Agile as a mindset, Agile as a real-life project experiences, Agile as a solution for the rapidly changing global business landscape – in words of our coaches Fabio Armani and Paolo Sammicheli

Tell us a bit about your first encounter with Lean & Agile

Fabio: Well, I first heard about Agile before manifesto itself became official. As a Director of Technology in Sapient, I was in touch with IT gurus related to Object Oriented and eXtreme Programming in Italy and abroad, for example, Joshua Keriewsky, Ron Jeffries, Kent Beck and others. I also participated at the first eXtreme Programming conferences back in 2000 and 2001 in Cagliari, where I actually met some of the Agile Manifesto signers. In 2001 the XP2001 conference was held in Sardinia right after the Manifesto was signed and published, and it was naturally one of the hottest topics. I enjoyed also to be part of a TDD workshop with Ron Jeffries.

Furthermore, at the end of 90’ and beginning of year 2000 I worked with a methodology that was not purely Agile but it was iterative-incremental, called RUP – Rational Unified Process. I was also in charge of In Aapient methodologies design and adoption and in 2001 and 2002 I was a member of an international C-level team that worked on the Sapient Approach, where we actually introduced the iterative-incremental approach, plus Agile methodologies at an enterprise level.

Paolo: My story is a bit different, since I learned about Agile a bit later, back in 2006, when I started contributing as volunteer to Ubuntu, which is one of the first Open Source project developed in an Agile approach. I started to get to know better this very dynamic and stimulating world, and I have been drawn to it almost immediately.

What inspired you to become an Agile coach?

Paolo: Well for me coaching is related to open source communities spirit, and to explain it very simply, it means introducing a new work approach, enthusiastic and collaborative. My mission is to transform the software development into an enjoyable and pleasant process.

We are seeing numerous companies still at third stage of Tribal leadership, but when you have the same approach as the open source communities you begin rising to the 4th and the 5th level, where you start thinking and working as a team, you deliver ideas that everyone thought were impossible to achieve, and you are able to go far ahead of your competition. In many open source projects the goal itself is to enhance people’s lives and to constantly improve on a personal level. Companies that are still on the first 3 levels of Tribal leadership are experiencing enormous wasting of resources and money, but also on the system level. I think that this was actually one of the main reasons of the recent economic crisis: the individuals in huge corporations operated very selfishly, neglecting the objectives of the company and the team. What the companies need, and what inspired me to actually start coaching, is to empower the coopetition, the competition trough the cooperation, a concept that didn’t exist before the new game changing ideas became known.

Fabio: I would start from defining the term coaching itself, which would be somewhere in between of a mentor and a trainer, but one thing is certain: they need to have a strong urge for sharing and transferring knowledge, but also have empathy and be friendly and sociable.

I have quite a track record in coaching (laughs 🙂 ) it’s even a bit embarrassing to say, regarding the time that passed: I have almost 40 years of coaching experience. In my case it was related to music and art, and in general, to the spirit of the time – back in the seventies there was a feeling of the necessity to change things, even radically. If we talk about Agile, from the late nineties I was involved in different coaching projects, even though back in the days the communities of practice didn’t formally exist but I always liked to form and work within groups, even those that tried to change the system, like in the so called “Pantera” student movement in 1989. I enjoyed spending time with students, coaching them different subjects from art and performance to culture and sciences.

I could sum up my experience and my passion for empowering people into the name that one of my high school teachers used to call me: “the renaissance child”. I only recently became focused on a specific areas, but as I grew professionally I was more open to different disciplines. I believe that every coach needs to have an open mind, the adventurous spirit and the courage to try the impossible. The key is using the sum of our experiences, even though they might seem irrelevant, but I believe that everything we did in our lives makes us who we are today.

How did the IT teams evolve, in your opinion, in the past 20 years?

Fabio: The first thing that changed is the complexity of the IT horizons. One of the biggest impacts came from Object oriented and Web development, we can even call it pre web and post web era. Another important point are the competencies, we can say that 20 years ago someone could know 40 -50 % of one system perfectly, but today it’s unimaginable to know even 20% of the possibilities that one approach offers.

