Stop murdering “Agile”, and be agile instead

“Agile Macabre” on techcamp.hamburg, Apr-2020

We keep hearing “Agile is Dead” – sceptics joking, shrugging it off, having had enough of the contentless propaganda of the agilists. When the #tchh guys reached out for us to give a talk, we decided to tickle this topic provocatively. You agree “Agile is Dead”? It’s because you’re murdering it.

I’ve been leading projects since 2002, becoming a full-blown agilist around 2011. Not so long after that, one of the creators of the Agile Manifesto, Dave Thomas proclaimed “Agile is Dead” in his famous 2014 blog and talk. Ever since, I thought, everybody’s doing a Danse Macabre around agility, so let’s use this ghastly theme and its legacy to explain things.

The Dance of Death concerns a few very spiritual topics, such as prayer to free the dead from sin, resurrection of the dead and even creatio ex nihilo (in the sense of meaning of existence). So, to translate this death theme to our ways of working, perhaps we should start with the last: to explain why we are here.

Any normal business wants to disrupt their way of working in order to achieve one or more of the classic business goals: 

  • reduce time to market and/or operational costs
  • increase performance and/or transparency. 

If you cannot identify your goal fitting to these four, you should immediately stop your transformation because you’re doing it just for the change itself, without a tangible business purpose. And then we cannot talk about agility as you’re not a customer in need. 

However, if either of the above four aspects applies to your business, you should then know why you want “Agile”? (By the way, the capitalization of this word will pretty soon go away when you start to practice. As in, it’s an adjective and as such spelled lowercase.) So, why? Ideally,

  1. not because you don’t know what you want, but because you like to change directions, or
  2. not because you don’t want to plan, but because you want to have metrics to measure your progress.

But if you’re so clear in what you want and why you want it, how come you’re still in agony? As I experienced, there are four basic reasons why teams struggle with agility.

  1. OTIF – Wanting It All. Failing to prioritize and accept/measure throughput (the concept of MVP, duh?)
  2. Super – Wanting It Best. Not allowing to fail fast in small amounts in order to help understand the whole product better
  3. Random – No Respect to Plans. Ignoring agreements, changing requirements often
  4. Blind – No Reflection. Showing no remorse, marching on without asking what went wrong and how to improve

So to be fair, poor agility is agonizing because you’re slaughtering it. Stop the torture, and you’ll be friends.

How to be friends? A lot of posts are talking about rules and laws, and we seem to like these when they come in threes. So, my “3 Laws of Agility”?

  1. Product Vision. Try to understand what you build, and instead of project planning, focus on Sprint outcomes. (Iteration, the very core of agility.) Don’t try to be budget (as in estimations, capacity or velocity) driven, rather emphasise value maximisation. And don’t be so service or tech oriented: develop a product mindset, understand what you will provide your customers with.
  2. Tech Enablement. Without this your “agile” project is as good as dead. Really. When you think of application modernisation, you want to be well architected, set up development processes, focus on testing, automate the hell out of it and embrace nativity in the cloud. I promise you, if you’re offline and manual, collaboration, monitoring and measuring will suck. You want working software in production, ASAP. Well, here you go: no stress about environments and deployments, just fun and results – if the tech is right.
  3. Team Discourse. You want results, habitually. First, you should focus on doability: small bits that give the sense of achievement and winning. This way you build trust and camaraderie, and your team will love working for you. Second, embrace iterativity. Continuous discourse and cycled structure will give you the same sense as above, but also you have a much easier time reporting and reflecting.

Finally, about a tech camp being forced online. It’s not a bad thing after all. Actually fitting the tech enablement bit above. Once we’re forced to be locked away, we start talking to each other more, using smarter collaborative techniques, less words, more meaning. It’s a resurrection in a way. 

So, if you want to resurrect it, accept that agile is an adjective. Just as dead is. Both can be made nouns, but that’s very scary and contagious. Don’t be a zombie, choose life.

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    Azure DevOps Services

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    This post will show the main features of the Azure DevOps services.

    Few words about Microsoft Azure DevOps

    Azure DevOps has been created as a successor of Visual Studio Team Services, mainly known as VSTS. In general, there is no one application. We should look at this service as a set of tools, which can help in several ways people who use the “DevOps” methodology for continuous delivery of the highest value for their end-users. Summarising, we can use Azure DevOps for storing our source code in the GIT repositories, setup an automatic build and release solutions for every new piece of code committed to the repository, as well as plan & track all the activities related to Agile project management on dedicated backlog and set of useful boards.

     

    Project setup

    Before we start building our pipelines and committing code, we must create a project in Azure DevOps. To do that, we need an account in the service. Account creation is free. When the account will be ready, the new user is able to fill in all the information related to the organisation, and after that he can create a new empty project.

