History of Nokia Test


Everyone knows it! Nokia is *not* doing well. The new Windows strategy is not popular with the (geeky) public or Nokia employees. Recently, a couple of blog posts and comments have been posted about Scrum, Nokia and "The Nokia Test". I don't want to criticize the points made, though do want to correct the linkage between Nokia and the Nokia Test. Let me clarify.

I used to work at NokiaSiemens Networks (NSN) and, before that, at Nokia Networks (and before that at Nokia, but that is irrelevant for this post :P). In early 2000s, Nokia consisted of making phones (perhaps 75% of the company) and making telecom infrastructure (perhaps 25%). They were still the same company, but within the company they were very very separated. In 2007, the Nokia Networks unit was merged with Siemens Networks to create a new company... NSN. This company is not Nokia or Siemens.

Nokia Networks was one of the early adopters of agile development and Scrum in Finland/Europe. I like to believe that it had quite an impact to the Scrum in Finland as they asked their partners to use Scrum, but that is irrelevant for this story. I was invited to 'lead' the Agile coaching team in Helsinki as I had agile development experiences (mainly xp). I accepted and moved from China to Finland (cold!) where we supported product groups that wanted to change their development to agile.

The adoption in Nokia Networks wasn't top-down as the coaching team was hidden in a centralized department and had no authority (good!). We visited different product groups who were experimenting with agile development and create one community. This made it seem like we quickly had a big adoption, but in fact, we only combined all the grass roots initiatives and made them visible. By doing this, we traveled throughout the company to visit different teams who said they were doing "iterative" or "agile" or "scrum" or "xp". But we quickly noticed something interesting...

Most of the time, when we visited a product, they told us things like "we do iterative development, our last iteration was planned to be one year long, but it actually took two!" or, one of my favorites, "we do scrum, we are now in our 6th planning sprint". We, the coaching team, were getting frustrated with this as we were only a few and there were thousands of developers, who should we support? At some point, we decided that going "deep" rather than "broad" was a good idea, that means, we worked with the product groups that were serious and make them into examples. All we needed to do was filter all the product groups that were not "too serious." I remember discussing this with Kati (my pair in Nokia Networks) and we together quickly created two slides, one saying "you are not doing iterative when" and one saying "you are not doing Scrum when". We added these slides to our introduction to agile material and agreed we would use it internally (in the coaching team) do decide which product groups are serious.

Perhaps a year later, Jens Ostergaard invited me to his course and talk a bit about Nokia Networks (not yet NSN at this point). I grabbed some slides including the "you are not doing iterative development when"-slide in the appendix. (the presentation was similar to this one). Jens liked it and mentioned the slide to Jeff Sutherland who started to use it himself and called it "The Nokia Test." We didn't think the slide was very special so, of course, we had no problem but were very surprised to discover that it  became popular. I guess that had something to do with its simplicity.
A couple years later, in NSN people asked us to ask what this "Nokia Test" was about. (I remember Kati, the co-creator, asking me about it!). Most people in NSN didn't know about the slide as it was mainly used by the coaching group and it wasn't used for product groups to self-evaluate them. A year later, people in Nokia started contacted me about what this Nokia Test was all about because people in Nokia had never heard about it.

A couple points related to this, Nokia and Nokia test:

  • The Nokia test ought to be called "The NSN test" as it wasn't created in Nokia
  • The Nokia test was *not* for products groups to evaluate themselves, but was a coaching tool
  • The Nokia test was not really a test, it was called "you are not iterative when"
  • Most of the early Scrum adoption was in NSN, not Nokia. Thus conclusions about Nokia and the Nokia test are very irrelevant.
  • AFAIK, most of Nokia Scrum implementation wasn't deep. On the developer level, they adopted Scrum, but they never made management changes that ought to happen in a good Scrum adoption.

Oh, an amusing final note. I never use the nokia test myself. I don't particularly like the scoring test that it morphed to. I consider tests like that not useful except for a very specific context (and the context was quickly checking the seriousness of an agile implementation)

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