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Q&A with Marco Calzolari

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Marco Calzolari, CEO @Agile Reloaded.

How could you describe your career path in a few words? 

I started my career as a project manager at a software consulting firm while completing my degree in philosophy. Prior to that, I was a web designer and managed a team of ten people at a small company. Over the years, I experimented with agile practices and met several people with whom I decided to start our own coaching agency. We are now a network of professionals who offer training, coaching, and consulting on the adoption of agile product development practices, as well as the organizational and cultural changes that make them possible. I have applied agile practices directly with the teams I have worked with and at a company where I was general manager for several years. This allowed me to experience firsthand both the benefits and challenges of their application. I have learned how important it is to work in parallel on processes and culture, including the customer's, in order to avoid considering agility as a set of tools and not as a paradigm shift.   

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


Agile practices have always focused on people, after a period of two decades in which everyone focused on technology and tools. In the last two years, the size and nature of companies that are interested in agile practices has shifted from software development to service delivery or the production of goods that do not necessarily involve software as a product, but rather as a channel. This has shifted the need for agility to areas where it was not previously felt to be necessary (even though it is). However, the fact that, unlike what happened with software development practices, the agile movement has not involved people management, procurement, or organization design practices outside of development teams has slightly diluted the value proposition of agility. People expect results from the first adoptions. In reality, iterative and incremental practices are not a way of working, but rather a way of discovering how to work better. For example, how to review the organizational structure, access to information, and decision-making hierarchy to continue to thrive in a market that is changing radically and quickly.  

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

Every agile transformation has its own unique characteristics and features, depending on the market context and corporate culture. I can cite two opposite approaches: a cautious approach that involves starting with pilot projects to test whether or not it is appropriate to adopt the practices on a large scale, and a massive approach (big bang) that involves a more or less long phase of planning and then launching several initiatives distributed across multiple teams, to which the rest of the organization is coordinated. The first approach has the advantage of an experimental approach, but very often conditions are created ad hoc for a pilot project that make it possible and that cannot always be recreated for all subsequent projects, so the momentum is lost. The second approach, almost always adopted by large companies such as banks or telecoms, has the advantage of understanding many aspects of a transformation, but it risks overestimating the need for specific practices or over-standardizing. It is important to consider the differences that each team or business area may need to have in the practices, in order to better adapt to the mix between customer, service, and type of value to be generated over time. In summary, each way has its positive and negative aspects, which however can be integrated. The important thing is to involve people in doing it.  

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

Agile practices will certainly continue to be relevant, evolving at the same time to adapt to how businesses are transforming (shorter timescales, cultural aspects of people engagement, remote working, supportive technologies). The challenges will probably involve returning to the basic principles of the manifesto, which can fundamentally guide any work practice, and integrating new decision-making tools (AI, data) that transform the way a team member can contribute to the success of their team's project.  

I strongly believe it is very important to remember that agility is a way to collaboratively find the best ways to work, without taking on too much risk during the execution. For example, hoping to become faster right away is wrong: speed (such as a shorter time to market) is achieved after understanding how to involve the customer, stakeholders, and team in making better decisions and building products that are more ready for future evolutions. Similarly, it is important to avoid the mistake of considering Scrum (or agile scaling frameworks) as a ready-made recipe: each company needs to start with a model and then measure the effectiveness and map the impediments, evolving their way of working accordingly in an iterative, incremental, and more transparent way.  

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