Interview with Siddharta Govindaraj

Today we interview Siddhartha Govindraj, who specializes in Lean/Agile processes for software development. He has also contributed in the book "Beyond Agile: Tales of Continuous Improvement" published by Modus Cooperandi Press, Feb 2013 and Published in the March 2011 issue of the Cutter IT Journal on "Use of Kanban in Distributed Offshore Environments". An occasional organizer of events as a part of Chennai Agile User Group and speaks in conferences in India and abroad.

He was nominated for the Brickell Key award in 2011, an award given by the Lean Software & Systems Consortium for recognizing achievements in the lean-agile industry and is also a Fellow of the Lean Systems Society.

He is very interested in the behavior of decentralized and distributed systems.

Agile becoming mainstream now, how do you think the world of project management has changed?

In one way, yes….. definitely more and more organizations are seeing the value of agile in terms of incremental development and faster time to market. However, there are a few aspects where agile is still to make a significant mark. First, the people aspect of agile has still not fully permeated into the culture of many organizations. The idea that motivated, self-organized teams can deliver better software is not yet in the mainstream. I also think that many companies need to invest in the technical environment. The third aspect that companies often neglect is looking at delivery as an end to end system in the organization. Agile is often applied at the team level, and systemic impediments are not fixed. So there is still a long way to go. 

While older companies have a tough time with transformation, the good news is that newer companies like Facebook have been agile right from the start. Over the next decade, success of these newer companies will establish the culture for the whole industry.

As someone who creates tools for Agile and Lean project environments, please tell us what according to you is the most important: the tool or the expertise of the project manager?

Of course the expertise of the people in the project is the primary criteria for success. Where tools will help is in aiding decision making so that people (both within the team, and management) have better insights to take better decisions. 

This questions also leads to an interesting difference between agile project management tools and traditional project management tools. In agile, a lot of decisions are taken by the self-organized teams. Hence the tools need to be able to support the needs of the team. If the team decides that the tool is an overhead or is not adding value to them, then it becomes worthless. By contrast, the primary need of traditional tools is targeted towards managers, who are the decision makers to micromanage the team. 

A big problem is when an agile tool is used in a traditional way – i.e. the team does not feel the value, but is forced to use it so that the managers can micromanage them. My personal opinion is that tools that encourage this behavior rarely lead to truly agile culture. 

Tell us why you decided to create your software and did you use agile way of managing it while n development?

The previous answer has some insight into why we launched our tool. We saw that many organizations implemented tools which support agile mechanics, but not the agile mindset. Such tools get deployed, teams hate to use them but are forced to do so because the management doesn't trust the team and wants to control exactly what is going on in the team. Well, guess what? The team only updates the tool rarely and the data is unreliable so it helps nobody. This does not help build an agile culture. 

What we wanted to do was to build a tool that a team will find easy to use and useful for their own self organization. Basically, we took traditional, proven methods that teams use in a physical space -- card walls, task boards, story maps and so on, and made them available in an electronic format. This gives the benefit of electronic tools, while still being in a format that teams find useful for themselves. 

What according to you are the 3 qualities that every Agile Project Manager should have?

First, curiosity to keep learning. Secondly, soft skills to connect with people (within the team and outside) and build relationships. Finally, the ability to influence people and drive change and improvement. 

I haven't said anything about knowledge of agile. This is easy to learn, and anyone can learn what a product backlog is and how a particular process works. But the qualities above are difficult to train, and very crucial for agile success.

If someone new, stepping into Agile Project Management asked you about the 3 books to read, what would you recommend?
My favourite three books are:

1. Agile Software Development -- Alistair Cockburn (Quick note: This book isn’t about agile, but methodologies in general. It’s a great background about how and why agile works, but perhaps not what you are looking for if you want to know specific mechanics like how to story point a story)
2. The principles of product development flow -- Donald Reinertsen 
3. Kanban -- David Anderson

Where can someone find the link to your software and your books?
I've also been a contributor to this book -

Thank you very much for your time.