    In the Azure DevOps project settings pane, the project owner can decide which features will be used. Below the picture shows a full list of available services. Let´s focus in detail on some of them:

     

    Azure DevOps

    Boards

    When a new project starts, all the features should be divided into tasks and described in the project backlog. This is a place, where the Product Owner can create a proper order of activities, which will be implemented by the Development Team. Azure DevOps board features provide a way to create Epics, Features, User Stories filled by Tasks etc. Here testers can also create Test-Case scenarios and report bugs or issues.

    Azure Repos

    Azure DevOps provides an access to unlimited, private GIT repositories – Azure Repos. GIT is one of the most popular versions of control systems, with full scope of features like branching, tagging or pull requesting which are covered by the build-in repos service inside Azure DevOps. External providers like GitHub, Bitbucket or GitLab can be used as source repositories of an application code, when a build pipeline will be created in the Azure DevOps.

     

    Build pipelines

    Information about the build pipeline setup is stored inside the GIT repository in a YAML file. When the file exists in the repository, we can start the configuration process of our new build, and Azure DevOps will automatically use a pre-defined pipeline stored as a code inside project repository. This feature is really great. When in the future someone will need to re-create the pipeline, all information is stored in one file, which can also be used as a some kind of a process documentation.

     

     

    If the new project is configured, Azure DevOps project owner can use one of the pre-defined templates for build pipeline, and not only Microsoft solutions are supported:

     

    When the build pipeline is ready, we can easily queue our build, and when completed, track building history on dedicated pane:

     

    If something went wrong during the building process, all information will be available in the logs section inside the broken build. History pane shows also all additional information like the branch from which the code has been used for building, an icon adequate for the build status, and the unique number of the build from the solution.

     

    Release pipelines

    Release pipeline is a functionality which allow us to deploy our application to one or more destinations. Before we begin, we need to setup the correct service connections in the project settings pane. For example, if we want to deploy our web application to Azure App Service, we must configure service connection between Azure DevOps and Azure Resource Manager service. Part of the available service connections are shown below:

     

    In the first step we can decide if we want to use one of the pre-defined stage templates, or if we want to start with an empty job and setup all the steps on our own. Available templates for the stages are for example:  “Azure App Service Deployment”, “Deploy to Kubernetes cluster” etc. Picture below shows a part of the pre-defined templates list:

    A pipeline can be edited interactively. Every stage can be modified individually, and can consist of a set of tasks like: “Azure PowerShell” script execution, whole “Azure Resource Group Deployment” or even an interaction with Linux or macOS system by “Bash” script.

    A sample of the release pipeline is shown below. As the artifacts source for a pipeline has been selected, the build is created in the previous step. We can of course create the release pipeline without an associated build. If our repository contains only scripts, which do not have to be build, we can set as an artifacts source the GIT repository directly.

     

    ***

    This post is the 1st part in our Azure DevOps series. Check out the other posts:

    #2: Web application development with .NET Core and Azure DevOps

    #3: Azure Cosmos DB – Multi model, Globally Distributed Database Service

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      Cloud computing news #9: Bimodal IT strategy

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      This week we focus on bimodal as IT strategy.

      Gartner defines bimodal as the practice of managing two separate, coherent modes of IT delivery, Mode 1 focused on stability and Mode 2 on agility. Mode 1 is sequential, emphasising predictability and accuracy when problems are well understood. Whereas Mode 2, is more agile, exploratory, aimed at solving new problems, drive business and deliver results.

      With digital transformation, IT delivery is not just about software and applications but also about business needs, customisations, scalability and efficiency. Bimodal IT helps in the adoption of new technology while keeping the space for traditional development open. According to Gartner survey 2016, 40% of CIO´s are on the bimodal journey, with the majority of the remainder planning to follow in the next three years.

       

      Insurance companies can embrace digitalization through Bimodal IT

      Insurance companies are in great need for agility and speedier time to market because of evolving customer demands, rise of FinTechs and regulatory requirements. According to Insurance Hub, the fundamental question is: How to reduce the complexity of a legacy IT landscape whilst promoting the development of new and innovative products and processes?

      In this context, Bimodal IT is the most promising approach. Some benefits of Bimodal approach are:

      1. Speed and flexibility – and ensuring efficient and safe operations of existing systems: new IT requirements can be quickly and flexibly implemented without replacing existing legacy systems. An integration layer synchronizes the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ world and makes functionalities from existing systems available for the new applications by means of defined interfaces.
      2. Cultural transformation: existing systems can be operated as usual but the development of the new innovative products need new agile approaches.
      3. Innovation at the interface to customers and partners: Through agile methods iterative character, products can be developed within short cycles, validated and adjusted based on customer feedback. As the insurance sector is often characterized by outdated system landscapes, Bimodal IT can be a crucial enabler in meeting the industries’ challenges.

