Agile + Design Thinking @ IIT’s IDx

adam kallishI have the distinct privilege of being invited to contribute to a new course offering on agile and its value for design thinking cultures. The inviter is, Adam Kallish, a distinguished design thinker, agile practitioner, UX architect, lecturer, and all around force of nature from IBM, Tanagram Partners, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Trope Collaborative fame who leads agile teams on behalf of interesting clients whenever he’s not recruiting people like me to build cool, new course offerings for IIT and beyond.

Our course has now been offered by the Illinois Institute of Technology’s (IIT) Institute of Design (IDx) as 597 for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years, a “Special Topics” offering at the graduate-level, which is a unique category that covers contemporary and emerging topics in design. Students may take this class multiple times for a total of 24 credits toward their degree.

The premise of this pioneering course is to demonstrate to design students that agile compliments design thinking by helping them better choose the right work and then doing it right in the context of implementation.

To this end, there are typically at least three teams of students, sometimes more, each with a product manager who chooses an actual project they’ve created to use as an example project to break down into units of work.

To be clear, there are no traditional sprints but each team does the work to decompose their project into epics, stories, and tasks as in a typical modern-day industry setting in order to create a prioritized backlog of work, just as they would in the real world on an agile design team.

The Goals

agile looks simple but can be used to build complex thingsDesign Thinking is about defining the right work and agile is about doing the work right. Agile culture is about clarity of purpose and that all work directly supports the overall value delivered to markets and customers – the audience.

We’re working hard to make this course a balance of understanding key principles, values, culture/behaviors and practices of Agile and applying them through learning by doing with peers on an actual problem to create a prioritized backlog of work.

As the course concluded again a few weeks ago, I attended a special event at the Institute as one of the guest panelists invited to take in the students’ final projects. The students were overwhelmingly insightful about and grateful for being introduced to this way of working. As I was last year, listening to their stories moved me by imagining the future of a truly global culture of fresh, young thinkers with great ideas putting a framework like this to work.  It is so satisfying to listen to them share their experiences and takeaways from it all. I don’t want such opportunities to ever end. Worthwhile on many levels.

Next Steps

The course was again successful in its small scope and the Institute’s leadership is interested in designing something larger as a more comprehensive offering to more students and also faculty.

agile vs. waterfall diagramIn a nutshell, our goal is ambitious: to turn the next generation onto what agile is all about and how it can help them achieve their goals using a more effective collaborative process than traditional waterfall approaches. There are countless versions of this published on the Interwebs but I like the way Adam expresses them:

  • direct collaboration with key roles/skills to bring their unique perspectives and experiences that will deliver a solution.
  • team is aligned through a social contract that guides all behaviors to increase communication, cadence and velocity of the team
  • open communication and visible work through shared tools and platforms. Daily stand-ups and end of week showcases to show evolution and cadence.
  • that there is a clear backlog of work to be done and individual team members freely take or are assigned items through a kanban.
  • every team member understands how their work item maps back to the overall goal. If it does not map back, the work item is questioned and may be terminated.
  • fail early and fast. “fail” means not meeting a goal or objective and understanding why for continuous learning and course correction.
  • real-time transparency and accountability through consistent feedback loops to adapt & continuous improvement through market changes, feedback and delivery.
  • time boxing and maintaining a constant pace indefinitely to only do enough that is responsible to avoid over-delivery and bloat.
  • after every major delivery the team reflects on what went right, wrong and what three things to become more effective by fine tuning and adjusting behavior accordingly.

Agile is only a framework that guides us. It’s still up to each of us to bring our ideas to the table, powered by an earnest commitment to the work of understanding our audience so that we may deliver solutions that protect, inform, and delight them.

Gratitude to Adam and everyone involved who is helping to make this all worthwhile. Good things ahead.