Agile – A Voice from the Inside

Changes are often evaluated by those in charge of deciding how things should be done rather than by those doing it. For this reason, I’d like to share my thoughts and experiences from the inside, gained over my 6 years with KRS where I’ve witnessed the transition from the traditional Waterfall methodology into an increasingly agile style of working. While one can argue the merits of both – one thing which I’ve specifically felt the benefits of in Agile, was its ability to empower staff.

Where Waterfall implied hierarchical rules of “don’t question those above you” and “your opinion differs therefore it must be wrong”, Agile instead gave voice to all, encouraging people to use their voices. This change was well suited to KRS’s culture, which encouraged a flatter organisational structure and egalitarian participation in decision-making.

Agile brought with it the importance of roles for facilitating interactions and relationships rather than the traditional Project Manager’s role of command & control (often illusory) and of fixating on short term productivity.

Within our sphere of clients, some Project Managers took longer to see the benefits of Agile but something exciting was happening for many of our teams. They were permitted an equal voice. They developed a sense of ownership and responsibility, which quietly encouraged them to keep pushing forward to success. Acknowledgement from others on the team, gratitude from the Client, or even taking the simple satisfaction in knowing that they had added something of value to the overall outcome gave even more weight to this

For a project to succeed, I believe this will prove to be a better long term motivator than a software development process that attempts to wring productivity out of its participants by instilling in them fear of losing their jobs, or the aptly termed “FDD –Fear Driven Development”.

These changes may have been slower to notice than indicators like performance, which can be measured day-to-day; staff morale, confidence and a sense of ownership are far less tangible and therefore not always noticed by others.

These changes, as slow as they came in, stayed. Those who had not previously felt that their input was valued started to fight for their opinion as they felt they could affect things positively. Those who had initially only sent orders down were starting to see and appreciate the input coming back up. This input also provided an opportunity to see strengths and weaknesses in staff without them fearing the impressions and repercussions of saying the wrong thing, thereby making it possible to see and utilize the passion staff have for their own goals within their team.

Over time, it allowed seniors to gain confidence in the voices of all staff who had an opinion or who wanted to make things work better; waterfall viewed this as someone else’s worry.

Meetings are held to ensure that only valid and prioritised work be made available to work on during a given time. This gives team members the option of being able to choose their work rather than having someone decide it for them. Staff are able to do what they do best while still providing the best business value to the client.

I have seen staff growing in confidence and ability, enhancing their capabilities over time. Instead of treating all staff as machines which require more pressure to produce more results, rather goals are presented and staff invited to put their best skills forward to achieve this end. In this way, the determination of the individual drives “their project” to succeed.

In my opinion, anyone who feels strongly enough about making something work because they want it to work, will work harder to make it happen. With this in mind I see this as one of the most positive changes in the company as it has not only given rise to productivity beyond what Waterfall had provided, but also increased morale, growth and the sense of teamwork which is core to what I believe has made KRS the success it has been over the years.

About the author:
Nigel Smith is Scrum Master for our well known KRS Club product, used by over 50 fitness clubs and gyms in South Africa. He has 6 years experience as a developer, and is a 3rd Dan Black Belt.