Agile Malaysia June 2013 Meetup

January 11, 2014 — Leave a comment

Agile Malaysia (Facebook) is a meetup group started by Andy Kelk back in 2011 (when he was at iProperty). It went through a hiatus in 2012 until I met up with Andy to discuss about kickstarting this meetup group again.

Our rationale and purpose behind reactivating this group is simple; as proponents of the Agile (& Lean) movement as the approach to build high performing software development team, both of us understood in order to have a talent pool of Agile developers in the local market (and to grow this talent pool), we first have to start a community of practice of likeminded individuals to engage in a process of collective sharing & learning of each other’s experience along the AGILE journey.

We kickstarted this meetup group with a meetup back in November 2012 at our MYOB office in Bangsar South. Andy has written a nice meetrep for the November Meetup (you can read it here) where we’d Ryan from Thoughtworks as one of our guest presenters who showed everyone a great time with the ball point game.

We’d a couple of more meetups (one at iProperty and another at MYOB) before Experian (another proponent of Agile software development) joined iProperty & MYOB as co-hosts for the Agile Malaysia Meetup by offering to host the June session at their Cyberjaya office.

For the June meetup, Colin (Experian) suggested to have a panel of Agile practitioners – one from each of the three companies – to share their experiences and journey on implementing Agile in their respective business. So we have Daniel Walters, Head of Development at GDC Experian, Chin Wye-Jin, Dev Lead at iProperty (he’s sitting in for Andy Kelks who were unable to make it for this session due to family commitments) and myself representing MYOB. The session was hosted by Colin Pal from Experian.

The rest of this post summed up the answers I shared in this session, some revised thoughts and my own take on Malaysia’s Agile journey to-date.

Host: Can you introduce your organisation, when did you start using Agile and what Agile methodology do you employ?

There were contrasting routes to Agile from the three companies. Experian Hitwise was very much into Agile in Australia and when they decided to set up another development centre in Msia, it was a natural extension of their Agile practices. IProperty picked up Agile when Andy (CIO) joined them about 3 yrs back.

As for MYOB, we started our Agile journey back in 2009 and since then have rebooted (or revised) our Agile approaches three times, evolving from Scrum model into a Lean approach. Last year saw us got back to basics and re-emphasize the importance of master craftsmanship thru the XP practices.

Host: Can all projects be run using Agile? If yes, why? If no, what types of projects are more suited to using the Agile framework?

All three panelist companies are essentially inhouse development teams; with iProperty more “inhouse” than the others since iProperty develops web & mobile apps for their own core business (property aggregator) while MYOB & Experian deliver off-the-shelf web & desktop apps. My thought is an inhouse development structure facilitates adoption of Agile since the “Customer” (in this case usually represented by an internal Product Manager/Owner) would be aligned to the same Agile journey from a company perspective.

Though it’s an assumption that Agile is harder to be implemented for a consulting or service company (since in this case, the development team has to gain the understanding and trust of an external customer!) I do know some regulars in this Agile Msia meetup who have successfully implemented Agile into their service-based business (eg Grass Valley).

Host: There seems to be a big appetite and attention for Scrum methodology in Malaysia in Malaysia vs Lean, XP. Why do you think this is so?

When we asked people to change, that meant asking them to step into the unknowns. The fear of the unknowns can be tempered if we are also able to provide them with a “structure” or “approach” how they can make the change. To experience Agilists, this may be an anti-pattern since the “best practices” are not what some experts penned down in prescriptive format but instead should be the “practices” that work best in your context.

The problem with this thinking is that if I’ve not even get across the line and explore what’s on the other side, how do I know what works (and not works) for my context? This is where I believe SCRUM fits well into the needs of these group of people.

SCRUM provides a structured approach in which a company can implement Agile. There’ll be guard-rails to help ensure things don’t get derail on day one while the team work on unlearning what they knew (in the past) and re-learning what’s now the new essentials. SCRUM provides you with the SHU of the Shu-Ha-Ri model.

And I also quipped that most importantly, SCRUM provides the most-sought after certification path that lot of Malaysians clamoured for! LOL. Those who knew me will know where I stand with regards to such certifications. πŸ˜›

Everyone agreed SCRUM is the dominant Agile approach being used in Msia at the moment. I did share some of the rationale and benefits for moving beyond Scrum once your team has bedded down the basics of Agile, understood why certain ceremonies were being done (as in the real reason why we do those ceremonies instead of doing them becoz the Scrum guidebook says so), and have the experience to relate back to their own delivery process to understand how they can improve in reducing waste, improving throughput and facilitating better collaboration (especially when your team is cross-located which appeared to be the common for most software companies here in Malaysia).

