Company News

Q&A: Agile session with Dr. Michael Rippin, a local CIO

What is your background?

I have spent most of my career in the following roles: Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Director of Software Engineering, and Director of Technical Projects.  I possess a PhD in Information Technology (IT), two Masters Degrees, Scrum Master Certification, and a Scrum Product Owner Certification.  I have attended and spoken at many conferences and trade shows related to IT, organizational effectiveness, management, leadership, and Agile.

What is Agile?

Agile is an umbrella term, but at its core it is simply a framework with several underpinnings that are iterative software development methodologies.  As a point of clarification, many individuals use Agile to mean Scrum, which is technically incorrect, but understandable since the latest stats show that Scrum or Scrum variants are used about 72% of the time for Agile development.

Have you successfully implemented Agile practices?

Yes, I have successfully adopted, implemented, and evangelized Agile methods long before it was ever en vogue to tout as an organization that you were using Agile.  My experience implementing Agile runs the entire spectrum, from Fortune 500 organizations to boutique custom software development and integration firms. 

In your opinion, what are the greatest benefits from using Agile?

There are a plethora of positive benefits from using Agile, a more meaningful way to reply to that question would be to provide insight into many of the reasons why organizations have adopted Agile.  These reasons run the gamut and include: 1) the ability to manage and respond to changing priorities/requirements, 2) increased productivity, 3) improved visibility at both the project and portfolio levels, 4) alignment of IT activities with business objectives, 4) reducing risk, 5) improved software quality, 6) first-mover advantages (quicker time to market), and 7) improving team and department moral.  This is certainly not an exhaustive list but it certainly touches many of the issues organizations confront on a daily basis.

What is the biggest misconception about Agile?

The biggest misconception is that business leader’s view Agile as a panacea that can be instituted over a weekend.  Many leaders believe that regardless of their organizational woes; if they transition to Agile development things will improve overnight.  Case and point, a business leader at an industry  juggernaut bought everyone in the IT department a book written by Ken Schwaber  and after he passed them out said “next week, I want you guys up and running with Agile.” There is no denying this implementation was an epic failure.  Business leaders have to be able to admit when they don’t know something and understand that simply reading a book about Agile will not serve as a cure-all for your business.

I mention the above story not to shine a disparaging light on the executive who bought the book for everyone in the IT department because in this instance he brought to the vanguard the most critical element, he recognized that change was needed.  For a company to realize change is needed is an invaluable first step and it serves as the catalyst for solidifying a base for an organizational/departmental transformation.  

Management is often put into situations where they know they need to do “something,” the partners, shareholders, etc. are irate with organizational performance.  The issue could be related to revenue growth, customer service satisfactions scores, constant late deliveries, poor product quality, cost overruns, etc.  They know they need a change, they know Agile will provide benefits but are unaware of what it takes to conduct an Agile implementation. 

I know firsthand that Agile methods work extremely well; however, they will never serve you well if prescribed as a weekend elixir.

Can you offer an example of how Agile can deliver value for an organization that extends beyond their Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)?

Many decision-makers possess a myopic view when it comes to Agile methods, their mindset is that these practices only impact their organization’s ability to create software products/services.    What if I told you that by not employing Agile methods, has a negative impact on Human Resources (HR) functions in your organization.  I can see all the quizzical faces in mass, after reading that statement.  Many of you are saying, hey wait a minute, I thought these Agile methods were going to help me produce production grade software more efficiently.  Yes they will, they also deliver a slew of positive spill-over effects for your organization. This message is critical for organizations that are laggers on the Agile implementation continuum.  A critical role that HR serves in any organization is recruiting new employees and retaining current staff.  Today’s economy has created an environment that is fraught with HR challenges for all companies.  Consider the fact that today’s labor participation rate is dismal 63%, the lowest since 1978.  A few causes for this being baby boomer retirement, more individuals due to economy have elected to go back to school, and about 9% of the workforce is on disability (a rate that has doubled since 1995).  All three of these factors shrink the available labor pool, which in turn increases the competition for these resources.  What companies fail to realize is that using Agile methods directly impacts your ability to attract and retain top IT talent.  I have had recent discussions at conferences and events with recruiters, HR personnel, IT directors, managers, and executives.  They share with me their experiences about how they lost top-tier talent or cannot attract and secure the right employees.  The most prominent reason given for not taking an offer or leaving a given IT job is related to the stale and antiquated methods used that govern how work is completed.  The perception held by employees and job seekers is that organizations that are not practicing Agile methods are dated, legacy, and out of touch operations.  They see these companies as places that do not embrace change, do not innovate, and do not possess options for career growth.  This entire scenario of factors that are compressing the workforce population overlapped with negative and positive levers an organization can utilize for employee attraction (including Agile), dissatisfaction, attrition, etc. creates a useful causal-loop diagram for HR leaders and hiring managers.

This problem is simple and it’s not based on any contemporary management theory.   It is directly tied the Fredrick Hertzberg’s Two Factor Theory, circa 1959.  His model consists of both motivational and hygiene factors for job satisfaction.  Hertzberg’s Theory is still relevant and needs to include Agile for it to be applicable for a present-day job satisfaction discussion. 

Agile directly influences an organization’s operational capabilities far beyond its IT practices. This example (employee retention and recruitment) is one that is certainly applicable to all organizations and its gaining traction. 

The beneficial tentacles of Agile are far-reaching and the longer it takes for a company to adapt, the further they slide away from operating in a competitive range along manifold dimensions in their given sector.

Share with me your interests other than IT and will you come back to discuss more about Agile or IT topics in the future?

I enjoy playing, coaching, and watching all sports and of course, I would come back for another interview session.

Find more articles posted in Company News