The Agile Tribe

The path to Agile

Author: Susan Akers

 Two of the most common questions I get asked as the Agile Academy Advisor are:

“How can I start my Agile journey? 

What type of training can I get?” 

 So I thought perhaps it was about time that I put something together in one spot to make it easy for people to see a clear path ahead of them and feel confident in moving to an Agile way of working.  One way to see what training might be useful is to have a look at our role based Training Roadmap and then read the course overview to make sure that you have the necessary pre-requisites.  The roadmap shows the recommended courses and pathway.

The Agile Academy has also produced a number of artefacts to complement our training courses and give budding Agilists an opportunity to have open access to easy to understand material.  These include our Agile in Practice Help Sheets which cover a number of Agile practices and techniques.  Most of these also have a complementary video which explains more about how each of these techniques can be used. 

All the very best on your Agile journey.  Don’t be discouraged if your path becomes a little windy, there are many resources to guide you and if you have any questions at all around Agile or training please feel free to contact us directly.

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“Is artificial velocity spoiling your team?”

Authors: Ryan McKergow and Daniel Ginn

Artificial velocity is the velocity achieved when an agile team is not working sustainably. After recent discussions, the two of us decided to adopt the term to describe the dangerous precedents and practices that it sets. Artificial velocity can affect an Agile team in a number of ways, by reducing morale, and losing focus and creativity. Some examples of behaviour that promotes artificial velocity, include working long hours to finish a vastly underestimated story, or not realigning expected velocity when reality is not reflected.

Reduced Morale
One of the results of artificial velocity is reduced morale, which can come in many forms including: workaholics, old-school management styles (such as McGregor’s Theory X), and comparing yourself unrealistically to your colleagues.

For example if two kids are asked to mow the lawn, one sits down for 5 mins to work out whether going back and forth or going around in ever smaller circuits is quicker, and then finishes 15 mins before the kid who jumped straight in, is he lazy cause he’s now watching TV? No, he worked smarter. He’s achieved the same outcome in less time, meaning he has more time to do what he wants to do. People jump to conclusions when they look at the boy who is now relaxing. They assume he is being lazy, but he’s actually done the job much more efficiently.

We believe this is a result of misconceptions stemming from old school management techniques, thinking that the work we do in an office can somehow be related to the hours spent on the production line. In the office environment where a lot of our work involves cognitive thinking instead of brute force, there is a much bigger variance. Because of this mind set, some people try to emulate workaholics to “impress” the boss. This can lead to a loss of focus and creativity, because everyone is trying to look busy, as opposed to actually doing useful work.

Lost Focus and Creativity
We also believe it’s important to recognise the power of a fresh and focused mind. Tired minds are more likely to make or overlook mistakes which will put yet more pressure on the time it takes to complete a Story, or heaven forbid adding to the Tech Debt. You don’t need to continually wear yourself out by staying back late or losing sleep, honestly, are you really going to get much work done past 5pm? And if you think you are, where did you get the energy to do this, if you were working “hard” for the rest of the day? We need rest and time to relax. And it’s when we are relaxed when we are most likely to be hit with inspired ideas. So other than having a good night’s sleep, what are some practical ways at work to avoid artificial velocity?

So what can be done?
First off, believe in Agile! Agile provides some excellent practices that encourage the right behaviour, however, we would like to focus on a few established practices and a new one that might help avoid artificial velocity:

