On 6th July 2008 we had opportunity to welcome Mary and Tom Poppendieck at the Xebia office in Gurgaon, in their last leg of India tour, in which they organized workshops on Lean Software Development. Mary, an Engineer, started her career at 3M, as a junior engineer, described how she was mentored by seniors to learn and perform. It was very easy for me to relate the 3M case study at ISB with the actual experience of Mary at 3M. A key point for me to notice was that at 3M the business managers kept two best engineers without any project assignments so they would be available to help juniors.
We discussed the need for having good people in Agile Teams to make Agile work. On this point, Mary confirmed the well established belief in HR circles – Hire for Attitude and Train for Skills. I feel while HR circles and many experienced people know this already; it is practiced rarely because of our desire for having people with right skills and experience to get going quickly. Attitude is hard to measure especially for the people with technical background or the business managers.
While taking a round tour of our new office and admiring how we have setup Agile workspaces that enable collaboration and trust building in the Agile Teams, Mary asked why there were no information radiators in the project rooms. Finally she found one in a team room. I explained that the most information radiators are on Wiki since we work distributed but we want to have information radiators displayed at a central location in the office on LCD screens. It is a work in progress.
Mary said that Xebia is well positioned at least in few projects to analyze the whole value chain of the customer and Xebia should make effective use of that possibility. This discussion initiated when we said as a service company we deal with new domains regularly where business aspects of a problem may not be clear to us. As an outsourcing company we might not have enough leverage in looking in to the business aspects of a project because of our lack of access to experts for business or political reasons. Mary’s view is a confirmation of our belief that a captive offshore team having direct contact with the customer can deliver the best value. This also forced me to think about my earlier blog on business value delivery with Agile. An agile team can comment on business value if they understand the domain and they have access to right business people or else just say that you are delivering good software using Agile.
An interesting discussion was how we measure our success in IT services business, to which Mary and Tom pointed out if your existing customers will recommend you to others then you are really successful. At the same time, Mary emphasized the importance of choosing right type of customers before starting a new engagement.
Team dysfunctions could be the worst nightmares for the managers of Agile team. While SCRUM emphasizes the need for self organizing team, we found that team dysfunctions do not get recognized and corrected by the team in the early stages. Mary’s suggested that the Line Management should take care of such issues since it is not realistic to expect that the team will solve such problems. My next XKE presentation on 9th July is about Trust which is foundational to build great teams.
Around 6 days of preparation went in to the Poppendieck’s visit. We formed a group of six people known as Poppendieck Study Group (PSG). Everyday between 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM, this group presented a topic from the Poppendieck’s book titled Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit. It was a good group learning exercise that prepared us well for their visit.
Mary and Tom received bottles of Indian wine as a souvenir from Xebia India, had a group photo with fellow Xebians and left next day for Singapore.
I felt that the original work done by Mary and Tom had a great impact upon the core values and business philosophy of Xebia. Xebia India team will be looking forward to share and test our Agile experience with them if the opportunity comes again.