Monday, June 28, 2010

Agile Survivor: How to Avoid Getting Voted Off the Island!

One of the most interesting things about moving to Agile is the self-governing aspect of being on a scrum team. Agile provides tremendous transparency to its participants. Everyone is working together to get a goal accomplished, and they become accountable to each other each day in the daily stand-up meeting.

If you can't cut it, the team will eventually boot you from the island, ala Survivor. The only thing missing is the formal tribal council, the tiki flame lantern and the metal do-bob to extinguish your flame.

Though eliminating individuals really shouldnt be the goal of any organization, raising the bar and expecting great performance is.. and, if after numerous attempts at counseling, etc. the individual doesn't improve, this hard reality will ultimately pay off. Its actually kind of refreshing to management to witness "self-governing" teams take the action necessary to get results. So, from this perspective, Agile can be a great way to raise the bar.

However, Agile teams can get "clickish," and they can, over time, become stagnant in productivity. Why?

The Agile methodology tends to group individuals that will work together for many sprints, often for years. Teams get into a groove, and you may find yourself creating "high performance" as well as "regular" performance teams. But the stagnancy problem can occur at the peak of the maturity of an Agile team: when the team becomes comfortable with all its members. Typically, at this time, the team has come to love agile, each other, and they feel productivity is just fine.

But what if it isn't?

LAS VEGAS - DECEMBER 12:  Traffic travels on t...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
I recently attended an Agile conference in Lost Wages (aka Las Vegas), where a few senior types (old foagies like me) started asking about how to improve overall performance of Agile teams. There weren't too many good answers in the sessions. Responses seemed a bit defensive, and delivered with a "you don't get it" sort of attitude.

Well, I got news for some of those speakers. While the Agile experience is extremely rewarding to the team, project results are non-negotiable. What I mean is "Results are defined as Scope delivered within time and cost constraints." Businesses invest in IT projects because they want results, not just a great experience for the techies... and, don't get me wrong, when the experience is good and the employees love it, then generally, you'll have more dedication to the projects, and the team will get "more into" their work.... no argument there. I'm talking about overall results.

There is no argument that Agile is a game-changer. Users are brought in early, and your team is always working on high priority items with frequent deliverables. That's all goodness. But, as a manager, you need to be aware of various items:
  1. Measure Personal Productivity- OMG! How can you single people out????? Tepper, you are a sacriligeous hypocrite! Stop insulting the Agile Gods! Look, as a manager, you need to make sure your team is still playing a little "Survivor".... Chances are there may be people getting carried by others, who may be creating negative inflow or regression errors. It's human nature to take care of our own, and Agile teams can become family. The reality is they have probably stopped optimizing their productivity. Measuring personal productivity and occasionally changing team members around will keep things crisp- but shake things up too often and you'll only introduce chaos.
  2. Identify and Correct Negative Inflow and Regression Problems- What problems are being created and who is creating them? Ultimately, these items turn into additional work for the team. What is breaking in production? As the manager, it is your responsibility to deliver projects with high quality. Get your teams to find these and deal with the root cause.
Over the next few blogs we'll discuss techniques to measure and prevent many of the issues that slow down Agile teams.

What are your challenges in your Agile implementation? How are you optimizing performance? I'd like to know.
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