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60 years of innovative and agile work practices - what have they done for you lately?
- Nigel Dalton, James Pierce
Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the agile manifesto in 2011 has been a fabulous achievement for a movement as much devoted to the welfare of technology workers as it is the delivery of real value to their employers and society in general. Today's agilists are at the cutting edge of a revolution in delivering value to society, but it seems they are standing on the shoulders of giants. This talk takes the long view back, reviewing a number of key lessons from the last 6 decades, from various case studies, a gratuitous number of which involve cool, high-tech space engineering and large scale teams that hung on a thread of agile and systems thinking in one way or another to succeed and innovate. Apart from lending some useful historical perspective, it also examines the extent to which a lean organisation is necessary to provide context to agile software developers, and how that impacts long term success. If your CEO doesn't get it, what hope do you have? And what happens to all the 'not very agile' tech-workers whose jobs are being heavily impacted by radical new* team structures?
The intelligent application of technology to business challenges has been the core of Nigel Dalton's 25 year career. In some cases, more technology was the answer to the problem. In others, getting the technology the hell out of the way was a better idea. He started his career applying his behavioural economics degree in government and private sectors in New Zealand, including (as the tide of PC clones overwhelmed the lumbering giants of IBM, HP and Compaq) helping steer a small IT company to becoming NZ's first ISO9001-certified computer manufacturer and system provider. He has closed coalmines, opened call centres (including one of the first 1-800 numbers utilised for customer service in NZ), collected awards and collected debts. All the while being an avid adopter of new technologies, from Rainbows to Macintoshes; from VAX VMS to Newtons; from P-Mail to Palm Pilots. In early 2000, having survived Y2K in the role of Software Development Manager at AXA Australia (at the cost of 99.9% of all product development, plus avoiding getting to grips with the web as a business platform), he fled to the USA to be CTO and COO of an Australian dot com startup in San Francisco - which later moved to New York, then finally Minnesota - getting colder all the time. The 4th Winter at -40C finally drove him and his family back down under, re-igniting his career in behavioural economics in NZ, eventually returning to Melbourne to work as General Manager IT at Lonely Planet in early 2007. There he was presented with a technology-driven failure that had taken the world's most successful travel publisher to the brink. Ironically, having taught Accenture's Method One at AXA in an attempt to bring order to the Wild West of superannuation software development, he had become an agile convert in the USA getting the ePredix startup off the ground and into market within 100 days. From 2007-11 this skillset and experience unlocked Lonely Planet's potential to compete in a digital world, with a whole new way of working beyond command and control systems, which whilst widely known as agile, also drew upon the longer-standing practices of Lean and Systems Thinking. in 2010 Nigel moved to become the Deputy Director of the Digital business, managing, web, mobile and B2B teams. Having recently exported Lonely Planet's Digital division to low cost third world locations (Oakland in San Francisco and Shepherdsbushistan in London), he has abandoned his membership to the Youth Hostel Association; a willingness to fly globally in economy class despite being 6'3 and 105 kg; and and his collection of ironic hipster t-shirts, and now plies his trade as a systems thinking technologist for the betterment of all Australian and NZ organisations working for Luna Tractor in Melbourne.
James brings more than a decade's experience in agile ways of working to Luna Tractor, although he spent a few of them not knowing that the incremental, innovative, customer-centric, team-focused, and common-sense approaches to building software and businesses had a fancy name at all. He worked in various roles at Melbourne University, Ericsson, Red Bubble, Aconex, Clear, The NZ Stock Exchange and then Lonely Planet, all the time experimenting with the application of new ways of working beyond command and control hierarchies. Ultimately Luna Tractor was co-founded with Nigel Dalton in 2011 to focus on empowering and teaching others better ways to create, collaborate and innovate. Luna Tractor is named after the Russian space program’s Lunokhod vehicles – a dramatic contrast to the American Apollo moon landing program where for a fraction of the cost, 2 robotic landers were sent in the early 1970s to analyse the surface and moon environment. By asking the question a different way ie “how can we learn about conditions on the moon” (rather than “how can we get a man on the moon?”) they saved money, time and lives - see the website http://www.lunatractor.com for a full explanation of what has been called 'Australia's silliest startup name'. James leads the scientific thinking within the company by constantly (and usually diplomatically, though sometimes not) challenging organisational status quos, being obsessed with learning, experimenting with and adapting Agile and Lean methodologies (plus more) to all aspects of business. Luna Tractor is now providing executive and team coaching around Lean and Agile ways of becoming remarkable (to quote Seth Godin), helping startups work more effectively, and reducing risk around getting new ideas to become real in the hands of customers. James is the co-author (with Nigel) of the upcoming ebook 'Not Just an IT Thing', the story of the application of systems thinking, lean and agile at Lonely Planet between 2007 and 2011.