Ative at Work

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Ative at Work

Impressions From Our Lean/Agile Dinner with Mary and Tom Poppendieck

This Tuesday we hosted a dinner for the Danish Agile User Group with Mary and Tom Poppendieck in the great Restaurant Grønnegade. The charming old house from 1689 with its modern European slow-food set the stage for an evening of great conversation about the state and future of lean and agile software development.

Mary Poppendieck and Martin Jul


Around 20 Danish agilists attended and following a question/answer session with Mary and Tom we had an excellent five-course dinner. The room was buzzing with lively conversation - people trading war stories and experiences with implementing agile and lean software development in their organisations. It was a great night with plenty of inspiration for the daily work.

Tom Poppendieck with Danish agile practitioners.

This post is a collaborative montage of impressions from the participants - from the Q/A with Mary and Tom and the conversation in the group. Please add your impressions below.

Just to get the ball rolling one of the things I discussed with Henrik Thomsen, Lone Møller Klitgaard and Mary Poppendieck was Scrum and its shortcomings.

Henrik got the ball rolling by noting that Scrum is too limited for his taste since it only addresses a small part of the total picture, excluding, for example, many people issues. Henrik talked about how he has used the Soft System methodology to visualise the stakeholders and predicting conflicts in the development process - clearly something that is not addresses by Scrum.

The Ative experience with introducing Scrum is that it is a very simple yet powerful set of rules. This makes it a great starting point for agile practices. However, we are not dogmatic about Scrum: we keep looking at the overall picture and fixing the impediments through a classic lean inspect-and-adapt cycle. For example, we usually spend quite a lot on time with the technical team to ensure a minimum level of professional craftmanship (configuration management, automated build and deployment, automated unit and acceptance testing etc. - we have blogged about this earlier). We have also experienced the need for a lot of training for the Product Owner - in fact, this is usually much harder than getting the development team to adopt the Scrum practises.

The big thing was that the discussion framed the things we work with every day: from the perspective of lean - which is essentialy a framework for thinking about processes - agile is a lean implementation. This also means that it is context specific and constantly evolving. Therefore it makes no sense to talk about The Only Way to agility but rather to treat all the agile practises as a toolbox and mix-and-match the things we need in a particular context.

Just as the doctor does not order you to take all the pills in the pharmacy or prescribe only aspirin for any ailment, agilist should use skillfull means, too. We need to know and have experience with a broad range of agile practises, but we only advice the specific medication that the patient needs and in just the right amount. And to tie it back to the discussion about Scrum, Scrum is not the cure for every problem.


Please add your impressions from the evening in the comments below

  • what was your highlights? (things you talked about, people you met, ...)
  • what did you learn?
  • what inspired you the most?
  • how are you going to use it in your work?
  • about the evening - "keep this"/"try this"/"don't do that again" feedback for arranging something like this in the future.

 Thank you for making it a great night and for posting your impressions!


Published apr 26 2007, 10:24 by Martin Jul
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Jan Daniel Andersen said:

It was indeed a very nice evening in the company of greatness (not only refferring to our american guests). I had some nice conversations with a people that I hadn't seen for quite some time and I always enjoy reminiscing about some past project :-).

I didn't have any specific discussions about Lean, but I did enjoy Tom and Mary's comments... especially Tom quoting Edsger Wybe Dijkstra, about the horrors of the PL/1 language.

april 27, 2007 10:41

Kim Horn said:

Having attended both the two day “Implementing Lean Software Development:  Practitioners Course” and the great dinner, I encourage you to join Mary and Toms classes or speeches if you get the chance, they are very inspiring and their knowledge about lean and agile are amazing.

A few “lessons learned”:

- Success factor for implementing Lean:  look at the whole supply chain, not only development or test. Think products and not projects.

- When implementing Lean it isn’t enough just to use Just-in-time and stop-the-line. It is the people doing the actual work that have the potential to make it a success. They have the good answers and ideas.

- All queues and stacks of work is WASTE. Remove the cues, improve the cycle time and get better overall performance and quality. Value stream maps are a powerful tool to identify queues and their size.

- Without automatic tests you are asking for trouble. Don’t by the “we don’t have time to implement automatic tests” excuse, if you wait your problems will grow…

- And NO it is not ok to have a backlog that contains work for more than 3 iterations, including ideas for the future – get rid of the WASTE and focus on the important stuff that adds value to the customer!

At the end of the evening (after a few glasses of vine) the .NET vs. Java discussion started – then it was time to go home ;-)

april 27, 2007 9:00

Henrik B Helsinghoff said:

Thank you all for a spectacular evening.

Meeting with old and new friends is always delightful. Mary and Tom had more than a few good views and stand points to share with us this evening. One that I brought with me to remember and never forget, was the point about spending time and energy on stakeholder analysis. Freely quoted from Mary, responding to a question about how we get management support to agility: “Learn what is important to them”. This, I would say, goes for the customer as well as our colleagues. We should take time out to listen and learn what our surroundings and our key stakeholders find important and value. This will help us priorities and focus on what is important not only to us but also the judges of our success.

I hope to meet you all soon, for another chat and maybe some splendid food…

april 27, 2007 10:25

Martin Jul said:

Here are the book recommendations from Mary's talk:

The book about getting software to true production-level quality where it not only works but also works without putting too much strain on the operations and maintennance people is "Release It!: Design and Deploy Production-ready Software" by Michael T. Nygard (out on Pragmatic Programmers).

The book about the business case for lean software development (higher profitability through realeasing earlier etc) is "Software by numbers" by Mark Denne and Jane Cleland-Huang.

april 29, 2007 11:28

About Martin Jul

Building better software faster is Martin's mission. He is a partner in Ative, and helps development teams implement lean/agile software development and improve their craftmanship teaching hands-on development practises such as iterative design and test-first. He is known to be a hardliner on quality and likes to get things done-done.
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