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Q&A with Luca Minudel

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Luca Minudel, CEO - Lean-Agile Coach & Trainer.

How could you describe your career path ?

I got into professional software development when I was quite young, as a software developer, with a background in Computer Science. At the time, the world was mainly analogue and disconnected. Software development was gradually shifting from being an individual sport to a team sport, and starting to become an industry. We soon found ourselves at the centre of the Internet and Web revolution, facing an unprecedented exponential acceleration of change and innovation. We were excited about all the possibilities in front of us, limited only by our imagination. We were always searching for better ways of fulfilling customers and users’ needs and growing digital solutions that could be supported, maintained, evolved in tune with the evolving needs and wants of a changing world. And for that we felt the need to rewrite the rules of the game of software and digital products development. That got me into Agile Software Development, Lean Software Development and Complexity-thinking. Many years of experience later, I became a Tech Coach, and then I started helping project managers, product owners, tech leaders, senior managers, execs and whole organisations finding better ways of working and better ways of tackling the pervasive, persistent and exponential complexity of the modern world. I’m now consulting, advising, mentoring and coaching informed, guided, and inspired by Agility, Lean and Complexity-thinking. Today, I’d describe myself as an organisational gardener, culture curator, collaboration orchestrator, delivery facilitator. I’m also an author and a public speaker.

How do you think agile practices have transformed companies over the past two years?

Amid the Internet and the Web revolution around the 1990s, software development was becoming a significant economic activity. At the time, the prevalent approach to work was enforced on software development but tuned out to be unsuitable. Indeed it caused widespread failures witnessed by everybody and documented also by the Chaos Reports of the Standish Group. The attempt of doubling down on those outdated approaches (e.g. with the creation of the Software Capability Maturity Model by the Software Engineering Institute and later the emergence of monumental methods of work such as the Rational Unified Process) did not help. Instead, new revolutionary lightweight methodologies, their empirical and adaptive people-centred way of working and thinking, and their extreme technical practices proved dramatically effective in addressing the complex problems software development was encountering. Agile Software Development was born. At a time when barely anyone knew what Agile was, it gained prominence through a long series of self-evident, repeated, and continuous successes thanks to a few rogue teams and courageous executives. Today many established practices like teamwork, build and deploy automation, test automation, continuous delivery, and many others, have their roots in Agile Software Development. Due to these successes from around 2000 until around 2010, Agile became mainstream.

In the process of becoming mainstream the fundamental paradigm shift brought by Agile has not been fully grasped by many individuals and organisations. This provoked numerous misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Agile, key elements that make Agile work have been overlooked, while new monumental rigid frameworks have been sold as “Agile” overall diluting Agile effectiveness. Between about 2020 and 2020 this led to Agile imposition, teams disempowerment, overcomplicated prescriptive processes, divisionalisation and departmentalisation, and dependency on control and forecasting, all leading to more failures. See, for example, here and here.

In the last few years the awareness around this problem has grown, and a general movement toward the fundamentals that make Agile work has started, including a renewed interest in Complexity-thinking that offers new thinking and working tools to understand and approach successfully the paradigm shift that Agile brought to life and that makes it successful.

What successful cases of agile transformations have you had the opportunity to observe that have particularly stood out to you?

There are iconic successes of Agile adoptions from the past that are worth remembering. Like that of the Connextra team. Where many new practices were invented.

Myself, I supported the adoption of Agile and Lean ways of working in Scuderia Ferrari F1 racing team, a fast paced environment characterised by continuous technical innovations and rapid changes that inherently require a high level of Agility to survive and to win. ThoughtWork, is another company I worked for, it is a technology company that pioneered Agile Software Development and earned its reputation for its ability to successfully develop and deliver difficult and ambitious innovative software projects.

Then there are also several examples of large organisations that achieved agility at scale with tangible and lasting benefits for their business. A few of these well known examples include HP LaserJet (2008-2011), LinkedIn (around 2011-2013), Microsoft (2008-2018). Among these there are also other companies that do not explicitly mention Agile, but still work in ways that are aligned if not directly rooted in many practices and ideas from Agile Software Development, such as for example Netflix and Amazon. None of these large companies used any monumental allegedly "Agile" framework. See more examples here

Will agile practices continue to generate interest? What challenges do you see in the context of adopting these practices?

Agile Software Development success is founded on a paradigm shift that puts people at the centre. That creates an engaging work environment that attracts and empowers virtuous individuals and autonomous teams who want to contribute their talent and creativity to the company every day to drive innovation. And that puts users and customers first, at the root of the ways of working and in everyday decisions they are put even before stakeholders. It requires an empirical and adaptive approach to work and to risk management and oblique problem solving. And it needs to be iterative and incremental, to embrace technical excellence, and transparency, and multidisciplinary collaboration and teamwork, and social continuous learning in the open.

Nonetheless most organisations still have a playbook which includes many outdated principles, practices, assumptions and a leadership style that dates back to the industrial revolution, and that contributed to the demise of companies like Blockbuster, Kodak, and BlackBerry. Often such companies view or practice work in a linear, deterministic, reductionist, centralised, predictive manner, with prescriptive processes, pressure for standardisation of practices often selected centrally and/or top-down, organising software development activities sequentially as in an assembly line, with phase-gates and related processes that assume workers are the weak and unreliable link.

Due to globalization and the digital revolution all these organizations are facing increasingly complex problems that are becoming more and more pervasive and persistent with a rate of change and innovation that is accelerating exponentially. The paradigm shift that was first brought by Agile and that is fundamental to tackle complex problems and to thrive in the modern complexity is still today absolutely relevant and fundamental. For that reason there is a renewed interest toward those original Agile practices and ways of thinking and working that were lost when Agile crossed the chasm, together with a new interest in Complexity-thinking.

Shifting the paradigm and changing the way of thinking is inherently challenging. Some of these challenges include learning to recognise and understand complex problems, learning to resist the anxiety of control, tolerate uncertainties and ambiguity and confusion, and not succumbing to the temptation of conveniently simple and convincing narratives, learning to become a lifelong learner without being blinded by what we already know today and without succumbing to the obsolescence of our skills, learning how to help organisations continually reinvent themselves to remain relevant, and learning a new leadership style fit for complexity and that is based on being present instead of busy, being authentic, bringing and making space for people that bring their humanity at work, empathy, collaboration, curiosity and courage to experiment and take calculated risks.

Without all this many companies remain trapped by the dependency on control and forecasts and keep running in circles without getting anywhere. Sometimes switching from one silver bullet to another, but without changing one iota.

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