On Enterprise-Level Agile and Software Development: An Interview with Dr. Charles Suscheck

[interview]
Summary:

Dr. Charles Suscheck is a nationally recognized agile leader who specializes in agile software development adoption at the enterprise level. In this interview, Charles discusses enterprise-level agile and Scrum, convincing management to take to agile, and what the new year will bring us.

Dr. Charles Suscheck is a nationally recognized agile leader who specializes in agile software development adoption at the enterprise level. In this interview, Charles discusses enterprise-level agile and Scrum, convincing management to take to agile, and what the new year will bring us.

Jonathan Vanian: We are on, and this is Charles Suscheck. Thank you very much for taking the time for chatting with me. Charles, you've been writing with us for quite a while now, and so why don't you give a little background on yourself for some of the readers who might not be familiar?

CS: I've been in the computer industry since the '80s. That's when I got out of high school; went right into the college after that. I've got a bachelor's, master's, and doctor's in computer science, and I just love the industry. I used to work at Colorado State University for a good four years as a professor, teaching all sorts of great programming languages. I used to do Cobol programming. I used to do dot.net programming, but the important part is I had a really hard childhood.

I knew I had a hard childhood because my family didn't like kids. The way I knew that is, everybody else had a sandbox except me. I had a quicksand box. Eventually, I was an only child.

Other things of importance: My dad was a discount exterminator. He'd run around the house with a rolled-up newspaper. That's what's important about me.

JV: He was a bug finder.

CS: Yeah, a bug finder.

I'm been working in agile for quite a number of years. Started out in about 2001 and applied it very naively, just like everybody else. I've learned a lot over the years. Worked with a lot of really big companies, some large companies that had over 100 projects, fifteen agile coaches on staff. Right now, I'm taking to a company that has 2000 people, firing up a project using a scaled-agile framework. It's a horrifying thought, scary, that much work at once.

I've worked with some small companies with some really smart and great people. In fact, a lot of your writers, too.

JV: What got you into agile in the first place, and why did you make that leap?

CS: I used to be a rational unified process coach, just like everybody else that was in agile at that point. I found that it made life horrifying for developers and a lot of other folks in the industry. Not the process itself, but the predictive nature of it. People would be backed into the wall on delivering software in a certain timeframe, which didn't make any sense, and I started to find out about agile and understanding the empirical, emergent nature of it, and it really makes life better for people. It's a humanistic type of approach.

That's really what got me into it is it helps people. It's not so much about the making money but about being honest and helping folks.

JV: When you first started, what sort of stumbling blocks did you experience, and what lessons did you learn from doing those first transitions?

CS: I'd rather not talk about those first times and sound foolish, but I can tell you that the biggest changes I've had over the last few years is just understanding how it really flows from the Deming approach of "Plan, do, inspect, and adapt," and how that kind of an approach makes so much sense.

Really, honestly, I think a lot of the work that I do is giving people permission to work together rather than have the worker-bee mentality where management tells you what to do and you come back and say, "Yes, sir. I will do that," even though it doesn't make any sense. It's the collaboration. That was the biggest learning I've had.

One of my friends said something interesting about the difference between Scrum and XP. I always thought of Scrum as you're doing little time boxes, plan, do, inspect, adapt. He said, "You know, that's really good, but XP is more about the feedback and getting feedback going quickly," so there's a difference in the two. That was an interesting way of looking at it.

JV: It's that stream of communication. It's almost like keeping everyone in the loop and always being on top of things.

CS: Being honest about it, too, as you work together.

JV: Right. Actually, why don't you explain a little bit about the honesty aspect of it?

CS: I'll give you a great example. I worked with an insurance company recently, and I asked them, "You have an insurance rate change that's coming, and it has to make that date, right?"

"Oh, yeah. We've got to make that date."

"Why do you have to make the date?"

"Because it went through a government regulatory body, and if we don't make that date…We always make the date, so we've got to make the date."

I asked them, "What happens if you don't make the date?" It was like sticking a hot coal in their eye. I couldn't believe me, and eventually, I got to the point where I talked to them and said, "What happens if you don't?"

"Well, we get a fine."

That was, right there, honesty. Yes, you can miss the date but you'll get a fine, so you've got to weigh that.

What about not making the date and processing the returns manually, or stopping those kinds of returns for a while, those kind of insurance policies, or not having the quality and not testing it all; letting it go and fixing the bugs later?

That's another thing. That's what management does is weigh the different options. It's not that they come down and say, "You will make that date by going … that's it." The honesty is working together with management to say, "Man, I don't know if we can make it. We have to be considering different options at this point and what we can do about that."

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About the author

Jonathan Vanian's picture Jonathan Vanian

Jonathan Vanian is an online editor who edits, writes, interviews, and helps turn the many cranks at StickyMinds, TechWell, AgileConnection, and CMCrossroads. He has worked for newspapers, websites, and a magazine, and is not as scared of the demise of the written word as others may appear to be. Software and high technology never cease to amaze him.

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