September 16, 2015

12 Principles of Agile – Part 2

Written by Jannette Brace

Over the course of this three-part blog series, I will cover all of the 12 Principles. In this second installment I hope I’ve peeked your curiosity. As I said in Part-1, I believe following these principles is the core of being “Agile”.  Is your organization embracing the fundamental principles of Agile? Are you open to culture change?

5. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done. 

OK, we’ve hired good people, who want to do a good job. Now we just have to show them we believe in them. If it were only that easy. Too many times fear drives an organization. Too many project failures, a culture of distrust, or simply a mindset of “this is how we’ve always done it” leads to micromanaging and difficulty in enabling teams to take ownership of their work.

I’ve personally been a part of many organizations who falter when trying to motivate teams. Or, even worse they totally fail in the trust arena. Is it scary to start moving away from micromanaging and micro-reporting? I’m sure it is. With Agile we have built in controls to help us manage teams at “arms-length”. We can listen in on Daily Scrums, and must attend the Sprint Review to see the teams’ sprint accomplishments and provide feedback. Yes, a team may “fail”, but what have you lost? In a two week sprint, you may have lost a little time. Do you think the team will have learned from the Sprint? Will they try harder to succeed next time? Is a two week loss better than a year of micro-managing and still not getting the desired results? You bet!

Organizations need to ensure the teams are supported appropriately with dedicated team members, regular involvement by the business, access to information, and ownership of delivery. Motivate the team with small rewards and acknowledgement of successes, and watch them deliver!

6. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation 

Most of us recognize that when we are together face-to-face communication flows. Spontaneous questions are raised, and connections are made.

This principle may not be so easy to follow if the teams are not collocated. Put a little extra effort into the use of technology to emulate face-to-face communication whenever possible. Team members will form stronger bonds. The benefits include stronger and more motivated teams, as well as reducing risk of miscommunication including errors regarding the intent of user stories and acceptance criteria.

Lead by example, and allow introverts to have their privacy, but don’t miss this opportunity to build team that becomes highly performing.

 7. Working software is the primary measure of progress 

I was once told “watch the runner, not the baton”. Too many times, organizations focus on hours worked (or sat in the office), rather than actual outputs. This principle reminds us that what we really want to watch is the outcome.

Agile measures velocity of the teams’ completed work. If a team is struggling to meet their commitment, then look at root causes. It is likely there are other issues that need to be addressed. Are the user stories actually “ready” to be accepted into the sprint? Is someone trying to get the team to commit to more work than they can deliver? Start with small steps and build on successes. It is a success when the team delivers what they commit to. Then ask the team to identify process or people improvements during their retrospective to help grow velocity.

Place your emphasis on seeing quality deliverables at Sprint Reviews, not on how long the team works, or how busy they look.

 8. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

We’ve all had those moments where we feel staying just a little bit late at work, or skipping lunch will help us meet our deliverables. After all, it’s just “this time”… if only that were true! Instead, working late and skipping lunches becomes a habit. Next thing you know, it isn’t just one team member; it’s the majority of the team. While some leaders jump for joy, there are repercussions.

Even outside of software development workers engaged for more than 50 hours a week open themselves up for health issues, and may not actually be as productive as they would working a standard week. See http://www.cnbc.com/2015/01/26/working-more-than-50-hours-makes-you-less-productive.html

 When it comes to software, the idea of working at a sustainable pace originates in XP practices. Over time implementation of all the principles enable us to create an environment where all teams can work at a sustainable pace. See http://www.langrsoft.com/articles/sustainablePace.shtml

 Work-life Balance isn’t just a cliché. Put working at a sustainable pace into practice, and watch the results.

With just one more installment left, I look forward to your comments. Let me know how your organization incorporates the Agile Principles into their culture, or struggles you face in following Agile Principles.

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