Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thoughts on Moving Beyond Scrum

Moving Beyond Scrum, a posting by Todd Charron on Infoq.com has been making the rounds of our team lead discussion groups. Here's my take on what the writer says and the comments he received:

I’m with the voices that say that Agile is a philosophy and set of principals; not a practice. When we live those principals, we choose and adapt practices to best fit the current situation. Thus, each project team may do things a little differently from the others and one project team may change what it does over the life of its project.

The key drivers of being Agile are focus on business value, delivering working code as frequently as possible while maintaining a sustainable pace, and constant improvement in process and outputs by regularly iterating (review/change) over the results.

Practices that facilitate being Agile are close communication among business representatives and the development team (where UX is part of the development team and not handled as an over-the-wall service); pairing – programming, designing, user researching, testing; test driven development and continuous integration; user research; rigorous ETA projecting and prioritizing based on business value and team velocity.

Attitudes that facilitate being Agile are tolerance for ambiguity and unknowns; flexibility to compromise; interest in hearing and trying new ideas; satisfaction in teamwork (getting things done) over heroics (getting credit for being right).

Shu – Ha – Ri describes three stages of learning -- beginning to learn fixed patterns, experimenting with changes to the patterns, intuitive actions transcending patterns.  This is what much of the article’s discussion was about and describes why the article and its commenters feel there is a problem. There are too many people and organizations who are only in the Shu phase (I read about Agile, I got a Scrum certificate, we always do it like this) and not so many people and organizations at the Ri stage.

SCRUM, whatever its original intention, has become a defined set of practices. Ri people that I know have always referred to Scrum as a project management method and not about how software development happens. Scrum in itself is not magically agile.  Ditto Lean and Kanban.

Entropy, gravity, and human nature combine to emphasize or depend on predictable patterns and relationships. Difficult things fall apart faster, bodies at rest tend to stay at rest, following directions is easier than making a trail or reading a map. Agile works when you bring together a collection of people who prefer to go against these patterns. Therefore, the first challenge is to collect the right people.

Collecting the right people becomes difficult in large, established organizations unless the organization’s culture already rewards innovators and explorers.

Starting small with selective teams and projects is generally the best way to introduce change but such change is never sustained if it depends on outside coaches and consultants or if the higher leadership in the organization does not support and exemplify the change through its own behavior. In other words, long-lasting change needs to start simultaneously at both ends and work its way into the middle.

Things that can be done to foster a JIT delivery culture:
·         Evangelizing – reading & discussion group(s); brown bag sessions (internal & external presenters); publicizing internal examples; agile game sessions.
·         Hiring
·         Project staffing – all intentionally “agile” projects should have sufficient staffing at the Ha level and a Ri member or coach.
·         Co-location – UX, QA, Dev, Business sit together and have mixed meetings beyond IPMs  to discover and negotiate project requirements and design (google "Divergent and Convergent thinking" to learn more).
·         Shadowing
·         Regular process and structure to identify negative patterns, think of solutions, and conduct real-world tests (retrospectives make this happen at the project team level, what’s the equivalent at levels above that? Are the right people participating? Is the right information surfacing? )
·         Demonstrative leadership – actions and words are aligned.