      Read more in Insurance Hub

       

      Building For A Digital Future With Bimodal IT

      According to Digitalist Magazine, IT’s highest priority has been for decades to enhance control over the business systems of record – but this is not enough any more. Organizations must grow incrementally and exponentially – sometimes taking quantum leaps to get ahead of the market.

      For that reason, business leaders must shift from a traditional IT strategy to a bimodal IT approach that differentiates the business. Mode 1 systems helps guide and steer the business but mode 2 to catalyzes innovation by leveraging new sources of data, leading-edge technologies such as AI and machine learning, and massive compute power and storage functionality at scale.

      With a bimodal IT strategy, CIOs can capture data from IoT sensors, drones, devices, and new sources to come. Using powerful in-memory compute technology and a modern, data-based infrastructure, we can rapidly process that data and share it with mode 1 systems to create a more complete view of the business, its opportunities, and potential disruptors.

      There is no need to replace the technology that is working, however. Most companies will be able to retain their existing mode 1 systems. Teams can stand up new mode 2 systems and develop integrations between mode 1 and 2, allowing them to connect these systems to new sources of data.

      Read more in Digitalist Magazine

       

      BIMODAL IT AT NORDCLOUD

      We are ranked globally #2 by Gartner capability assessment in Mode 2 use cases such as supporting agile applications and cloud native transformation. We can help you move away from legacy applications and update your workflow with modern, cloud-based applications that are tailored to solve your most challenging problems. Benefit from scalability, and easier and more flexible management.

      How can we help you take your business to the next level? 

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        Agilifying the release cycle of a business-to-business service

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        Why go fast when you can go hyper-fast?

        Customer needs are nearly impossible to predict when developing new products. However, if your product development process is agile enough, you may be able to respond to customers’ arising demands on a short notice.

        The importance of reaction time much depends on the business and the competitive environment. The tougher the competition and the lower the cost of switching service providers, the more pressed you are to react in a timely fashion.

        While every software company nowadays markets themselves as lean, agile, nimble and fast moving, how often do these slogans realize in everyday operations? Do some companies really have special tools to accelerate development?

        Nordcloud Solutions secret overdrive switch

        For several years, we’ve been helping energy management company Enegia to maintain their competitive edge in the digital channel. In late 2014, Nordcloud Solutions came along to co-create a new cloud-based reporting platform EnerKey. During our collaboration, we’ve been lucky to witness and grasp several opportunities for structural change in the development process.

        In under three years, many things have happened. Nordcloud Solutions experts have participated in renewing the architecture. The changes towards a micro-architecture have enabled splicing the back-end development to smaller sections which can be independently developed. This has consecutively sped up the front-end development as well.

        Automated testing is another must-have feature. It enables the confident delivery of new features in short intervals. After its launch in mid-2015, the service has landed on a smooth development flyway.

        There were 7 releases in 2015.
        32 in 2016.

        Senior project manager Kimmo Kinnunen from Enegia counts that in the past 12 months the development team has been able to release 20 major feature releases plus ten bug fixes!

        This speed has far exceeded earlier expectations of quarterly releases. And there is no going back. Kimmo describes the situation as follows:

        “We’re now able to move things quickly from designer’s desk to development and production. There is no need to revisit old ideas ten months after inception and try to recall what we were thinking. The pipeline goes so fast and we will focus on improving production features rather than redefining designs before a major release.”

        There is no secret switch

        With Enegia, Nordcloud Solutions has not pulled any single extraordinary magic trick. Our software architect Mikko Kärkkäinen has been working on the project for over two years. He attributes the vices of the current process to several development decisions.

        “Our thinking is focused on doing the minimum viable thing. Starting with small releases and doing consecutive releases that extend and augment the MVP.

        Behind small releases, we have a microservice architecture that is the enabler for developing small, individual features. And of course, there’s test automation and continuous integration in the development environment that help to get these smaller tasks done fast. ” Mikko says.

        Smaller, more frequent releases force everyone to think differently. But it is also more rewarding as the individual development tasks are completed, and even released in a matter of days, not months.

         

        The only way is forward

        We’re on a good track here. I can’t imagine slowing down, but then again, we have no need to go much faster”, says Kimmo Kinnunen.

        The new platform development is slowly but surely catching up previous generation service in terms of feature scope. The old service is expected to retire next year as Enegia team with Nordcloud Solutions and another contractor has pushed some 20 new feature releases to the new EnerKey platform.

        The transition is not only about replacing outdated technology, but also exploiting the benefits of speed:

        “We’re finally able to address customer requests in a more timely fashion. If we decide to prioritize a new feature, it can be a matter of weeks to its release on the new platform and with the current process.

        If the release of a new feature after its design and development is delayed by several months only due to slow release cycle, this will negatively affect the return-on-investment”  Kimmo recounts.