This shift from known to unknown, or to put in in the light of the Cynefin Framework, where we have the map (four quadrants) from simple items to complex systems, that live, breathe and are capable to adapt. The waterfall methodologies, often applied in complicated systems are consequential and predictive (2° quadrant of Cynefin). On the other hand, today we have the methodologies created for managing uncertainties and complexities (3° quadrant).

Typically in big companies you have teams of individuals with very precise roles, and then you have the supervisors – project managers and directors. This situations reminds us of chess game where all the team members are merely pawns that move accordingly to other figures such as king or knights, in this case PMs or Managers.

And then, the global economic crisis happened and the business scenario changed. Companies could not afford huge teams with 50 people anymore and projects that lasted for years. Teams became smaller, up to 10 people, projects shorter, 6 months to 1 year. And this actually led to the creation of Agile. Agile was not born in the university circles but by the hands of ordinary people who experienced firsthand the issues that made projects and companies collapse.

This is why Agile is born out of a small studio, a sort of an artist workshop – it was the only way to create this kind of methodology, from a culture and craftsmanship, and not from a mega systems or mega philosophies. There is a lot of modesty and humility in Agile approach. Coach is not here to tell you the absolute truth about the world and how it functions, but rather true stories and experiences.

I feel like the moment we are living today is a post big dreams era, we had so many dreams from the previous century that remained there, whether good or bad, and we had arrived to 2001 surely more cynical. And of course all the political events that changed the course of the history are fueling this “third world war” we are living today. Maybe it’s not the war we feared it would be but it is surely here and it’s very real. We go to bed in the evening and we can’t be sure what catastrophic event might happened the next morning. The world we live in today is located in the third Cynefin quadrant, but from time to time we wake up in the fourth quadrant.

The positive part of interview-paolo-fabio_quote-01this story is that human beings are social by nature and they can continue to dream always, maybe not huge dreams but small ones; I’m doing exactly that, I have many small dreams, and sometimes the satisfaction of achieving them can be even bigger than the big ones.

This is what we are doing here, today in Neomobile, we are creating a new story, we are revolutionizing the old way of thinking and creating new culture, new habits and attitudes trough small actions. And this is actually the base of XP – “Small steps lead to great dreams”.

Agile development & business – how does it work?

Fabio: To answer this question I’ll tell you about one of the keynote speakers at XP conference I helped organize in Rome in 2014: Robert C. Martin, aka Uncle Bob, reminded all the participants what is the true core of Agile – allowing tinterview-paolo-fabio_quote-02he IT and Business to cooperate seamlessly. It is also stated in the Agile Manifesto, “customer collaboration over contract negotiation” as a way of pacifying the conflict between these 2 key areas in each company. In fact, Agile speaks to both sides and it advises to go one step at the time, explore together and discover what is ahead.

Inspiring example of this exploration of the unknown we can find in the legacy of NASA, which was actually the Agile pioneer back in the late 60ties. Today we often forget how immense this project was, and how it must have sounded impossible, but with the Lean & Agile approach it was more than successful.

Would you say, from your experience, that people prefer stability over change? How does the change become a standard daily work approach?

Paolo: Ok, let’s imagine a moments of crisis and now think of the first Agile value as a sort of a safety feature – the people come always before the processes and tools. So how to explain and invite people to be brave and experiment the change? Well simply by using Agile as their safe area and pointing out that the change is completely focused on the people themselves and their integrity. The biggest fear people have is that change might bring so many negative aspects and no positive ones.

Fabio: I agree with Paolo, and I’d just add one more point, we can say an anthropological point of view.  Every species would like to maintain its status quo, but the ever-changing environment urges the change and adaptation; maintaining the status quo in changing conditions might not be only unproductive but also highly dangerous. The change is necessary because of the both intrinsic and extrinsic factors, and it makes you more adaptive for future changes so that you never have to enter & feel the panic zone.

