Interview with Israel Gat — “Sometimes we don’t suggest Agile to our clients”

Israel Gat

Israel Gat

I was introduced to Israel Gat at Cutter Consortium by Alistair Cockburn, in the course of my survey about how Agile adoption is going worldwide.

Israel kindly accepted my request for an interview via Skype. It was so interesting  to see how he is looking at the current Agile movement in the U.S., with a background that he has a son who had once lived in Japan.

Kenji: How do you see the Agile movement in your country? Growing ?

Gat:  Yes, and No.

Yes, … more and more teams adopt Agile (Scrum or XP, Crystal Cear, Kanban, etc). In the team level you see the growth, no doubt. However, when it comes to Large Scale, the software method morphs into change management, which can be quite challenging. As a result, Some are are reluctant because Agility doesn’t quite work for them with their budgeting process and portfolio management routines. Hence, they might not get the full benefits of end-to-end agile. The recent Cutter advisor Jens Coldewey characterizes it nicely as “playing Agile” vs. “being Agile.”Quite often I see clients go though mecanics of Agile (i.e. “playing Agile”), without really adopting the spirit of Agile (i.e. “being Agile.”) Various folks, e.g. Stephen Denning, actually doubting Agile can be sustainable without radical change in management.

Personally I believe Agile, or any other software method, needs to reflect the needs of its its time. Because markets, value chains and technological capabilities today are vastly different from those that prevailed in 2001, Agile methods need to evolve to reflect the new realities, the new context of Agile.

Kenji: I agree. I like the word “new realities.”

Gat:  Sometimes we don’t suggest Agile. Ask clients “What is the problem ?” Agile might be a good thing, but sometimes is not not appropriate for the client context. Trying to apply what will work for you in your organization. When waterfall works, it is OK. I run the Agile Practice at Cutter as a marketplace. The market client will determine the appropriate Agile method, not me. I ask Cutter consultants “Please don’t force the client to adopt a specific software method.” Any philosophy is OK. At Cutter we are pluralistic, accommodate multiple school of thought. Statistically speaking, Agile methods tend to works better than more traditional methods. But it is all about which specific software method will be the best fit for the client’s predicaments.

Kenji: What do you think is the main driver of agile adoption ?

Gat: US people tend to be pragmatic. Something starts to work, then they adopt it. In other words, when case study is promising then adopt it. Stephen Denning wrote “Radical Management”, expressing the concerns that we are not doing too well managing software in traditional manner. Similar concerns were expressed by John Hagel III. This combination of pragmatism and Soul searching is a major factor driving Agile methods these days.

Kenji: How are your software projects organized in the U.S.? Are there contracts between business organizations and development teams ? In Japan, there is always a contract between them and the team are composed of sub-contractors. And this sub-contract chain goes on to sometimes 6 levels.

Gat: Diffrenet in different segments of industry. Subcontract is very common in certain industries, ex. healthcare, defense, government and not special in Japan. Process of bid, contract, subcontract with traditional contract. In defense industry, security is critical! It is difficult to form self-organizing teams. SrumMaster needs to have security clearance. Government projects are audited all the time by the Office of the Auditor General. As a result, folks tell me about half of their time goes toward preparing document to audit. This is not quite ‘just enough’… Healthcare stuck with outsouring. Have difficulty with adopting new method. Outsourcers could be reluctunt to move toward Agile, weight in the decision.

Kenji: It is good to know that we are not in a special situation.

Gat: Google, Apple, foursquire, eBay, are highlighted very special few. Many Others does not have expertise to do like them. They have antiquated legacy code in COBOL from 40 years ago. Relatively little written on such less glamorous software realities.

Kenji: How does business owners collaborate in the projects?

Gat: Software companies tend to be different from other industries (retail, healthcare, ….). Other industries, the level of knowledge of software is relatively low. Non-tech executive, who are good at in their business (warehousing, distribution or retail) typically became the CxO level in such companies. Often not sufficiently involved in software. In contrast, Executives in many software companies have feeling and knowledge of software, and more involved.

Kenji: Do you see any economic/cultural/historical/educational reason that promotes Agile adoption in the U.S.? What do you think is preventing us (Japan) from adopting Agile ?

Gat: In the time of Pearl Harbor, Japanese navy was supperior in managing multiple airplane carriers (ships) and launching hundreds of different kind of planes (bombers, dive, torpedo, fighters, etc.) in a synchronize and coordinated manner. In the year 1941 Japan only had this ability, well ahead of any other navy. There is something in Japan well ahead of its time then. Same thing can be found in Toyota, Honda, in the 70’s – the cars were clearly superior. What was is then? Why is not happening today? If we found the answer(s) we would have a clue as to what the answer might be.

Kenji: Ikurjiro Nonaka, the grandfather of Scrum(co-author of  “The New New Product Development Game”) once wrote a book about the US Marine Corps, and he said that they learned a lot from Japan navy. Interesting (The US Marine Corps book is published only in Japanese, but here’s a short interview article of him which gives us great insights.)

Well, thank you very much for your time, Israel.

Gat: Delighted.

Dr. Israel Gat is a Cutter Consortium Fellow and Director of the Agile Product & Project Management practice. He is recognized as the architect of the agile transformation at BMC Software where, under his leadership, Scrum users increased from zero to 1,000, resulting in nearly three times faster time to market than industry average and 20%-50% improvement in team productivity. Among other accolades for leading this transition, Dr. Gat was presented with an Innovator of the Year Award from Application Development Trends in 2006.

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