What does it take to launch agile software? Q&A with Jordan Husney, CEO and Founder of Parabol

Why would you launch a new project management software tool when the market is so crowded already? And why focus on improving agile retrospectives?

Today I’m talking to Jordan Husney, CEO and Founder of Parabol and I put those questions to him.

Jordan, what’s happening with the Agile world at the moment?

The agile market is growing in size and diversity for a number of reasons, and principle among them is the rise in popularity of the agile way of working itself. The Agile Manifesto was written in 2001—which was the same year Rally Software was founded.

Jordan Husney
Jordan Husney

For much of the early 2000’s, large companies would shudder at the thought of operating a team in an agile way. It’s taken an entire generation for big companies to embrace agile as a valid way of working.

And still, agile transformation consultancies spend a significant portion of their energy convincing senior executives it’s safe and good for the business to orient agile teams to build the right product vs. focusing on building the product right.

This growth has seen a huge rise in agile tools. Why is there so much software choice?

Secondary to what I just said, two other factors are driving the plethora of tools available to agile teams: remote working is driving the need for digital interactions (over physical interactions) and it’s never been easier to create and build software.

The 2020 health crisis forced most knowledge workers to experience remote work directly. Nearly everybody now has firsthand experience with the ecstasy and challenges of trying to work with others from their sofa.

Longer term, I believe a number of folks will want to hang on to the good parts of working from home and will do so with greater frequency than before the health crisis began.

This implies a more permanent shift away from physical Post-It Notes and Sprint Poker cards as a way of conducting agile rituals, to tools that are remote- and digital-first.

OK. That means more people using online tools for retrospectives. What can go wrong in a retrospective?

The retrospective is an important part of working with agile methods. The value derived from holding a retrospective is proportional to the talent of the facilitator, and the intimacy of the team. If the facilitation is poor: it’s going to be a bad meeting.

If the team doesn’t trust one another: it’s going to be a bad meeting.

How does Parabol improve retrospectives?

Parabol makes it extremely likely your team will have a good retrospective by lowering the skills required to facilitate a retro by doing most of the facilitation for you.

Parabol also breaks the retrospective process down into bite-size pieces that encourage team safety and vulnerability.

One of the bits of feedback we hear most often from professional agile facilitators and scrum masters is they can trust nearly any team member to lead a meeting with Parabol, and that they don’t always have to be present in the room. This helps agile behaviors spread more easily throughout an organization.

Facilitation is the key. What facilitation tips can you share?

Use retrospectives to discover and clarify tensions on a team, and not to jump to problem solving.

Here’s an example. Imagine a number of team members offer anecdotes about an increase in serious bugs reaching end users.

Rather than having the discussion start with, “Let’s change our code review process,” or, “Let’s add a dedicated QA resource,” it’s often more valuable to use the retrospective time to examine the circumstances around the failures and get closer to their root cause.

great outcome a facilitator can encourage is for one or two people to draft up a new working agreement or change in process, to later be decided upon as a group.

One special Parabol-specific facilitation tip is: start the retro at the beginning of your work sprint.

A meeting is just a link. If you start an agile meeting and share the link, folks can spool up feedback and learnings over the duration of the time they work together.

Because team members won’t have to rely on recall to jot down anecdotes, they’ll be closer to the real tensions a team is experiencing and help create more meaningful improvements.

Parabol is open source. What does that mean?

Parabol’s source-code — the DNA of how Parabol is implemented — is available to anybody on the internet to download, modify, and use for free.

We decided to be open source because enabling community is everything in the 21st century. This allows Parabol to be open to the world to influence and reshape, and we’ve welcomed numerous contributions from our user base as a result.

We offer a closed-source license for commercial entities who would be limited by our open-source license, called the AGPLv3. The “viral” terms of this license make it possible that a commercial entity might have to disclose their own proprietary source code. Relicensing the software—or providing it as a paid-for binary—helps make Parabol safely available to everyone.

I get it. So where is Parabol going next?

We’re full-speed ahead on implementing an incredible backlog grooming and prioritization meeting, and plan to have it generally available before the end of 2020.

We’re also doing quite a bit of work laying the groundwork for the next, more expensive version of Parabol, which will make it even easier for teams to communicate and log decisions.

Parabol is a very transparent organization. If you’re interested in following along our journey, we publish a post every Friday with our latest developments and metrics. You can follow along at https://parabol.co/blog

Thanks, Jordan!

About my interviewee:

While working with multinational organizations stretched across time zones, Jordan began prototyping a new platform that would allow team members, and more specifically, agile teams to work together, better. This platform would later be known as Parabol.

Today, Jordan leads multiple facets of Parabol’s growth and success by overseeing new talent acquisition, funding and product development. Highly sought after for his expertise in software development and work culture topics, Jordan has been featured in TechCrunch, Forbes, Business Insider and Brave New Work. He was also a featured speaker for the Nobel Academy in 2020. Jordan holds several patents in distributed systems and wireless technology, and lives with his family in Los Angeles, California.

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