Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bringing the Cost of Failure Down to Zero

In continuing my postings around my takeaways from the Agile 2009 conference, while also promoting a post-Agile 2009 conference here in New York hosted by LiquidNet, I want to cover another great session presented by David Hussman. David is this year’s Gordon Pask award winner, and with his unique background in music performance and production, has applied a unique agile coaching style. He views coaching from a holistic approach, and designs his strategy with the organization’s cultural context in mind.

Perhaps the most important one-liner I was able to quote from David at his “Coaching & Producing Value” session was, “…bring the cost of failure to zero so we can do it a million times; failure is a learning tool.” I couldn’t agree more. But how do we go about bringing that about, without harming the organization and still increasing our agile adoption’s effectiveness?

Well David goes about listing what he calls “Pre-Production Tasks” in order to execute effective coaching and producing value to the organization. They are as follows:

  • Assessment – Interviews
  • Coaching Plans – Practice Selection
  • Chartering
  • Personas – Story Mapping
  • Creative Eco-Systems
  • Road Map Planning

For this posting I’d like to focus on the first two.

Assessment – Interviews

Here David recommends us to turn away from being an agile-zealot or purist, and with good reason. Implementing all of the agile practices in their strictest fashion will completely backfire unless the organization understands the values that those practices bring. Therefore to select and introduce these practices, the ones that makes the most sense for the culture and environment of the particular organization, need to be understood. The only way to do so is to spend time interview and assessing the organization and its people. Some questions he suggests to ask are:

  • How do they work now?
  • What works – what does not?
  • Why change? Why agile methods?
  • What strengths and challenges exist?

David emphasizes that in this change process of adopting agile a coach’s approach needs to be descriptive, “This is what I have seen work.” And not prescriptive, “This is what you should do.” A prescriptive approach will appear to be dogma, and dogma kills.

Coaching Plans – Practice Selection

With undersanding the context of the organization, its culture and people, you can start to understand and see how the agile practices fit into the scheme of things. Hussman organizes these practices into valuable groupings (pictured at the right). For the practices that you decide to employ, for their given grouping, you need to describe to your audience not only what you know about it (“the how”) but also describe the value of that practice (“the why”).

This and many other topics are planned to be covered at the post-Agile 2009 conference here in New York City. If you're interested in attending, please email me ( and I will be sure to send you the details.

David Hussman’s Agile 2009 conference presentation on "Coaching and Producing Value" at be found here.

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