uTest Interview

I “ran” into the nice folks at uTest, and they asked me a handful of questions.

I answered… in a shockingly (for me) succinct way.

1. As a long-time agile coach, you can probably tell right away if agile is going to be employed successfully within a company or organization. If you had to pick one quality or trait that’s required for agile success, what would it be? In other words, what’s the first thing you look for when beginning a coaching project?

[JK] Willingness to change. That’s all I ask. Be open-minded to trying things a different way.

2. Looking back, did you ever think the agile movement would grow to where it is today? What’s surprised you the most about agile’s course over the last decade? The good and the bad.

[JK] No. How could 4 measly bullet points cause so much ruckus?! The biggest problem I see is the co-opting of the term “agile.” That is, folks are doing agile in name only. They don’t really get the subtle nuances about what it means to be agile, and simply go through some motions and try to “do” agile. While learning by doing is a key technique for learning anything new, somehow, many people seem to just do a handful of activities without much reflection or introspection.

3. Fill in the blank: The most common agile mistake development teams make is ____.

[JK] Not thinking. Agile requires continuous use of thinking… Are we improving? Will this help? Should we stop doing this activity? Should we do more of this activity? It takes effort to avoid complacency, which is hard for most of us.

4. From what we read, much of the inspiration for the agile movement originated not in the software space, but rather in the production/manufacturing space. How often (if at all) do you consult on non-software projects and how does it change the way agile is applied?

[JK] I’m not so sure that is true of the original 17 co-authors. While many of the lean/kanban concepts popular today owe their theories to manufacturing/production processes, I don’t recall any of the original folks waxing eloquent about being inspired by some non-software gigs. But I could be wrong. I have consulted on manufacturing automation/tracking/planning processes – and for that, a lot of the agile techniques apply. But I mostly focus on software projects.

5. A previous guest of our blog once referred to the “victims of fake agile” – i.e. the people whose lives were ill-affected by the misapplication of agile. Is this similar to what you refer to as the “pseudo-master of Agile”? And in your opinion, what’s the biggest threat to an organization that adopts agile in a half-hearted manner?

[JK] There have been snake-oil salesmen since the dawn of mankind. If an organization is not able to hire good talent or good agile consultants, then a lot of damage can be done. Although, mostly, it would be the cost of lost opportunity going forward. That is, by not embracing and practicing “Real Agile ™,” the company wastes time, and time just might be money. However, as a counterpoint/cynical view… Most companies that do agile in name only are often large, matrix orgs, where the software is one small aspect of their business. Screwing up Walmart.com likely has very little impact versus someone screwing up their entire logistics system that moves products to stores.

6. We assume (and we could be wrong) that there was a healthy amount of debate amongst the authors of the Agile Manifesto. If so, what was the biggest point of contention within the group and how was it resolved?

[JK] I think the biggest area where we disagreed was the “how long is an iteration” – that is, how frequently should we expect tangible results? Many were at the two-week level, and others (Alistair) were at the 4+ weeks.

7. As a longtime agile coach, you’ve helped countless organization achieve better results with the approach. We’re curious to know when it hasn’t worked so well. Have you ever advised a company or organization to forgo agile in favor of another method? If so, what were the circumstances?

[JK] Agile is ALWAYS the right answer. What can be wrong about doing better with a set of resources? What can be wrong with reducing the gap in time between taking some action, and getting some feedback? Agile is a state of mind.

8. As with any manifesto, people are bound to misinterpret or misapply the main tenets. If you had to single out one particular way that agile has been misinterpreted, what would it be?

[JK] The classic missteps are usually NO documentation and NO design work upfront.

9. As we’re sure you are aware, Agile has its fair share of detractors and skeptics – and they can be a very vocal bunch. Why do you think agile is so strongly disliked in some quarters? And what is the one argument against agile that irks you the most?

[JK] I don’t really care to change people’s minds. The Agile Manifesto is irrefutable, as it gets to the root of human nature in a software development context – and is analogous to the founding documents of the United States. Agile promotes strong, disciplined individual and team responsibility and continuous participation from the development “citizenry.” It is much easier to fall back on some process just because someone wrote it in a book than it is to use your brain. No particular argument irks me, because I don’t care what people with closed minds think. A fool with a tool is still a fool.

10. Fill in the blank: The key to a successful agile testing team is: ____

[JK] being totally involved, working the upstream part of the process in addition to downstream verification.

11. Have you stayed in touch with the other authors of the Agile Manifesto? And have you considered “getting the gang back together” to publish any other materials?

[JK] I “hang” with Ron, Chet, Bob, Alistair, and Martin mostly in cyberspace. We got together for the 10th-year anniversary (the only Agile Alliance conference I went to, as it was paid for). We talked about getting together sooner than in another 10 years because we had a great time. But who knows if it will come to fruition. Much like the USA’s Founding Fathers, they got together for a momentous occasion but then went their separate ways.

12. What’s Jon Kern doing when he’s not helping companies improve their development process?

[JK] I like to mountain climb, hike, drive my Audi on the track or autocross, and ski. But when I am not doing that, I am writing ruby and rails code using MongoDB, git, and the wonderful world of ruby gems. I wish this remarkable constellation of language and tools existed when I was doing C++ way back when!

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Testing the Limits With Jon Kern, Agile Manifesto Co-Author