Posts Tagged With: agile project management

All form and no (agile) substance?

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s warning reminds us that it is very easy to ignore the Manifesto for Agile Software Development’s value statements.

We might have done away with heavy project governance, premature or excessive planning, and documentation for documentation’s sake, but if we don’t remind ourselves why our team performs specific agile ceremonies, we are no better than our brethren toiling under the burden of traditional, one size fits all delivery practices.

Let’s start with sprints. Short time horizons should focus our efforts towards delivering value early and regularly while having fixed time boxes enables forecasting when we should be able to complete a release. But if we start treating sprints as phases (e.g. development, testing) or we batch work items within sprints in a waterfall manner, we haven’t really gained benefits from this approach. Similarly, if we don’t respect sprint end dates or we regularly modify the duration of our sprints we can’t forecast effectively.

How about your daily standups or scrums? These are meant to serve as micro-planning opportunities to align team members towards accomplishing sprint goals. They also provide an opportunity to surface blockers in a transparent, safe fashion to ensure these get resolved in an efficient and effective manner. But if team members are absent, we don’t start or end on time, one person monopolizes the discussion, or they turn into status meetings, why hold them at all?

Velocity enables teams to assess their throughput sprint over sprint. Used correctly and with the right underlying discipline on work sizing and backlog management, velocity can help a team forecast. But obsessing over velocity is as bad as focusing on percentage work complete in traditional approaches. When abused velocity leads to progressively reducing quality, erosion of team morale and unhealthy comparisons between team members or teams.

Showcases or demoes give a regular opportunity for key stakeholders to view what has been completed, to provide feedback to ensure that what is delivered meets customer needs, to maintain sponsor commitment and to provide a forum for visible recognition of the team’s hard work. But holding these ceremonies when there is nothing meaningful to demonstrate provides limited benefit to the invitees. Having the agile lead or other team member be the only person conducting the demoes doesn’t give everyone a chance to have their day of glory. And having team members get defensive when constructive feedback is provided about a feature which doesn’t quite hit the mark is just going to further the gap between the delivery team and the customer.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” – Pete Townshend

 

 

 

Categories: Agile, Process Peeves, Project Management | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Agile transformations should lead with changing mindset and behavior rather than practices

Like most North American kids growing up in an urban environment, my son learned to drive cars with an automatic transmission. Now that he’s been driving for a year, I’m starting to teach him to handle a manual transmission. While the most visible aspect of this is shifting, the exquisite art (to quote the Bride) lies in the proper use of the clutch. Once a driver develops the feel for a clutch and is able to find that sweet spot between dormant and stalling so that they can get a car rolling without the use of the gas pedal, the rest is mere mechanics.

Golf presents a similar scenario – learning to swing a club is secondary to mastering weight transfer. Through practice, once that skill becomes second nature, the rest of the swing will come. But if we start with the top down approach of learning to swing using the shoulders and arms, it will take much longer to develop a good swing.

Agile works much the same way.

Just because we divide our project’s timeline into sprints, conduct daily standups and bi-weekly retrospectives and ask our teams to self-organize, if the underlying behaviors of senior leaders, mid-level managers and team members don’t change, we are just putting lipstick on a pig.

Behavior and mindset changes don’t happen overnight and it’s not easy to confirm what has changed the way one can when introducing a practice or tool change.

This reinforces the importance of a change strategy for all levels of stakeholders involved with the project. While they might appreciate the benefits of agile delivery, if they haven’t reflected on the mindset changes required, stakeholders will act like chickens when we’d need them to be pigs. Senior leaders, delivery and control partners need to understand how they will need to adapt before they are put on the spot to support an agile project. Embracing the change won’t happen overnight which is why effective coaching is required to enable them to become the advocates we need to champion changes with their peers.

The challenge is that there is usually a demand to demonstrate value from a change in delivery approach within a reasonably short time.

That is why it is best to start with one or two small projects to provide a safe opportunity to try, fail, learn and improve.

Start with practices and tools and Cargo Cult behavior is almost a guarantee.

Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

What stories do your charts tell?

Organizing the delivery of project scope into sprints provides stakeholders with an opportunity to objectively assess progress at regular intervals. Comparing what was delivered against what remains in the overall release or project backlog helps us understand when we might be done. Looking at what the team was able to complete in relation to what they committed to complete at the beginning of the sprint can help us assess their self-discipline and delivery maturity.

Tools such as sprint burn-down, velocity and release burn-up charts can provide stakeholders with the power to interpret how a team is doing, but as usual, with great power comes greater responsibility.

Let’s look at two examples which illustrate the danger of drawing conclusions from such charts.

At first glance, the sprint burn-down chart above might be a sign that a team is not delivering in an agile manner and are batching work items till the very end of their sprints which would seem to indicate immaturity.

But before jumping to conclusions, what else might cause a similar sprint burn-down pattern?

  • Work items have actually been completed but the supporting work item tracking tool has not been updated yet. This would be an indicator of poor discipline but not necessarily immaturity.
  • The pod’s Definition of Done includes a task which can only be completed at the very end of sprints – for example, testing within a shared environment, or the completion of independent testing by a team outside of the pod. This should not be a cause for concern if such a constraint cannot be avoided.

How about the following velocity chart which illustrates what a pod has completed compared with what they committed to complete for three sprints?

One conclusion could be that this is an immature pod as they are chronically over-committing and under-delivering. But another interpretation is that the sponsor or some other senior stakeholder is the one demonstrating poor behavior by ignoring the better judgment of the pod and mandating the number of work items which have to be completed each sprint. Addressing that issue will be very different than if the former interpretation is the accurate one.

You can use all the quantitative data you can get, but you still have to distrust it and use your own intelligence and judgment – Alvin Toffler

Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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