MYOB no longer does Scrum – though we do maintain a lot of their ceremonies like daily stand-up, retro etc – and we are very much into the HA stage (of Shu-Ha-Ri) of adapting our Agile practices to blend the teams from KUL & MEL as seamlessly as we can.

Host: There are Agile purists who believe that a true Agile project team does not have a separation between developer and QA because the project team members need to be cross-functional i.e. programmer can test and vice versa. Is this a realistic goal to aim for in Malaysia?

My take is that as the Agile team gets more experience under their belts in driving the delivery as a cohesive team – instead of a group of individuals – the functional line will blur. Most Agile teams are still thinking along the line of “what can I as a developer (or insert your own role here) do to help ensure…. “.

Contrary to some perception, cross-functional teams do not necessarily mean a BA has to do coding or a Developer has to write story cards. I would rather see this from the other side of the equation – if the BA is bottlenecked with story cards, the team (be it Dev or QA) should come together and asks, “How can each of us contribute to help clear this choke point – story cards – so that our team can move forward?”

Cross-functional team does require everyone in the team to maintain a high sense of curiosity to want to learn beyond their own job scope. To ask of themselves what else can they contribute to move the backlog forward (instead of focusing just on the card we are working on ourselves). The biggest benefit you’ll reap from a truly cross-functional team is the elimination of a single-point of failure (ie BA being sick does not mean the iteration is stalled). Towards this end, you’ll need every individual in the team to harbour a strong hunger to learn beyond what their “normal” job scope requires of them, and to always seek to expand their contribution towards the team.

More importantly a cross-functional will drop all pretense of job titles or job grades once they join into a team. A cross-functional team member is measured by the contribution he brings to the team, and the future contributions he can bring – and not on whether he’s a Senior this or a Lead in that. I think this is one of the biggest hurdle for true Agile adoption here in Malaysia as most people here are still fixated on the notion of incremental promotion. I blame the banking industry and our own ego – well, it’s nice to be called a “Senior Something” right?.

Host: Does Agile help to promote work life balance? Why?

I’m not sure AGILE by itself promotes work-life balance. What Agile does is to actively seek to achieve a sustainable pace in development and once your team gets there, work-life balance is easier to support within the organization.

I do not see work-life balance as simply “Oh ok, I’ll only work 40 hours a week, no more and regardless of what happens to delivery, I’ll keep to my 40-hours schedule.” If your project crashes, you may have achieve balance in your life but I’m not so sure you have balance in your work. πŸ™‚

Agile goes beyond that. As an Agile team, you’ll want to seek to understand what “delivering impactful business values” mean to your stakeholders (without this, there’s no work balance) and then as a team you’ll want to seek the best approach to build a sustainable pace in delivering this flow of business value (that’s getting to work balance within your team) without impacting your life.

Host: What is the Agile landscape potential in Malaysia?

John Sullivan (of MYOB) presented an interesting talk on the Journey of Agile in Australia back in last year’s March meetup, which described how Agile took hold in the Australian software industry over the past 12 years. I see many similarities between the Australian take-up and the way the Malaysian Agile landscape is shaping up which is encouraging.

A few years back, Agile was mostly practiced by startups locally and the early adoptions among larger software houses usually came from those who were already practising Agile in their home offices and when they expand their development centres to Malaysia, the discipline followed (eg Experian and MYOB). Fast forward to today, and we see a wider acceptance that Agile is now proven to improve software delivery practices which led more software houses to consider adopting Agile.

While I can see a wide recognition of AGILE everywhere in the local software industry, most Agile implementation are still in their early maturity stages. With the influx of an international cast of software houses from our MSC initiatives – most of them bringing their own form of Agile delivery, and having community of practices like the Agile Malaysia Meetup group, there should be no shortage of opportunities for all of us to learn from each other’s experience and integrate the learnings back into our own practices to improve our flow even better. And as each of us start to practice the HA stage, I’m personally very excited about the future prospects of AGILE / LEAN / XP in Malaysia and can’t wait to see what the coming months would bring.

Closing

Lastly, let me thank Daniel & Colin for being great hosts and especially to Colin for coming with such insightful questions. I’m sure everyone looks forward to having another Agile Malaysia meetup at Experian! If you are interested in Agile Software Development (regardless if you are practising Agile now), do join our Facebook Meetup Group and you’ll be kept informed of our future events.

FB Event Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/137004856501987/

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