September 29, 2015

12 Principles of Agile – Part 3

Written by Jannette Brace

Welcome to the final part of my 12 Principles series where we’ll cover the final 4 Agile Principles. (In case you missed it, here’s a link to Part 1 and Part 2). If you utilize all three parts together, you will have a great resource for working with your teams’ Agile growth.

9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.  
We may be working in short sprints, but this is not an excuse to let technical excellence slip. Potentially deliverable means the code is tested and passes.

Technical debt is dealt with on a regular basis, and not left until the very end of the project.

This isn’t one and done, so support your teams to be the best they can be. Allocate approximately 20% of each sprint to “technical excellence” https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh350860(v=vs.100).aspx. Some basic things you should be doing are planning for Test Driven Development (TDD), pairing and refactoring. Developers create simple designs, and look for constant improvement through regular feedback.

One final thought, Technical Excellence is about more than developer’s code. It is also about the organization becoming more Agile. Think about working with all members of the organization to improve their skills by cross pollinating, training, and mentoring.

10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
 The phrase to remember is not to “gold-plate” your features. One best practice here is to follow TDD. By developing to the story and its acceptance criteria until the test passes, and no more.

Some developers may feel they could do more, but what if what they create won’t be used? Then we have wasted time, and a potentially untested item. It’s great to have ideas, so write a story and pass it to the Product Owner for prioritization in the backlog. Remember it’s easier to create complicated solutions, harder to create simple solutions… but simple solutions last longer, increasing quality and decreasing total cost of ownership.

11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
Change can be difficult, and moving from a waterfall environment to an Agile environment is no exception. In order for team members to identify the best design during Sprint Planning, they must be knowledgeable about the environment and system they are creating. This means we can’t treat them like mushrooms (keeping them in the dark, and feeding them “fertilizer”).

If your organization is working with complex systems, ensure the architectural runway is in place. Expect some ramp-up time for team members to become familiar with the environment. Ensure that there are resources assigned from the “systems” team to support each scrum team. Create domain models, physical models, etc. as needed to ensure sufficient information is available to the team. Then allow sufficient time for the team to discuss and build on their designs during Sprint Planning.

12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
Welcome to the Retrospective! Agile is an empirical process. Based on the results, we adapt and improve. When I hear that teams are struggling with retrospectives, I suggest they rethink how they think about this ceremony. It isn’t a gripe session. It is an honest introspection of our performance.

Following this principle means we need to take a look at how we are doing, and commit to experiment to create small improvements. Each and every sprint allows us to try something out, and to look at the results at the end. If the results are positive, great. We can decide to run with the change. If the result isn’t positive, we can choose a different approach for the next sprint. There are great resources out there to keep Retrospectives from becoming dull and boring. If you are struggling, take a look at the book, Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great, by Esther Derby and Diana Larsen.

It is easy for an organization to be “Scrum-but”. The risk in staying “Scrum-but” is not truly getting all the benefits of being Agile. Read all three parts of this blog and evaluate how your organization is doing. I invite you to add your comments and experiences, as we share in the Agile Community any ideas for continuous improvement!

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