Okay, this is only marginally related to agile, but I thought it was interesting nevertheless: How to Write a Detailed Strategic Plan. The main connection to Agile Work, is that you need to have a clear performance goal in mind towards which you are working. This may be a great way to clarify your thoughts about such a goal.
My first iteration using Agile Work for my business development has come to a close. Here is what I did for a “demo” and retrospective.
Last night I was thinking more about the analogy of technical debt. In this analogy, design and quality flaws in a team’s work become a “debt” that must eventually be paid back. This analogy is fantastic because it can be taken just a little bit further to understand just how bad defects are…
Dmitri is only looking at one side of the cost/benefit equation. He’s laid out a very convincing argument why Sarah should not interrupt her carefully planned two week iteration, but he hasn’t even mentioned arguments for the other side: the important sale that will be lost.
Okay… I’ll bite.
Agile Work consists of seven core practices. These practices form a solid starting point for any person, team or community that wishes to follow the Middle Way to Excellence.
Any group of people that wish to be an Agile Team need to take the initiative to determine for themselves how they are going to work (process) and how they are going to do the work (product). The term “team” really applies quite broadly to any size group of people that are working together towards a common goal.
Teams go through stages of development as they perform their work. The most important result of team development is the team itself, and not the specific skills and abilities that the individuals learn.
If the team is part of a broader organization, that organization must give the team the authority, space and safety to learn to be self-organizing. The organization’s leadership is responsible for determining the “why?”, some constraints on “how?”, and then letting the team respond to the need as best as it can.
Also Known As: Whole Team (Extreme Programming), Cross-Functional Team (business management).
Agile Work uses short fixed periods of time to frame the process of delivering something of value. Each of these iterations or timeboxes is structured so that the team or group actually finishes a piece of work and delivers it to stakeholders. Then, the team builds on what has previously been delivered to do it again in the same short amount of time.
The sooner that valuable results can be delivered, the more value can be obtained from those results. This extra value is derived from opportunities such as earlier sales, competitive advantage, early feedback, and risk reduction.
There is an explicit tradeoff: the shorter the time to delivery, the smaller the piece of value will be. But, like investing in one’s retirement account, the earlier you start, even with small amounts of money, the better off you are in the long run.
Also Known As: Sprint (Scrum), Iteration (Extreme Programming), Timeboxing (generic), Time Value of Money (accounting).
Plan to Learn
Every type of work is governed by a Horizon of Predictability. Any plan that extends beyond this horizon of predictability is bound to fail. Agile work uses an explicit learning cycle tied in with the planning of work to accomodate this inevitable change.
First, a goal is required. This goal can be long-term. Teams using Agile Work then create a queue of work items to be done in order to reach this goal. Each iteration, some of these items are selected, finished and then the queue is adjusted. The changes in the work queue are based on external factors, and learning that the team does as it goes.
One of the most effective methods for the team to learn about how it is doing its work is the retrospective. After each delivery of results, the team holds a retrospective to examine how it can improve.
Also Known As: Inspect and Adapt (Scrum), Kaizen (Lean), Adaptive Planning (generic).
A team needs to have effective means of communicating, both amongst team members and also to stakeholders. To Communicate Powerfully, a team needs to prefer in-person communication over distributed communication. Synchronous over asynchronous communication. High-bandwidth over low-bandwidth communication. Multi-mode communication over single-mode communication.
The results of failing to communicate powerfully include wasted time for waiting, misunderstandings leading to defects or re-work, slower development of trust, slower team-building, and ultimately a failure to align perceptions of reality.
The single most effective means to communicate powerfully, is to put all the team in a room together where they can do their work, every day for the majority of the work time.
Some types of work do not lend themselves to this approach (e.g. creating a documentary video), but every effort should be made to improve communication.
Also Known As: Visibility (Scrum), Whole Team and Team Room (Extreme Programming), War Room (business management).
Defects are one of the most critical types of waste to eliminate from a work process. By testing everything, by driving all the work of a team by creating test cases to check the work, a team can reach extremely high quality levels. This ability to prevent defects is so important that only an executive level decision should be considered sufficient to allow defects into a work process. Quality is not negotiable.