  1. Social contracts – These might be one of the greatest Agile tools with respect to avoiding artificial velocity. Incorporating expectations around what is and what is not acceptable behaviour in terms of supporting sustainable development is what is needed. Identifying instances where a different approach to a task resulted in a story point saving and sharing it with the team should be codified.
  2. Points bank – Another possible behaviour driving device might be the story point bank. A team member can ‘bank points’ when they can show that a smarter approach resulted in a point saving. Using a Big Visual Chart that team member can be recognised for the point saving. As an option the IM could spend the saved points by letting team members go early, or allow time to work on something different (Google time). In addition to this, the time saving approaches would be great to be fed into retrospectives.
  3. Working smarter – Setting the right expectations, not just for the core project team, but for everyone involved in the project (including upper management, and our project sponsors), should be equally encouraged. As Agile welcomes changes to the software or product, we need to be equally welcome to change in expectations on the project team. This requires you to be open and honest, even if it can be difficult. If an 8 point card turns out to be an epic, is it still reasonable to maintain the same expectations of time, cost and quality? We think not! You should revaluate the card and then revaluate the expected velocity for this iteration.
  4. Conclusion
    Artificial velocity is misleading to all. It places unnecessary pressure on the team, sets unrealistic expectations for the customers and reduces the creativity of individuals. So we would like to put it back to the reader, what do you think about artificial velocity?

    Inspired by

  1. The Creativity Formula, Dr Amantha Imber ISBN-13: 978-0646509624
  2. Rework, Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson ISBN-13: 978-0307463746

Agile is in the house!

Author: Susan Akers

I had the great pleasure to sit in on a talk given recently by Christian Scheiber, a project manager who has transferred his work experience with Agile to renovating his family home. Christian described it as an Agile journey where they have delivered several iterations and also put some stories into a backlog when priorities changed.

My first thought was – What a joy it must have been for his wife when he talked to her about what she wanted in the house and then he proceeded to fill the walls with storycards.

Christian argued that this helped both of them get a clear picture of how their requirements differed as the stakeholders so by setting up this basic Agile structure they were able to “get the right information at the right time” and the extensive upfront planning also gave them greater control.

So getting the right people involved at the right time is essential as well. What this meant was that Christian and his wife collaborated and used the MoSCoW principles to help them work out what was a Must Have, a Should have and a Could Have (or Nice to have). The business value to them was that they were able to describe their requirements clearly to the architect all at the same time and being a creative person himself, he understand the work required and how they, as users wanted to interact with each room.

It has not all run smoothly and what project, Agile or otherwise does? An unexpected blocker came in the form of how builders see things – not design, not the cost of this tap or wall unit, not how the room was to be used, the colours and all the other nice things you look forward to when building or renovating – No matter was the question was, the answer they always give was in Linear Metres!

So the renovation continues….. and so do the iterations and the strategies to remove the blocker. Agile remains in this house!

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Embracing change in iterations – does length matter?

Author: Peter Mison

I’ve seen and been a part of a number of Agile projects now and I’ve seen many slightly different approaches and this is OK because Agile allows the team to recognise through a retrospective what we could do better. So we embrace change to continually improve the way we do things.

Recently I witnessed a change to the length of an iteration in one of our projects. Traditionally these projects have been running using a 4 week iteration cycle – coaches I can hear your already “4 weeks is just too long for an iteration”.

A 4 week iteration tends to feel somewhat relaxed at the beginning and frantic at the end (typically with team members having to work longer hours near the end). You will see this visually in the burndown chart where the tracking of progress tends to drift above and away from the target line throughout the iteration until near the end when all of a sudden the line tracks steeply back towards the target and hopefully lines up when the iteration completes.

In this case, the project team had many reservations about switching to a 2 week iteration from 4, having delivered this way for so long – the motivation to do so certainly did not come from within. Under heavy encouragement from the Agile coach the project gave 2 week iterations a go and the results have been positive and the project have now fully adopted this approach.

What did we see? Well, for starters the team was focused from the start through to the end of the iteration with a nice consistent burndown that tracked very well against the target line all the way through – it’s all about a consistent pace. One of the reservations that the team had before the change was that quality would go down with an increased number of defects. As it turns out the defect rate is very similar to the defect rate over a 4 week iteration.

With Agile, every team needs to work out what works best for them, be it through experimentation, coaching and external influence, BUT it is so important to recognise continuous improvement and to embrace change.

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