Learning from Ken Judy about instilling Agile values

The other day I listened to a podcast with Ken Judy about Agile, incremental product development. As a VP of Engineering at US publisher Simon and Schuster, it was interesting to hear him talking about him and his team instilling a culture of iterative development within the business. I then found a draft for a talk that Ken Judy delivered earlier this year which address the interest subject of “Instilling Agile Values for Creativity, Self-Improvement and Organisational Change – A Manager’s Perspective.”

I guess another thing to take into account is that Ken Judy is not a consultant but a practitioner who is learning by doing. Before going into his proposed ways of instilling Agile values, he reminds of the core underlying values of agile:

  • Collaboration over negotiation
  • Working software over specification
  • People over process
  • Responding to change over following a plan
  • “Quality over crap” (a useful addition by Bob Martin)

Judy’s draft talk reads more like a ‘note to self’, which is rather nice (I sometimes get fed up with some Agile ‘experts’ preaching Agile as the Holy Grail) and provides a clear link between proposed values and desired (organisational) outcomes.

There were a few ‘obvious’ suggestions in the draft (e.g. “don’t lie to your team” and “be honest about challenges”) but there were some really useful thoughts in Judy’s piece:

  1. Involve your team in decision making – Whether you call it democratic or Agile, involving the team in making those decisions which are likely to have a major impact on their working conditions, is an import value. Team input in decisions on team hires or project approach are good examples of this value.
  2. Have patience with the people in your team! – And have the faith that people can change or adapt their behaviour over time. It may sound like an obvious but I’ve seen many organisations were people were pigeon holed as ‘slow’ or ‘not a team player’, without management spending time and effort in trying to changing certain behaviours (focussing on finding a workaround instead).
  3. Get the teams into conversations – One of the things I really like about the Agile approach is that it’s based on a collaborative team effort whereby the team as whole takes responsibility for scoping a project and planning a sprint. Judy stresses the importance of getting team members involved in conversations, in brainstorming sessions (as early on as possible, I’s like to add to that).
  4. Focus on what you’re trying to achieve – I’ve seen a too often that people get a bit too hung up on Agile methodology and sticking closely to the Agile ‘rules’. Judy reminds us that’s ultimately about the desired outcome that you and your team are looking to achieve. I agree that this is an import value to bear in mind and not to forget that Agile in itself is an iterative and continuously evolving methodology.
  5. Providing the right amount of information is key – Another important value; keep it transparant but do be clever about the amount of info you share with your team. This means not overloading your team with (irrelevant) info but at the same time not acting as a ‘black hole’ in which all info disappears.
Main learning point: especially when you’re an Agile practitioner yourself or when you’re working with dedicated, cross-discipline teams, I believe that Ken Judy’s points about Agile values and how to best instill them act as a good reminder. Which values you end up implementing and how, depends largely on factors such as organisational context, the composition of the team and the nature of the product or project that you’re working. Above all, I like the fact that Judy stresses the iterative nature of Agile, where nothing is set in stone and where people like him learn and adapt on a constant basis.


Related links for further learning:






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