Agile Management; is still a mystery!

14 JUN, 2014
by Bikash Mohanty

My Saturday morning is not complete, without me having my usual kadak chai (strong tea) at Sharvana Bhawan South Indian restaurant, right next to my home. They say; I was the first customer to enter their shop, when then opened the restaurant here, two years ago. I know most of the staffs and managers. Some of them run with me in the park during the weekend. There are two managers, who manage this restaurant.

One is very social, a very good friend of mine, runs with me, plays tennis with me etc. I know him for two years now. The other manager is very quite, reserved but not so social. He just does his job, that’s all. The manager who is my friend is travelling now in India and I was served this morning by the other reserved manager.

While eating away my spicy uttapam; I was thinking – how well this reserved manager knows me!!! He delivers what I need, to the exact specification and requirement, time and again. But my friend; the very social manager is full of errors, full of mistakes and therefore full of excuses. He gets away easily, in spite of doing all these errors/mistakes because of his social skills. He keeps blaming the staff, process, his busy lifestyle, faulty machine, electricity, food he had last night for delivering: tea without sugar, uttapam not well cooked, or even coffee in stead of a tea sometime. But I like him. I am a good friend of him and I shall continue to go to Sharvana Bhawan or any other restaurant he works for in the future, because of our friendship. I know nothing he does is intentional but he that’s how he is. But look at the reserved manager – hardly has he done any mistake. He is fully conscious. He may not have social skills and may not know many customers as my friend but whoever he knows, he knows them well and his customers can trust him to deliver right things to them, every time. To get a better/appropriate service, we don't need to know the service provider.

Their working style reminds me to a management style; which we see very often in the IT industry. A management style which is planned, thought through or a management style while is unplanned, which is popularly known as “Agile management”. The main difference between agile and traditional/planned management is that agile management completes small portions of the deliverables in each delivery cycle (iteration) while traditional methods evolve the entire set of deliverables over time, completing them near the end of the project.

Agile management is definitely not my favourite approach. I always thought it is being easily exploited and it rarely works to the hype it has created in the recent past. Places/Management with some deficiencies/intention; often are attracted to agile management. I always have experienced cheating, exploitation, sense of uncertainty during course of every agile based example. A good friend of mine; tried to explain the difference when I went to him to understand the subject better. This is what he said:

“Custom / bespoke software development can be compared with going to a special restaurant and asking to prepare dinner specifically for you (not picking from predefined menu). Make cocktails which are in the list and at the end of the evening you are getting the bill. It might be bigger than you expected, but all the food is consumed.  

As learning, there is 2 major scheme of work in custom development world: 

  • Fixed price & scope of work. You need to make sure your spec is crystal-clear before development starts. You have no flexibility over changes. Bug-fixing already included into development, and based on my practice it is around 30% already included into fixed price. 
  • Dedicated development on agile principles, where all the time spent for the customer is billed. But you have much more control over the changes and flexibility 

And based on my experience 95% of the projects end up having the same budget spend regardless the agreed scheme. Fixed price projects end-up to have to have round of paid change requests, while dedicated development is speedier, because you can introduce changes earlier. “

What are you thoughts? I am still not convinced. All it matters to me when I am acting as a customer or a service provider is effectiveness-effectiveness-effectiveness. That is the only thing drives financial and non-financial success in long term. Everything is short term and I don’t need to explain what the destination of short-termism is. Yes; initially it is very appealing.   

When we deliver the best, what we supposed to deliver; then there is no scope for argument, no scope for excuses, no scope for demand, and no scope for cheating. Let’s ask these questions to find our decisive answer:

  • At the end of the day, the product/service is being effective or not?
  • Shall we use the product/services once again or not?
  • Was it an e asy walk-though or a walking-on-the-edge all the time, during the process?
  • How many errors are made during the service/ in a product?
  • Did the service provider show you their testing evidences ? If not, what is the gurantee that testing / quality check was not over looked?
  • How long it took to get the attention of the service provider when we met with a problem? How quickly the service provider responded to the issue raised? If service provider is taking longer to attend to an issue, the same time should not be charged/billed to the customer or claimed to be spent on working on the issue. This is unethical. Irrespective of anything; a issue raised should be attended with an acknowledgement at least, not with a response after few weeks because we are working as per agile management technique.
  • H ow long it took for the service provider to resolve the issue for us? Is it their own sweet time or as per our requirement?
  • How the service provider did approached the issue raised? With frustration or by providing you confidence that your issue will be resolve in no time?
  • Did the service provider share how they spent their time in resolving the issue? Or they charged you arbitrarily? Did they charge you based on a use of a resource (junior or senior) or they charged you a rate which they thought was appropriate in their mind?
  • Is the price quoted for product / service matching with the similar service provider in the market place for similar type of work and similar quality of work?   We need to ensure we are not over-charged for nothing or for sub-standard work.
  • Did the service provider, provided you with an estimation of how long the product/services are going to take? Did they tell you what is their standard charge rate are?
  • Did the service provider tell you, how much it will cost you to resolve the issue or they tried to understand the issue and categorize it as a “faulty product/ bug in the solution or customer change request”.
  • If a premium price is charged for a service – it has to show in the service quality, for example: robust design, better quality product/services, no/minimal errors, durability, usability, and functionality and being futurist. If these qualities are not there; the service is basic and a premium price should not be entertained, even though service provider has 100+ references, or is a good brand in a market place or is run by a friend. The workmanship and work, both should drive the price, not recommendation, references or promises.

All these shortfalls can not go (ALWAYS) as attributes of Agile Management.  If they do; then were we not better off with traditional management (which is planned and thought through)?   OLD IS GOLD they say. And like my friend said; based on his experience 95% of the projects end up having the same budget spend regardless the agreed scheme . If that is the case; is “Agile Management” worth the pressure/uncertainty/trouble? Agile management has to rise beyond these points to make it a truly appealing and enduring management technique.