In Agile Work, removing a defect is the only type of work that takes priority over any new features/functionality/production. If the end result desired is to maximize value, then removing defects is an important means to that end.
A team has an ethical duty to discover new ways to effectively test their work. This can be through the use of tools, various feedback mechanisms, automation, and good old problem-solving abilities.
Also Known As: Canary in the Coal Mine (Scrum), Test-Driven Development (Extreme Programming), Defects per Opportunities (Six-Sigma).
Since Reality is Perceived, it is important for an agile team and organization to have a clear method of describing and perceiving what is important for the organization. Measuring value is a critical method for describing and perceiving what is important.
A single metric can be used to drive all the measurement and goal-setting and rewards in an organization. All other measurements are secondary and must be treated as such: limited in use and temporary.
There are many things which are easier to measure than value. It is often easy to measure cost, or hours worked, or defects found, or estimate vs. actual… etc. However, all of these other measurements either implicitly or explicitly drive sub-optimal behavior.
Also Known As: Measuring Results (Scrum), ROI (business management), Economic Driver (Good to Great), Running Tested Features (Extreme Programming).
Clear the Path
Everyone in an organization using Agile Work takes responsibility for clearing the path, removing the obstacles that prevent work from being done effectively. Clearing the Path doesn’t just mean expedient, quick fixes to problems, but rather taking the time to look at an obstacle and do the best possible to remove it permanently so that it never blocks the path again.
In the Agile Work method, the Process Facilitator is the person who is responsible for tracking obstacles and ensuring that the path is cleared. To do this, the Process Facilitator maintains a Record of Obstacles.
Clearing the Path is sometimes painful work that exposes things we would rather not deal with. As a result, it is critical that people build their capacity for truthfulness and work to develop trust amongst each other. Building a capacity for truthfulness is not something that can be done by using an explicit process.
Also Known As: Removing Obstacles (Scrum), Stopping the Line (Lean).
Remember also, that these practices must always be viewed and implemented in the context of the Agile Axioms. These axioms provide a check to ensure that the practices are not being applied blindly, but rather applied appropriately to the given situation.
In software development (and in many other types of projects), there is a typical non-agile approach to estimation of project size. This method starts with a high-level understanding of the work to be done, the requirements, and uses that to make an initial estimate of the project size. This estimate is often stated in units such as man-months. There is a very important piece missing here that makes this estimate completely useless… that makes it pure fantasy.
Sometimes an agile team is innundated (or maybe just slightly distracted) by requests for individuals on the team to do work for people or groups outside the team’s official stakeholders. This can happen, for example, in a corporate culture that promotes the exchange of favors. This past weekend at our Agile Coach’s gathering, Deborah Hartmann shared her method of detecting, exposing and discouraging this unofficial work.
Deborah Hartmann and Robin Dymond have written an excellent paper “Appropriate Agile Measurement: Using Metrics and Diagnostics to Deliver Business Value” [pdf]. I strongly recommend this as critical reading for any organization adopting Agile Work methods. The paper provides a basic framework for the safe use of appropriate metrics: metrics that will help the health of the organization, not hinder it.
A recent discussion on the Scrum Development list (Start of Discussion) provides a good follow up to my parting words in The Art of Obstacle Removal about agile practices themselves becoming obstacles. I have excerpted a small amount of the discussion and added my own comments here.
In general, an organization should have one metric that is used to measure success. However, along the way, it may be useful to temporarily use other metrics to help motivate, track, or predict work. Here are two metrics that can be used in this temporary manner for Agile Work.
I just recently read the article by Ron Jeffries: A Metric Leading to Agility. It’s a good, well written, well thought out article. If you are in the software business, check it out if you haven’t already.
However, much as it is good advice, I believe that I must add a cautionary note.
Two interesting visual presentations of the progress of adoption of Scrum practices. These are marginally software-specific but could very easily be adapted to non-software agile work situations.