Agile Profile: Doug Birgfeld

Doug BirgfeldAgile Profile is a regular feature highlighting leaders in Agile government.


Doug Birgfeld
Director of Project Management Office and Agile Center of Excellence
State of Maine

What led you to adopting Agile?

Many organizations look to Agile as a means of getting better and more predictable delivery results for software products. Truthfully, I came to Agile for that very purpose. I was a dev team manager with meager staffing and work requests coming at us from every direction. I needed to control the traffic and give my customer something in return for that control. I promised faster, smaller, higher quality products. We did it. Yahoo, but… We noticed something else.

We noticed that the team was happier. We noticed that our customers were less interested in micro-managing us. We also noticed we had some bigger issues. We had a hard time keeping the backlog full. We had enough BA’s, but we couldn’t get the stories complete enough. We had some issues with our code base. Our releases were not as clean as we’d like.

In the old days we took months to accomplish one change — now we were doing five to ten new features per sprint. Our tech and our management structure could not keep up.

We had to change something.

When I came to be the Agile COE director I was still thinking about the roadblock we hit in my little team. As I put the COE together and we began to expand I noticed that some groups went like self-assembling super giant anime robots, and some continued to struggle. What was the difference?

It was culture. New teams with no cultural baggage rocked, while the more established team with tons of history lagged. “Awesome,” I thought, “Let’s fix that culture!”

This work is ongoing but results are promising. Here, finally, is what Agile means to me:

Agile, when you are dedicated enough to do it right, is an engine for creating healthy empowered productivity ecosystems. It exposes the flaws and barriers to success clearly and quickly, which also begs leadership to address items that can be ignored otherwise. And it gives leadership the very tool it needs to fix the issues. An empowered team with the right skills, the right guidance, and the right support.

What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?

This question takes on a slightly different context in the sphere of COE director. I am not just working with one customer or a few teams but attempting to convert an entire state government to growing their organizational effectiveness through the tenets of Agile. My challenge is to help the greater organizations understand the difference between three archetypal roles. The understanding of those roles also informs what an aspiring Agile manager needs to do to get started.

These roles are:

  1. Customer
  2. Producer
  3. Deliverer

It is very important that those concepts are well understood and accepted to get tracking on Agile proliferation. I am currently working on an article about this called “Free-Milk and the Cow.”

How’s that for a teaser?

What length were your sprints when you were initially implementing Agile?

We standardized to three weeks right from the get go. We have many non-Agile team dependencies to get a release out, so three-week sprints provide an extra week to let them catch up. It also allows a week each month to fully do retro, while making sure our customers have time to digest the release. Two weeks was just too fast for the current ecosystem, though our super tight Agile teams would prefer it.

What training do you recommend for other government agencies looking to adopt Agile?

We offer and recommend training to everybody who may contribute to an Agile effort. Specifically, we offer Agile training to executives, managers and developers.

For people who will practice Agile in the matrix, we require:

  1. Certified SM training
  2. Product Owner Training
  3. Business process analysis
  4. Story Mapping

To be considered 100% scrum practitioner enabled we require two sprints as an apprentice and CSP or CSPO or Coach. We also provide direct Agile coaching to new teams. Support like this is extremely important.

2017-04-23T23:02:53-08:00 August 12th, 2015|Categories: Agile government, Agile Q&A, Maine|Tags: |

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