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          Nordcloud’s Fast! Makes Finland’s Top 5 Fastest Growing Tech Companies (Again)!

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          Nordcloud comes fifth in Deloitte’s 2017 Technology Fast 50TM

          Helsinki, December 1st, 2017. Nordcloud, the Nordic’s market-leading public cloud provider has been named one of Finland’s fastest growing technology companies by global consultants Deloitte.

          Nordcloud was placed at #5 in a list that ranks the fastest growing technology companies in Finland based on revenue growth, having established itself as the fastest growing public-cloud managed-service provider in Europe.

          The company has set ambitious targets for the years leading up to 2020. Nordcloud is aiming to quadruple its size with annual revenue to reach over €200m. It expects to almost double its staff in the next year alone, by recruiting more than 150 people to maintain its high levels of customer service, R&D, and international expansion.

          “Having topped the Finnish Fast 50 in 2016, this year’s results confirm that we’re continuing to grow incredibly strongly as we mature as a business,” says Nordcloud CTO Ilja Summala. “The company was launched in 2011 with a clear vision, inspired by the potential we saw for cloud services to give businesses the flexibility and speed they need to innovate, transform the way they do business, and develop their services.”

          “We’ve achieved this result with the help of outstanding partners and customers”, says Summala. “Together we’ve been rolling out our vision of transformed corporate IT using hyperscale cloud and software, with the greater agility and efficiency that brings”.

          Nordcloud is focussed on building a full-stack cloud-native system integrator with the aim of being the top Europe-wide choice and one that also addresses specifically European concerns such as compliance with EU regulations, as well as having a local presence on the ground in every territory where it has customers.

           

          About Nordcloud

          Founded in 2011, Nordcloud is a European leader in public cloud infrastructure solutions and cloud-native application services. Since 2012 it has completed more than 300 successful deployments that have helped its enterprise customers reap the full benefits of the cloud, including better security, agility, scalability and reduced costs.

          Nordcloud is forecast to turnover €50M in 2017 and employs 250 people at offices in Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo, London, Munich, Amsterdam, Poznań and Malmö.

           

          The Deloitte Technology Fast 50

          The Deloitte Technology Fast 50 programme lists the 50 fastest growing technology companies in Finland based on revenue growth over the previous four years. The Finnish Fast 50 is part of Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 EMEA and Global Technology 100 programmes and includes all areas of technology: from Internet to biotechnology; from medical and scientific to computers and both public and private companies.

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            How to support cloud and digital transformation? Build an agile company

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            The cloud is designed to be agile. Its versatile platform allows your business to respond quickly to changes in the market and embrace digital transformation. But for cloud to work effectively you need more than just the right technology – you need the right culture.

            ‘To support this rapid, iterative optimisation of our business the internal organisations that staff, fund, manage, and reward our people need to exhibit that same level of agility,’ writes Jeff Gothelf in the Harvard Business Review.

            Here are three ways you can build an agile company culture that supports the cloud, so you can get the most out of your digital transformation.

            1. Share a common vision

            Digital transformation is like rowing a boat; if one person is rowing in the opposite direction, it makes hard work for everyone else. Likewise, you won’t be able to push forward with the cloud if you’re faced with resistance from a few uncommitted employees. To ensure everyone is on the same page, you need a shared vision that they can believe in.

            ‘This common vision,’ according to PwC, ‘enables businesses to develop flexible organisational designs, adaptive management techniques, and efficient operations.’

            2. Abolish the hierarchy

            Not entirely, of course, but loosening the reins to give employees more decision-making power will drive your business forward. The agile methodology is founded upon making small but important decisions quickly so you can make progress.

            While the decision may not always be the right one, because the changes are smaller it’s easier to backtrack than if you wait months for a decision to come through several layers of management.

            3. Make it a business goal

            ‘Future innovations are not limited to technology and product development,’ says Yang Yuanqing, Chairman of Lenovo Group, ‘but more importantly, they are driven by the business model.’

            For the cloud and digital transformation to be adopted across the entire business, it must become ingrained in all your processes, not just one small silo. Someone has to be the champion that drives this integration forward and ensures that the agile methodology becomes a core part of your business operations.

            Process first, technology second

            ‘If you are building a service-oriented architecture, you can do it just from an IT perspective, and that’s an interesting exercise,’ says George Glass, chief architect at BT Design. ‘But if you do it as part of a business transformation, and you start becoming an agile enterprise, you can really start to leverage the benefit.’

            Traditional approaches have held big businesses back, allowing their competition to jump ahead. Infrastructure in the cloud enables teams to achieve transformation with agility, allowing for business innovation and, ultimately, growth.

            Embracing the cloud and digital transformation has the potential to push you far ahead of the competition, but it all starts with an agile culture.

            If you’d like to learn more about creating an agile company culture, contact us here

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