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When someone mentions "agile" - what are your associations to the word, both positive and negative?
Andrej: On the positive side, I would say “embrace the change.” The world, environment, customers are constantly changing, and agile mindset is the way how to transform the change from being an “interrupt” or an issue that needs to be dealt with into something that is welcome and we are handling it in the best way we can for the customers. I don’t see a lot of negative if agile is practiced as I believe it should. What I find sometimes is that agile word is being “abused” – used as an excuse to not do things properly, to avoid planning, thinking, documenting, etc. In other words, if you don’t have a process and order, don’t say “I am agile.”
Omar: I immediately associate the word agile with simplicity and common sense. It helps you get the best out of what you have at the moment without losing focus on your goals and dreams. For negative association, I would associate it with fear of change and adaptation. Most humans fear change; the majority of us are comfortable with the security a routine can give us. Agile is a way to feel comfortable while we are constantly changing and adapting.
You’ve been a part of the agile world for a while. Why did you fall in love with it?
Andrej: To me, agile is pure common sense. A process that allows disciplined work while keeping the flexibility and ability to adjust plans according to the needs of the market. Teamwork is essential, and agile helps developing people, growing them by letting them take more responsibility and as a result, also have much more motivated and efficient teams.
Omar: I fell in love with it because it simply works. It is built on common sense, and it hasn't failed me in any project or goal to achieve.
Quite some people say that Nicelabel is among the first companies in Slovenia that began working in an agile way. How, why, and when did that happen?
Andrej: True. We got in touch with agile over a decade ago, in 2006, to be exact. We were growing, and the development team could not afford to continue working in the same way as when we were just a few people. In 2005 we decided to put our development process in writing to have it documented, as this helped existing members to align better and also new members to get on-boarded faster. Just thinking about how we work at that time made us curious, and we started to look at what is best practice, what others do, etc. We started with Extreme Programming practices, adopted Scrum shortly after, incorporated some Lean Software Development practices. Ever since we are reflecting on what we do, how we do it, what we should change, and we are optimizing or changing the process to make it work for us.
Omar: I have been with NiceLabel for seven years. I joined NiceLabel because it was one of the few software companies that were agile back then. So yes, it is among the first companies in Slovenia to work in an agile way.
If you would describe non-agile and agile companies with a metaphor of an animal, what would they be, and why?
Andrej: Sounds like a simple question, but thinking about it - it is not. I guess a lot would associate non-agile with something slow. I will choose an elephant – because they really don’t care what is on their way once they decide to take one direction (that’s what I heard from people being chased by an elephant – I haven’t been on a real safari yet myself). I see a lot of agility in horses: they can change direction at full speed fast, they can adjust to temperature changes on short term (raising their hair from the skin) or long term (growing/losing hair), they are looking for opportunities in the herd all the time, they are curious … The view may be biased coming from a horse owner. :)
Omar: Agile companies remind me of meerkats, a pack of meerkat can have up to 30 members, everyone is busy doing some kind of work, but it is not chaotic! Some of them are on the lookout, some are taking care of youngsters, some are looking for food. Meerkats do a lot of standups. :) Non-agile companies are elephants, they like to take their time planning and then stick to the plan because it takes a huge effort and a long time to execute their plan. But that does not mean that they are not productive, many companies who use waterfall are successful and adaptive. Even though elephants are huge, Asian elephants adapted to living in the jungle by building a set of pathways in the forest that they stomped their feet and then keeping them open so they can move in the thick jungle canopy. They are slow, but it works for them perfectly.
What is one main change you’d love to see in our work culture in companies in the next ten years?
Andrej: Where I see a lot of room for improvement is in cross-functional collaboration. As the company grows over a specific size, the functional units seem to start working in a more separate environment, and this is often a danger that you get the silo effect. People forget how important it is to collaborate with everybody, to exchange views, to share plans, activities, make things visible. Working better together will lead to higher efficiency, eliminate waste and duplications, and help to create a better culture and place to work.
Omar: The most significant change in the work culture is to design work processes around people, not the other way around. Do not create your work culture and then ask your employees and customers to adapt to it. Include the human factor early when you design your work culture. This is important for the success of digital transformation that many companies started or will start soon and will continue in the next ten years.
What is on your bucket list for 2019 that you really want to do?
Andrej: Create a plan for the development of my ranch in the following years.
Omar: Still in my bucket list is to learn more about the Jobs-to-be-Done methodology of designing products and services.
Which (business) book did you read in the last few months that you would recommend and why?
Andrej: Recently, I am more into listening to different podcasts to optimize time while driving. On the business side, I like HBR Ideacast.
As a Director of Engineering at Spotify, Marcin is working to identify, diagnose and remove barriers to execution across a 400+ technology organization, critical to Spotify success, in order to facilitate a predictable and sustainable delivery of value. He sees engineering teams as complex adaptive systems and thus works by applying principles and practices from the domains of agile, lean, systems thinking, and similar to allow for the desired outcomes to emerge in presence of sensible guiding constraints.
After experiencing Scrum methodology in many wrong ways, Matej's wish is to help as many teams as possible to improve the understanding and practical execution of this widely used agile method.
"Balance not only plays an essential role for human beings throughout their lifetime. But the way we grow business models and nurture organizational culture only thrives from a balanced kind of intervention and management."
We chatted with Mike Leber, a host workshop facilitator at Agile Slovenia about his views on agile, the effects of the pandemic, and forecasts for the future.
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