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Amplifying Agile Quality Practices with Selena Delesie

Moss Drake
For PNSQC 2023, we have chosen the theme "Amp it up! Transforming Quality."  There are many ways to amplify your voice and your influence on quality in your organization, and Selena Delesie has a depth of experience in implementing them throughout her career. Selena will present the keynote Amplifying Agile Quality Practices at PNSQC 2023 in October.
Some may say that trying to lead a quality initiative in an unstructured organization is like herding cats, but Selena says there is an objective way to look at team and organizational quality practices and contrast them with behavioural patterns.  We sat down with Selena to ask more about this quality assessment model that she has developed with Janet Gregory, and to find out more about what she may talk about at PNSQC.

PNSQC: As a coach and consultant, what do you think are the top three behaviors that create barriers to better agile development in organizations?
Selena Delesie: Three behaviours that create barriers to better development, agile or not, in organizations include:

(a) Management trying to control people doing the work - meaning their time, everything they work on, and how they do it. People need time to think, read, learn, share knowledge, collaborate, and try new things. They also need the agency to make decisions and to choose better ways to do something. These all must be built into the natural way of working for organizations to grow and be more successful. Management - let go of needing control.

(b) Being unable to prioritize (aka order) the work and identify what will not be done. Too many teams and organizations still promise to meet deadlines with particular features or deliveries, despite their current constraints (staff or technical). Quality always suffers, and deadlines are often missed. That is old waterfall-driven development squished into agile terminology. Agile development is about understanding our customers' needs and delivering the most valuable of those needs with our current constraints. Be honest, transparent, and learn to say no, or not now.

(c) Promoting a culture of specialist heroes. Of course, we all have areas of expertise and specialty that others seek out for answers and to learn from. However, when we promote a culture of 'only that person knows about that and should work on that,’ teams and organizations slow down. We want to encourage team members to share their knowledge so others can work on those things, too, thus allowing the team more flexibility in what they work on and how much value they can deliver. It also helps others grow in their careers. Beyond the team, we want an organizational culture that promotes team growth and evolution, coaching, and mentorship. This extends to rewards and promotion programs, leadership and management involvement, and how much agency people have to be involved in and make decisions. Encourage the whole system to be stronger together.

PNSQC: What is your take of the idea that making quality a shared responsibility can benefit everyone in an organization?
SD: Quality must be a shared responsibility, as leaving it to a small subset of the organization makes it a policing activity. It takes much more time, effort, and money to address problems later than to catch them before inception. Entire organizations improve when everyone focuses on improving the quality of activities and interactions. Quality as a mindset benefits everyone from testers and programmers to managers, customer support, sales, marketing, and other non-technical departments. Effectiveness then efficiency improves, software quality increases, and problems reduce. There are fewer meetings, customer calls, and bugs to fix, so there is more time to work on new features, solutions, products, and revenue streams.

PNSQC: In your opinion, what are some steps one can take to benefit holistically from mentorship?
SD: Mentorship is a beautiful way to grow personally and professionally as a mentor or a mentee. Both have helped me grow in my life and career. Benefiting from mentorship requires mindful insight into oneself and where one wants to grow next.

If you are interested in being mentored, first consider who you would like to be in the future and the opportunities or experiences you would like to have. It can help to do a future-vision exercise to put yourself in this future state and get a clear sense of who you are, how you feel, what your life is like, and what supported you to get there. Second, consider who you might know whose journey has taken them to that future state you envision for yourself. Who do you admire and respect professionally or even personally? Who is being the type of person you wish to be?

You can have a formal or a looser mentorship relationship. Reflect on who might fit you well and craft a plan for yourself. For formalized mentorship relationships, reach out to a few people to see if they are available for a conversation about mentorship. Going into the conversation, be prepared to explain why you approached them, what you wish to receive mentoring about, how often you might meet, and how much time it might take. Also, invite them to share what they think might work best if they are interested. For informal relationships, consider how best to engage with and learn from that individual, and do so regularly. Finding ways to support them is a great way to learn from them too.

If you are interested in being a mentor, get clear on what you would like to share from your experiences and the type of people you might want to mentor. Is there an area where you have a lot of experience or success and would like to deepen your expertise? That is another area to consider becoming a mentor in. Once you know your area of mentorship, share your interest and availability in being a mentor with your network. You can also contact your company or industry organizations you align with to become part of a mentorship program.

PNSQC: In your experience, what are some things mentors can learn from their mentees?
SD: I have learned a lot as a mentor from mentees, whether they are younger or older than me. Mentees help mentors remember what it was like to be less experienced or successful and the journey it took to arrive at where they are. Sometimes people take their journey for granted or do not recognize what they overcame. As a mentor, individuals can recall their struggles and how they navigated them. They learn to verbalize these and use their experience to help lift others and show a way forward. Mentors can learn new approaches, techniques, technologies and beliefs from mentees, particularly younger generations. Finally, mentors can gain a renewed sense of enthusiasm, faith, and hope from mentees - connecting with people who are eager and excited about their path forward is lovely.

PNSQC: Please give us a sneak peek of your upcoming talk “Amplifying Agile Quality Practices.”
SD: Amplifying Agile Quality Practices is based on the book I co-authored with Janet Gregory: Assessing Agile Quality Practices with QPAM - Enabling Teams to Succeed. This talk is an invitation to view quality through the lens of behaviour and mindset, not just software quality. I will share the ten quality aspects Janet and I identified that matter most in creating quality products and solutions in agile organizations.

I will explore what amplifying quality practices in these aspects might look like through the lens of case studies. For example, the first quality aspect is Feedback Loops. If a team has established essential team events like standups, planning, and retrospectives - what is the quality of these feedback loops? What is working well for them? What opportunities are being missed? How can they strengthen and shorten feedback loops to add more value?

I will not dive deep into every quality aspect, nor the practices within them, but will dip into a few to provide concrete examples for the audience. I hope people will leave with ideas that help their team and organization grow their culture and how they operate and interact with one another.

PNSQC: What is your favorite yoga pose and why?
SD: There are so many I enjoy! A frequent go-to for me will be familiar to many people: Downward Facing Dog (or Adho Mukha Svanasana). I love it as it both stretches and strengthens much of the body. In particular, it helps to relieve my back and other chronic body pain. This inversion also helps improve blood and oxygen flow to the brain and reduces anxiety and depression. There are so many benefits in its basic form.

PNSQC: If you had a stand at a Farmer’s Market, what 3 things would you sell?
SD: As an avid gardener, it is not easy to choose. I only use organic approaches to cultivate a welcoming space for bees and other friendly insects while improving the environment and food quality. Years ago, I designed and created an edible permaculture paradise in my then-suburban backyard. At my last home, I grew 70 varieties of vegetables, fruits, and herbs in my even smaller backyard. In my current space, I am deepening my container and hydroponic gardening practices. Considering all this, I will answer more generally that I would sell organic produce, medicinal herbs, and an introductory book for simple organic backyard and indoor gardening.

To learn more about improving your agile teams with mentoring, feedback loops, and facilitating agile behaviors, attend PNSQC 2023, October 9-11, in Portland, Oregon and Amp it up!