The Importance of Trust in Agile: An Interview with Jeff Nielsen

[interview]
Summary:

In this interview, Jeff Nielsen, the senior vice president of engineering at 3Pillar Global, tells us about the key qualities of an effective agile team, the importance of trust in agile teams and how to establish it, and even some of the hot topics of programming today.

In this interview, Jeff Nielsen, the senior vice president of engineering at 3Pillar Global, tells us about the key qualities of an effective agile team, the importance of trust in agile teams and how to establish it, and even some of the hot topics of programming today.

 

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Today we have Jeff Nielsen. Thank you for joining us today.

Jeff Nielsen: Happy to be here.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: All right, can you start us off by tell us little bit about yourself?

Jeff Nielsen: Sure, so me in a nutshell. I build software that people love to use, I build teams that customers love to work with, and I build organizations that developers love to work in. That's my little credo for life. I got a job as a software tester actually, right out at high school, and got bitten by the development bug shortly after that. I spent a number of years as a programmer, architect, tech lead, project manager, that kind of thing.

Then around the year 2000, or in the year 2000, I got exposed to some of Kent Beck's writing on extreme programming and I was fascinated by this. Spent the next three years, trying to figure out how to put together a really high performing extreme programming team at a medium size consultancy, and later a set of teams. Then spent the next four years after that, trying to figure out how to replicate what we've done or take what we've done in having the success with extreme programming and agile software development and see if I could apply at other organizations that were very different from where I learned how to do it, or figure it out how to do it. Really figuring out what was the essence of these ideas, the values, and the principles behind the agile movement as opposed to any specific practices, and how could those ideas in values benefit, like I said a lot of different types of organization.

And since then, I've had a variety of executive roles, either in consulting organizations, or software development organizations actually practicing what I preach. Now, I'm the senior vice president of engineering at 3Pillar Global.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Can you tell us about what 3Pillar Global does?

Jeff Nielsen: 3Pillar works with our clients with businesses to develop successful software products, really focused on seamless and good customer experiences, that's our mission at 3Pillar. We consider ourselves a product development partner. And my particular role I oversee 500 plus software development professionals organized into roughly 60 teams that are in three different locations worldwide.

A lot of smart people building a lot of great software product that we hope is helping a lot of our customers.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: All right, fantastic. You're a big proponent of trust and agile. How has agile development change the landscape of modern software development?

Jeff Nielsen: One of the things I think that, the agile software development movement has helped with, is to help people understand what really goes on in software development. It's one of those things that I think a person that's not a practitioner, someone that hasn't actually been involved in producing software. They can have a very hard time conceptualizing, and there's a lot of I think misconceptions out there about what is software development, how does it work.

Is it just a bunch of guys sitting in around on computer's typing? And you know what's so hard about that? And or is it like building a bridge, or building a house? We call it software engineering. I think the agile movement has been successful at dispelling some of this myths about how software development works, and how it works best. This idea of individuals and interactions being more important than processes and tools.

I think for a long time, we chased up this process tree, just thinking that if we could just figure out the right process, the right approach for building software that our projects would go better and it wouldn't really matter what kind of people we had doing the work, that we just need a better processes. Or if it's all about getting the requirements right up front, and then that's the thing that saves you.

We spent a lot of time as an industry working on better tools for that. If that turns out to be a fundamentally flawed premise this idea that you can specify mostly in advanced what the right system is to build. But, if that turns out to be a flawed premise then where does that leave you? Again I think that's one of the myths that the agile movement has helped to dispel it, that really you learn by doing that the working software part of the agile manifesto.

You're going to learn more by producing software that works in getting into the hands of people than you will by comprehensively documenting everything. I think agile has helped us refocus in general, on the things that actually do make more of a difference that are more of a determine in a project success like collaboration, like communication, and less focus on software development is typing, over that the construction part of software is somehow the expensive part that we have to optimize.

I think I see a lot of organizations focused on, optimizing communication and collaboration and keeping good results, even if their processes aren't perfect, even if their our tools aren't great.

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: Right, you talked about collaboration, and really having good team work there. What are some other key qualities over an effective agile team?

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User Comments

1 comment
Ionel Condor's picture

This was a very nice interview, thank you. 

Indeed agile is about how we would work if we really could trust people and trust comes by making and keeping commitments. So it's a lot about the quality of the people in the team, both soft skills and hard skills. 

 

June 13, 2014 - 10:24am

About the author

Cameron Philipp-Edmonds's picture Cameron Philipp-Edmonds

When not working on his theory of time travel, Cameron T. Philipp-Edmonds is writing for TechWell, StickyMinds, and AgileConnection. With a background in advertising and marketing, Cameron is partial to the ways that technology can enhance a company's brand equity. In his personal life, Cameron enjoys long walks on the beach, romantic dinners by candlelight, and playing practical jokes on his coworkers.

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