Expert Joshua Kerievsky Discusses “Modern Agile” at eBay

Jon Bach, eBay News Contributor

He encouraged engineers to keep customer delight in mind when developing code.

eBay’s Core Product and Technology Organization is in the middle of a multi-year Agile transformation. Many teams are forming now across our engineering and product teams as they get deeper into this smart way of building experiences. As we are taking a deeper look, eBay brought in Joshua Kerievsky to discuss “Modern Agile” development.

Joshua Kerievsky has years of experience in Agile Development, even well before it was called “Agile Development.” Even though he is a recognized expert in the field and a sought-after speaker around the world, he says he is constantly evolving his understanding of what ‘Agile’ is. But what won over the crowd in an address to eBay employees on January 25 was when he mentioned he was selling items on eBay.

“I’m selling something right now for $30, but someone bid $20,” he said. “What should I do? Should I go for it or just wait?”

“Wait!” someone shouted.

“I’m relatively new to selling on eBay,” he said. “I’ve got the app here, it’s just fun and I’m having a blast. I did the entire [listing] on my phone.”

That’s the kind of customer delight he wants software engineers to keep in mind when they develop and deliver code. Focusing on velocity solely based on story point estimates is killing agility, he said, adding that it has very little to do with customer success. He emphasized this in a blog entry titled Stop Using Story Points and made that argument a cornerstone of his talk about “Modern Agile.”

“People start to equate agility with being good or with not being stressed out at the end of a sprint, so they pad estimates to get everything done,” he said. “This has nothing to do with customer delight, but it has become the way a lot of people think about Agile -- and that’s dead wrong. What I’m trying to do is open people’s eyes.”

His advice was simple:

  • Make people awesome
  • Make safety a prerequisite
  • Experiment and learn rapidly
  • Deliver value continuously

His message of removing outdated practices is meant to help companies undergoing transition to Agile methods. He cited an example of how it’s common knowledge that training wheels on bicycles help kids to ride bikes, but what if we did away with that and started by having them not use the pedals at all? This idea may sound like it would be overwhelming or incredibly frustrating for a child, but he played a video of how he used this technique with his 6-year-old daughter. She quickly adapted and found her balance through short, waddling steps. After several minutes of practice and gliding, she became confident enough to try the pedals on her own. Learning what it means to learn balance is not about following process, he said, but responding quickly to feedback.

According to Kerievsky, agile software development was created to help development teams be better at planning, adapting and collaborating. It has helped create methods for individuals, teams and companies to adapt, including lightweight practices that work best for them.

“We need to know what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “There’s no point in getting started on a project unless you know that. If we’re not focused on making the customer, our colleagues and our companies awesome, then what are you doing?”

Amit Menipaz, VP of Structured Data, who introduced Kerievsky, said, “One of the key things we that don’t really talk about explicitly, but Joshua has absolutely opened my eyes to, is how important the topic of safety is. However you are applying, practicing or trying to follow Agile, this is important to your specific work.”