Agile Tour Montreal

November 30th, 2017

It was a pleasure and an honour to speak at the Montréal Agile Tour on November 30th. It was a great chance to listen to world-class presenters and to meet lots of interesting people.

I talked about working with the Autorité des marchés financiers (AMF), and the parallels we have noticed between the five stages of the regulatory process and Agile principles, as well as their commitment to innovation. The AMF follow Agile for their own software development processes, and are pioneering in their support for innovation, FinTech and RegTech – for example through their innovation sandbox, where StartUps can trial new processes and procedures to make sure they are compatible with regulatory requirements. Our existence as a StartUp is evidence of how much the AMF supports Montréal’s innovation ecosystem and we are hugely grateful. I also gave some examples of the difficulties we faced as a brand new StartUp of “hitting the ground Agile” – we had no budget and a fluid team with lots of volunteers rather than a settled team with existing infrastructure to support us. One thing that surprised me was how much I had come to rely on software tools like JIRA to manage the Agile process, and how much software can shepherd you along a certain path, so it was a great exercise to get back to core Agile principles and create a system that we could manage with pen and paper and lots of sticky notes stuck to walls. Our sprints were somewhat fluid and we struggled to figure out velocity very effectively, but nevertheless using Agile gave us a solid project management framework and we were able to produce our first user-testable prototype within 3 months.

There were lots of tracks and too many appealing sessions for me to attend all, but I enjoyed learning from Patrick Gagné about Téo Taxi – a wonderful example of a socially innovative enterprise, supporting eco-friendly driving and with good terms and conditions for drivers. Uber could certainly learn a thing or two from them!

Marilyn Powers and Sue Johnston held a lively session “Do your product owners speak a foreign language?” in which they offered various techniques and methods for encouraging better communication. This is one of my pet topics – I would say it is not just Product Owners but pretty much every group in an organization that develop their own language, and we then have to spend a lot of time making sure we are translating properly. Particularly tricky terms I have encountered are tag, entity, document, archive, category, validation, model, client, and cluster. It can be interesting to see how many different meanings of those terms you can collect from within a single organization. One of the reasons I appreciate Agile, and user stories in particular, is the emphasis it places on ensuring everyone understands what everyone else is actually talking about.

Jeff Kosciejew and Ellen Grove described the process of implementing Lean and Agile at a Bank. This was a lively account of how not to do Agile, followed by how to salvage the situation and turn it into success.

Forecast your project like a hurricane was sound advice from Daniel Vacanti – a reminder that you need a plan, and you need to update your plan frequently because it will change. Some people get disheartened by uncertainty, but once you start thinking probabilistically it become easier to make sensible predictions.

The highlight of the day was the closing conversation with Henry Mintzberg – a brilliant and thought-provoking speaker, never afraid to speak honestly and authentically about his beliefs and concerns for the future. He spoke of the need for Rebalancing Society, as our world – especially the USA – is becoming unbalanced, with the market sector aggressively trying to dominate every aspect of life, and that this is leading to inequality and social distress. The private sector is a great and wonderful thing, but lacks human values, and if we allow the market to dominate, we damage society. For example, making huge profits out of pharmaceuticals and health care is essentially forcing people to choose between financial ruin or death in order to make others rich (and interested me as an example of why we need good and effective regulatory authorities). He pointed out that we routinely refer to people as “human resources” but that in itself is demeaning – taking away our humanity and comparing us to lumps of coal or pieces of wood to be used or discarded at will, simply in order to generate profit.

It is easy to get caught up in the routine tasks of running a business, but no business exists in isolation from society and the wider world, and certainly no business exists without its people.

Fran Alexander