By Jen Mowery, Lecturer of Agile Methodologies & Project Management, Harrisburg University of Science & Technology
It can be intriguing to look at personal journeys. Albert Einstein was famously terrible at school, but later went on to be one of the most acclaimed theorists of our time. On the other hand, Bill Gates had a fairly comfortable upbringing and used his private school education to catapult himself to success. Not to get too philosophical here, but Agilist journeys are often the same. No two paths look alike, but when we are just getting started, it can be helpful to look at others’ journeys to help find the way. Below, I have captured a brief look at how I got started and some of what I have learned along the way (so far).
In our Scaling Agile for the Enterprise (PMGT 573) course at Harrisburg University, we emphasize that before practitioners can tackle a complex framework, like SAFe, they must first start with the origins of Lean and Systems Thinking. I was fortunate to pick up this foundation in my doctoral coursework but realized I would need to supplement that knowledge with additional research. Here is a list of books I spent time with between 2017 and 2020:
- The Toyota Way by Jeffrey K. Liker
- The Startup Way by Eric Ries
- Systems Thinking for Social Change by David Peter Stroh
- Start with Why by Simon Sinek
- The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
- Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff and J.J. Sutherland
- The Scrum Fieldbook by J.J. Sutherland
- Sprint by Jake Knapp
- Make Time by Jake Knapp
- Design Thinking for the Greater Good by Jeanne Liedtka, Randy Salzman, and Daisy Azer
- Designing for Growth by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie
Even with this reading list, there are still some other prerequisites that I believe should be acquired for a Design Thinking practitioner to be set up for success. Design Thinking is never just about design. While obtaining my Master’s degree in Educational Psychology, I studied areas like Emotional Intelligence and intrinsic motivation techniques. This has proven to be invaluable preparation for me as I have entered the Design Thinking field. Simply designing something is not good enough. Our approach must be human-centric. Every designer is human; every person that executes the designs is human; every person that uses the designed product is human.
Design Thinking practitioners should arguably have the very important skill of serving as the translator between various types of working teams. They must understand how to put things like technical feasibility, customer desirability, and product viability into practice. But if what I said above is true (and it is), then they must also know how to use Design Thinking to weave those profitability concepts together in such a way that motivates others to have a deep emotional connection with everyone involved in the process.
My path to Agile product development and Design Thinking is just one of thousands of possibilities. But one of the reasons that I believe so strongly in Lean Thinking and Design Thinking is because it forces us toward continuous improvement, and therefore we are continuously learning. Learning can come from books like the ones I have journeyed, but it also comes from practice. One of the most important things I have learned in my practice is that the best change organically blossoms from organizational cultures where teams are supported to make their own suggestions for improvement and then implement those changes. Design and Systems Thinking allow us to interweave the mechanics of operational systems with the goals and collaborative efforts of the people working to bring value to the customer.
“Bill Gates.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Nov. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Gates.
Kaku, Michio. “Albert Einstein.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2020, www.britannica.com/biography/Albert-Einstein.
“SAFe 5.0 Framework.” Scaled Agile Framework, 14 Sept. 2020, www.scaledagileframework.com/.