The coaching needs to be much more that pure methodology lecturing, it has to go deep inside the change theories, like for example Lean Change Management. You can also notice a very important cultural influence from the oriental philosophies, like Lean & KAIZEN that is continuous improvement.

And when it comes to managers, what are the biggest challenges when adopting Agile?  

Fabio: The first and most important condition is understanding the mind set at its core, otherwise Agile becomes an “enemy”, a direct attack against the concept of management. And it might sound a bit harsh, but I have to be honest: a traditional manager, especially the one with years long experience usually cannot change his mind set and often happens that they leave the company. In Agile you have to bear in mind the concept of craftsmanship – being able to produce or create, having the necessary skills that the so called “old school” managers often lack. I’d like to use the comparison with the renaissance atelier once more, imagine a group of painters that produce work of art, and each one of them needs to have the necessary skills, whether in painting sky, human shape or still life, but none of them can have the exclusive role of just ordering around. As we mentioned before, you need to be humble and leave your ego at the door, the feeling of superiority is not compatible with Agile. It is what I like to call a cultural clash that can be resolved only with humility and patience, and of course, a constant dialogue.

Paolo: I agree completely with Fabio, I would just add that it also depends on the type of leadership: if a manager has the authoritative style of leadership, and not authoritarian he/she will not perceive agile as a “threat” but as an opportunity.

And finally, could you describe briefly Neomobile’s Agile story?

Fabio: Well, Neomobile’s Agile story can be easily described with 2 phases: the first one was the introduction to the methodology, where we played with basic concepts and learned the most optimal way to apply them to the ongoing and future projects. The pilot projects were launched and we had some ups & downs, which is a natural process in the agile transformation, but the most important moment was when during the first 6 months retrospective we asked if the people felt that we were on the right path, and if we should continue like this, 100% up voted!

Then we had the so called launch phase with new people joining the teams, Paolo became the permanent coach, and the company undertook the true path of change and is rapidly becoming a Learning company.

P: Great examples of the company’s change are also the series of internal events such as Learning week and Lean Startup Experience that proves that Neomobile is rapidly progressing towards a self-organizing teams & a true learning company.


You can follow Fabio @fabioarmani and Paolo @xdatap1 on Twitter, and don’t forget to follow Neomobile Group!

About Fabio

Fabio Armani is an independent professional with almost twenty-five years of experience in the field of Information Technology.
He helps companies in Lean Agile adoptions, transitions and rollouts, with organizational and executive coaching and consulting services.
Fabio acts as an organizational coach and works directly with executives, top managers, managers of IT and business teams in order to help them assimilate, deploy, and apply Agile principles.
He is able to follow the evolution of organizations and to suggest solutions adapted to their Lean Agile maturity level.
Lean Agile Change Agent and coach.
IT Director of Technology, and Sr. Project Manager in a wide variety of business applications. Particularly interested in OO, AOD and Enterprise solutions. Always interested in new development methodologies, client focus delivery, as well as close interaction with open source J2EE and Aspect Oriented Development communities.
Strategic and Technological Partnership Responsible, Technical Specialists Leader.
Specialties: Most aspects of software development including Lean & Agile processes (Scrum, XP, Kanban, DAD), leadership, architecture & development (mostly Java), & automated testing.

About Paolo

Agile and Business Coach, helping Italian and International Firms to uncover better ways of building software.
Passion about Technology, Innovation, Mobile, Online Communities, Free Software, Events, Communication, Design, Marketing, Startups and Entrepreneurship.
– Agile Methodologies: Scrum, Kanban, IT DevOps, Lean Change Management, Lean Startup.
– Liasing between technical and non-technical audience, Software Requirements, User Stories.
– Public Speaking, Presentation, PreSales support, Advocacy, Community Management.
– User Experience, Usability, Interaction Design, Visual Perception, Design Thinking.
– Unix, Linux, Ubuntu, Debian, Android.