Working Agile: Nine Questions to Robert Stulle, a leading Agile expert

Just before Robert’s lecture at an Israeli UX convention, I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions.

  1. You advocate the Agile practice and speak of it as a game changer in your own organization. 
    What tips would you give a small team (a pair, for example) or even an independent professional, so they’d enjoy some of Agile’s benefits?

Working with agile methods is best done in multidisciplinary teams. Two people can be a team but it is hard. A single person has no one but herself to work with. That can be blissful but it is also limiting because you can only achieve what you are capable of as an individual. In a group it is different. Groups can take decisions and create results that are better than what each individual could do by himself.
So my advice is: gather some people around you and become a team of three or more. And remember, your client is also a part of your team.

2. Business owners (especially Internet-based ones) tend to shy away from definitions, for various reasons: trying to remain unique, non-conformism, attempted innovation. 
What would you say to those people, when you are basically recommending them to adopt an umbrella definition for their methodology?

I think it is good to be skeptical and it is good to find your own way of working. At Edenspiekermann we work with Scrum pretty much by the book in most projects. It has proven to be great for us. 
So my advice would be: Try agile and see how it works out for you. Then decide, what you want to do with what you have learned.

3. Agile, as a term, became widespread in the past few years, and been spreading like wildfire among organizations. 
What would you assume that the next step would be? What is the methodology that would rock our worlds within the next decade or so?

That is a good question. And I have no idea what the future will bring. (That is the interesting thing about the future: It has always been — and will always be — unknown. ;-))
But I hope that we will see „the end of corporate bullshit“. I hope that we get more real, trustful and transparent in our working relationships. Less politics, more great results. No lies, no tricks, no facades. If we work in an open environment and have an honest relationship with our clients, our work becomes so much more meaningful and good. I know that from first hand experience.

4. You have spoken quite a bit about the improvement in communication with your clients. 
I’ll approach it from another angle — what are the hardships that you face when practicing Agile with clients? I’m certain that there are clients with mixed emotions, how do you cope?

Well, it is always great if everything just works. As in all relationships things get more difficult when unforeseen problems or obstacles arise. In this case we have to be open and transparent with our client. Talk about the difficulties or delays, have a retrospective and discuss with the client and the team what is holding the team back from making progress. I like this twist on an old saying: „Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.“ I think in every fail there is a huge potential for learning and growing for each team member. In the end relationships that go through some rough times often come out of the crisis stronger than before.

5. I’d be happy if you could share a funny story about working Agile-ly. Something from your own experience, feel free not to mention names :)

Once a whole team of ours went out to party in the middle of the week as a farewell to a colleague. The next day our client was in the office for a meeting but no one from the team showed up. They were still at home and too hung over to work. what now? Lie? Make up a story as an excuse? We decided to explain to our client what really happened. He was not amused on that day. 
But in the end the team was forgiven, the project was a success and our relationship with the client remained strong. 
Now we laugh about it.

6. A question in favor of business owners that are reading these lines: how would you translate Agile into money? 
Let me rephrase, what would you tell a business owner that’s reading this — how would adopting Agile would be profitable?

That is easy. We work agile to create relevance in a very fast changing world. This way we can adopt to changing conditions very quickly, we can master complexity by breaking it down into smaller steps, we learn along the way and incorporate the insights into our current work, we work user-centric and prioritize our tasks by business value. I think that is all stuff that business owners can dream of. They should all love it.
Maybe the harder sell is the part where we explain that we can neither tell in the beginning when exactly the project is done nor what the exact result will be. ;-)
In my experience clients who have worked with us in an agile way are very happy with the outcome.

7. I’m not fully aware of your work scope with Israeli audiences, but “according to foreign reports”, we think fast and act fast. 
For better or worse. How would you refine your message to the Israeli professional?

I would start with a quote from Goethe: „We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.“ 
If you agree with Goethe, then you will love the boost that you get out of working with agile methods.

8. A trick question — why should I refrain from implementing Agile ethics? 
Who would you advise against? Is there a scenario in which you’d say “know what? forget it“?

Don’t try to work agile with a client who is not open for change. That also goes for yourself. If you don’t like to learn, experiment and adapt, if you love the good old waterfall method and it works well for you then just keep doing what you always did. Why change? Right? In that case you can forget about agile.

9. You are scheduled to appear in a convention pretty soon. 
What could the local professional expect? Give us a little sneak peek :)

I will be talking about how we can create relevance. Unsurprisingly my three main points will be the way we work, the relationship that we build with our clients and the culture that we develop in our offices and teams.

My interview with Robert was originally published in Hebrew, at GeekTime.co.il

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