a fun, hands-on workshop: Stockholm, Phoenix, Minneapolis/St.Paul, Washington DC, and Bologna, Italy