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ScrumMaster Christophe Louvion explains what agile is really all about

The agile development advocate talks about how Scrum works, who's agile and who's not, and when a Post-it note might be the best development tool.

By Eric Lai
January 12, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Christophe Louvion joined online ad network Gorilla Nation last January from comparison-shopping Web site Shopzilla.com (formerly BizRate.com), where he was vice president of engineering. The 35-year-old native of France is a devotee of lean/agile product development and is a certified agile coach and ScrumMaster. (Scrum is an agile process characterized by self-directed teams, and projects broken into small chunks.) Louvion is in the process of becoming a certified Scrum coach -- the black belt of Scrum -- of which there are only a handful worldwide today, he says.

What's the difference between agile and Scrum? It's like the difference between medicine and brain surgery. Scrum is just one way to implement agile, with a few of its own particular rules. One is that everyone is either the owner of the product to be built, the team delivering it or the ScrumMaster overseeing the two groups. Another is to deliver a new, working version of software at least every 30 days, preferably every two weeks.

Agile programming does not necessarily require such iterations. Agile is really about looking for ways to respond to change quickly.

How are you implementing agile and Scrum principles at Gorilla Nation? When I came to Gorilla Nation, I had to coach a lot of middle to upper managers on changes I wanted to make. For instance, I removed boundaries between departments -- not just engineers and QA, but also non-IT areas such as HR, business development and operations.

Most companies are organized around functions, even though it's usually dysfunctional. I like to organize teams vertically by product and value streams. It's still a matrix. The engineers in business development and QA still report to their functional heads.

Dossier

Christophe Louvion
Name: Christophe Louvion
Title: Chief product/technology officer
Organization: Gorilla Nation Media LLC
Location: Los Angeles
First job: Software engineer at BizRate.com 10 years ago
Favorite book: Implementing Lean Software Development, by Mary and Tom Poppendieck
Passions outside of work: Kite surfing, and fine food and wines
Favorite consumer technology: The iPhone
Favorite programming tools: Sharpies and Post-it notes

We are launching a new online video advertising product called Springboard. We put on our agile hat and decided we would launch in just two months. We built this whole platform with two teams of 11 developers total.

Every day, each team pushed code into a central area. If any team slowed down, I moved resources over there. There's no shame if a team falls behind. If one team has issues, I help resolve them rather than blame them.

Has agile become so mainstream that it's become a trendy, meaningless buzzword? The term agile is being used by [some] people to justify poor programming practices such as cowboy coding.

"We don't have to write documentation; we're doing agile," they'll say. Like with everything else, people are bending the rules to accommodate their personal preferences.

Can middle managers be an obstacle to agile? Most middle managers are like puppet masters, telling people what to do. We really need to change our expectations around middle managers, not have them dictate and be task-givers, but be impediment-removers.



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