Agile at Source – Part One

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By Roderick Cain, S&S Associate  

Father Ted: “OK, one last time. These are small… but the ones out there are far away. Small… far away…”


You cannot jump to Agile at Scale (far away) without starting small (close by), before you can scale you need a solid foundation – get small working correctly.

A colleague asked: “What is the biggest hurdle to effective Agile coaching, is it moving people away from Waterfall?“

The answer in this day and age is no, it is moving from doing agile to being agile. Do not get me wrong there are advantages to the “doing” part of agile frameworks, for example, Kanban boards, daily scrums and Sprint provide visibility, communication and hopefully increased production.

However, without an understanding of why you are following them, the true benefits of agile will not be achieved; continuous improvement, transparency, ability to adapt and delivery based on real customer value.

With this in mind, here are the top things to look out for in your existing practices:

We are doing Scrum but without those pesky meetings: Sprints without the defined events (they are not meetings), the events get rescheduled often, people do not attend.

By the Book: Blindly following the Sprint schedule vs. understanding what they are there to achieve – short iterations, promoting conversations, amending the plan, improving delivery, unblocking issues, reducing rework, etc.

Separation anxiety: The Sprint duration flexes based on the application release schedules i.e. a deployment window is delayed so the Sprint is lengthened to meet to the date. There is also a difference between a Deployment (just some code put on a server) and a Release (provides value for the end user).

Sprint phobia: Long waterfall type Sprints, the benefit of short Sprints is you get more time to practice, compact review cycles that drive continuous improvement. “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face” — Eleanor Roosevelt.

Points do not always make prizes: Story points are not well understood, velocity is used as a management metric, trying to standardise story points across teams to compare and contrast productivity and they get gamed to increase velocity.

Don’t look back in Anger: No Retrospectives or Retrospectives where actions are not agreed, prioritised or carried out.

Yawn: The “feeling there are too many meetings”, for weekly sprints the events should take up no more than 10% of the available delivery time. When properly delivered, the events help reduce the amount of ad-hoc meetings.

Daily Stand-up, up, up, up: The Daily Scrum lasts far too long, turning into a water cooler chat, acceptance criteria review. Keep it short and then set up another session if needed.

January gym body – lacking definition: No agreed and visible Definition of Ready or Definition of Done.

It’s hard to let go: Completed code does not get into production on a regular basis since it is complex to merge, validate and deploy.

Cracking the Whip: Continually exceeding “work in progress” limits, the work gets blocked and more and more is pushed into the process.

Never Ending Story: Work being started and not completed – returned to the backlog, blocked or floats from Sprint to Sprint since ill defined, the team cannot make decisions so waiting on others, the product owner is not empowered and over commitment.

It is important to instil and promote an agile mindset before trying to deploy agile across the whole enterprise.

As Allen Holub (computer scientist and widely published software architect and Agile-transformation consultant) commented “Agile is not something you implement. It’s a set of principles and practices that you adopt to solve business problems. The best way to do that is incrementally. Identify a core problem. Fix it using tools from your Agile toolbox. Repeat.”

We’ve only touched the surface on some of the areas of focus, so we will be back with part two soon.

If you’re interested in bringing the true power of agile to life for your business, click here to book in a chat.

Written by
Sullivan & Stanley