Jim Highsmith


Jim Highsmith was the founding director of Cutter Consortium's Agile Product & Project Management practice.

Aug 242010

In a recent e-mail exchange with Cutter Fellow Lynne Ellyn (SVP and CIO of DTE), she mentioned that one characteristic of agile leaders is providing focus and clarity for an organization or team. Her comments sparked my thinking about why it’s so hard to be a good agile leader. We tend to create lists of what leaders do or their agilelike behaviors, but these lists and the item descriptions obscure the difficulty in actually being an agile leader. Consider providing focus and clarity. It sounds simple, but it’s not. Why do we embrace agility in the first place? Agility helps us manage change and uncertainty. Turbulence — business, economic, and technological — creates change, which Read more

Jun 092010
Change-Resistance versus Doubt

One thing has always concerned me about the tremendous volume of material about change—books, articles, presentations—and that is an underlying assumption that the change (or preferably the adaptation to the change) in question is a good one. With that as an assumption, then the “problem” is how to align everyone with the adaptation. One of the best models for managing change is the Satir curve (Figure 1.0). The model takes us from status quo, through a change initiation that is resisted, causes some chaos as people learn, and finally ends up being integrated into the new status quo, hopefully at a higher performance level. At any point in the process, the “anti-change” forces may prevail Read more

Apr 072010

What is Agile? Is it a set of practices, a set of values, or a set of mind—or some combination of the three? Is it “Doing Agile” or “Being Agile?” Is agile defined by a checklist of offered practices—the Nokia test for Scrum, or checking 9 of 12 practice boxes for XP? Is agile a mindset, an amalgamation of adaptation, embracing change, transparency, collaboration, complex systems theory, or courage? Is agile the frequent delivery of high quality customer value while effectively adapting to change, regardless of specific practices? (Ken Collier) The right-brained and the left-brained are alive and well in this debate. Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind) refers to this as L-directed thinking, “sequential, Read more

Apr 012010

In a recent blog I wrote about replacing Empowerment with Autonomy. The words we use are important as they both convey a specific meaning, but even more, they bring along historical context. In a similar vein, I propose that agilists use Inspire as a replacement for Motivate. Motivate is similar to Empower, it denotes conveying a privilege to another—they are both extrinsic, not intrinsic. Intrinsic things comes from within, they convey something belonging to a thing by its very nature. Extrinsic things comes from without, they are the result of external forces. When a manager attempts to motivate a person or a team, he is trying to influence behavior by offering incentives. When a manager Read more

Mar 242010

I’ve never really liked the word empowerment, it’s just an acronym for delegation. The dictionary defines delegation as—authorizing subordinates to make certain decisions, and  empowerment as—give or delegate power or authority. Many people, myself included, have used the word empowerment to mean something more than delegation, but that extra meaning has been fuzzy. Empowerment has been used in conjunction with self-organizing teams, but often been carried too far, as trying to delegate far more authority to agile teams than was prudent. Similarly, as projects grew from a single team to multiple teams, certain decisions had to be made by specialty teams. So were these teams empowered, or not? Were they “empowered” or “pseudo-powered.” Empowerment also Read more

Agility in 90 Seconds

 Posted by on Mar 18, 2010  1 Response »
Mar 182010

In the early part of the decade Nicholas Cage starred in the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds,” something about stealing cars very rapidly. In the mid-1980’s colleague Ken Orr wrote “The 1-Minute Methodology,” that uncovered the secret to speed—disconnect input from output. If you can steal a car in 60 seconds or execute a methodology in a minute, why not learn to be agile in 90 seconds? I get tired of articles like “The 3 things you must know to be agile,” or “Five easy steps to agile implementation,” or “The secrets of agility unleashed,” or “Agile Mastery in Minutes.” Software development is hard. Agile may be a better way to approach software development, but Read more

Mar 092010

Every agilist brings his or her history to the community—agile didn’t spring from the primordial soup in 2001. While we may argue against historical practices, waterfall for example, we owe something to earlier pioneers. So while I can’t speak for other agilists, I can give a snapshot of who influenced my thinking over the years.. First, I would argue that agilists were influenced more by practical than academic literature (see Craig Larman’s Agile & Iterative Development for some historical perspectives). Writers who influenced me go back to the early work of Tom DeMarco, Jerry Weinberg, Ken Orr, Jean Dominique Warnier, Larry Constantine, Steve McMenamin, Ed Yourdon, and others during the early “methodology” period from about Read more