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DCE Magazine

Managing a More Agile Future

Winter 2018

Principles gleaned from software development are changing business forever.

Disruptive times call for creative, non-traditional solutions. And these are disruptive times indeed. With industries in a state of flux and technology evolving rapidly, new methodologies are needed to stimulate innovation and allow business to function effectively in a shifting global landscape.

After all, you can't maintain a traditional approach when the world is transforming in ways that are often impossible to anticipate. Adapting is the key — and that's the idea behind Agile, a new way of thinking with roots in software development that's now spreading into other industries worldwide.

Agile project management — creating strategies that involve self-organizing, cross-functional teams instead of top-down directives — is a burgeoning movement that's driving a growing need for Agile project managers as well as Agile coaches to implement change within an organization.

“The need for coaching is growing because more and more companies and non-corporate organizations are trying to adopt Agile, and it's not easy,” said Hadar Ziv, a UCI professor who teaches Agile methods in his undergrad Informatics course. “Taking some training for two days or two weeks doesn't make you Agile and doesn't necessarily allow or enable a true Agile Transformation.”

An Agile coach strives to empower a team to be autonomous in doing their work, said David Lokietz, a longtime Agile coach and software developer. It involves two layers: coaching at the team and individual level, then creating an Agile Transformation within the company's organization, culture and behavior.

“The coaches are servant leaders, not directive like a traditional manager would be,” Lokietz said. “They help teams remove impediments and stay focused to ensure they deliver as committed. Agile practices can be applied to any industry and any department. I've seen it managed in HR, sales and marketing.”

Agile Transformation might not be easy, but it allows for a more fluid approach, with frequent reassessment and shorter tasks designed to reach goals incrementally, adding a human touch. “Agile uses an incremental, iterative method, emphasizing delivering something of value at the end of each iteration,” Ziv said.

It's a new way of adapting business to a 21st century mindset, and UCI is a longtime leader in the movement, offering Agile courses and hosting the Agile Open Southern California conference.

Learning to be Agile

The Division of Continuing Education's popular Agile Project Management online certificate program offers a comprehensive understanding of Agile management, coaching techniques and tools. Students learn to work in small, cross-functional teams to lead hands-on projects and initiate operational and cultural changes within a real-world framework.

The program isn't just for those in software development and IT, but also healthcare, financial services, government, commercial products — anyone who wants a strong background in Agile. The certificate is highly recommended for project and program managers, especially those who hold a Project Management Professional (PMP) designation.

“The Division of Continuing Education has been involved in the Agile community for a few years now,” said Lokietz, who along with Ziv co-hosts Agile Open Southern California. “The University expressed a desire to expand its offerings in IT, specifically Agile, so we proceeded to establish the Agile Open conference with UCI as our host.”

For the past nine years, UCI has hosted the event, a conference of thought leaders where the latest issues are discussed and the future is envisioned. Last September's two-day Open — themed “Agile Longevity” — held up to 24 conferences per day, with many of the top Agile practitioners and advocates brainstorming today's most relevant topics.

But the conference topics weren't available ahead of time. In fact, no one had any idea what they were going to be. What sets Agile Open apart is its fluid approach — much like the methodology itself.

“The Agile Open is unique primarily because of the notion of Open Space,” Ziv said. “The conference has no agenda, papers, or keynote speakers. Rather the sessions are determined ‘live’ by the folks attending, suggesting topics for discussion that day. It attracts about 130 members of the Agile community and sells out every year.”

The Agile Manifesto

Agile methodology was conceived in 2001 during a three-day meeting of 17 top software developers and engineers in Snowbird, Utah. The world was changing fast — PCs had transformed from relatively clunky work tools to essential entertainment, communications and e-commerce devices — and old ways of creating software were becoming obsolete.

New solutions were needed, so the gathering was arranged to come up with a radical methodology to fit the times, a way forward that would adapt to ongoing cultural shifts. The result was the Agile Manifesto, the defining document that's now a blueprint for modern software development.

With advances like ambient computing and the Internet of Things on the rise, it's only natural that Agile is becoming ubiquitous in other industries, morphing from a niche tech concept to a sweeping new approach to organizational modernity.

More than ever, Agile training is needed for managers to thrive in the global economy. And UC Irvine remains committed to leading the way.

“UC Irvine has been a long and active supporter,” said Lokietz. “My hope is that UCI Division of Continuing Education will continue to push forward with more classes, specifically on Agile leadership and coaching, focusing not only on hard skills like programming but also on soft skills — leadership, facilitation, communication and collaboration.”

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