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Agile Newbie

I've been working at Black Pepper for three weeks as a project manager. I arrived from a traditional world where projects were documented extensively up front, all functionality signed off in advance of development and long-term planning was demanded and clung to. I've also swapped sides, my previous experience has been client side implementing new systems into the business working with either in-house or external developers.

Have I entered a parallel universe?

Things that happened in my first day/week:

  • Regular, short and to the point stand up meetings with clients
  • Post-it notes moved around whiteboards in an important manner
  • I was invited to a brown bag
  • I learnt that words have different meanings in a different context – stories, epics, story points, cards
  • Work was estimated with playing cards

But where are all the Excel Spreadsheets?

My first impression after getting to grips with the Agile methodology was – wow, this would have been easier! The major challenges I faced client-side were mainly based around trying to implement systems that by the time they were built weren't fit for purpose. This caused resistance from users and also difficulty getting sign-off because managers knew this was their one and only chance to get the specification right before they showed the finished product to the board.

So although I’m still an agile newbie and I have huge amounts to learn and get used to, I can't help feeling excited about working in a way that means the offer to customers is so strong. Instead of paying for lots of planning and documentation, customers get:

  • Developers starting work instead of just talking about it
  • To change their minds and add functionality all through the process
  • Working software that they can start using as soon as sections of a system are built

I'm getting used to the whiteboard and enjoy seeing the project picture changing in front of me on a daily basis and learning that projects can be delivered even without a gigantic Excel spreadsheet. I explained all this to my PM friend over the weekend, after a lengthy chat he exclaimed “I'm sorry but it sounds totally mad, it just can't work”. That's what I would have said a month ago but it turns out seeing is believing.