Monday, April 22, 2013

3 Things To Do Today To Add Agile to Your Project

One morning at a client site, I came across a small group of people standing up around a table in a conference room.
"So you guys are using Scrum, too?" I asked." 
"No, we're not using Scrum at all. Our project has a deadline coming up to deliver, and we thought it would help if the team just met each morning for a few minutes to talk about what got done yesterday, what's on tap for today and if anyone was having any problems."
Whether using Scrum or not, you can apply these action items below to add some agility to your project. Keep in mind that when I say agility or being agile, I mean activities and attitudes that reflect the values listed on the Agile Manifesto.

1. Meet with your project team (those doing the work) each morning for 15 minutes. Ask someone on the team to facilitate each person answering these three questions:

  • What did I accomplish yesterday?
  • What do I plan to accomplish today?
  • Is anything blocking me from getting my work done?

Interactive displays and interesting conversations at EWEA 2013

If any problem solving or discussions beyond these three questions come up, the facilitator should ask that they be held until after the meeting when others who are interested can stay and continue the conversation. This is called a daily scrum or daily stand-up meeting. It's not a status meeting, but a collaboration touchpoint for folks doing the work.

See the thorough article It's Not Just Standing Up for a deep dive.

2. Use simple collaborative tools. Especially given that most individual contributors in IT are introverts, tools such as fist-to-five (or fist of five), dot-voting, using stickies to brainstorm or provide feedback provide an amazingly different amount and type of feedback. Anytime I just ask for ideas, or what people think, I'll get a third of what I would if I asked the group to write down their ideas, or give me a fist-to-five.

The Fist-to-Five: When you're in a group deciding on something, such as where to go to lunch, you can simply have everyone hold up fingers representing where they stand: 5 means they love the idea, 4 means they like the idea, 3 means they're not that happy but they won't get in the way, 2 means they have some questions or concerns that if answered they can get onboard, and 1 means no way ever never. Fist of five is a great way to hear everyones voice and quickly see who's not in agreement and why (and then work to get them in agreement).

3. Estimate together. Estimate without bias.

I used to go to each of my team members individually and ask them to estimate the effort for their or their people's tasks. What works much better is to bring all the team members together and have them do a blind vote on what they think the estimate is. I commonly hear of only the leads or architects being asked for estimates, but whenever I ask the team if they would like for someone else to estimate their work, they say know. I think it disenfranchises them, eliminates real commitment, and therefore hurts motivation and productivity.

In the big picture, it's best if the work to be done is defined in terms of small units of working software (user stories) and using relative estimation (points) to derive when the work will be done. But that's a big shift, and if your team or company isn't going to okay using Scrum or other agile approach anytime soon, you can still use some helpful aspects of this approach.

Describe the work to be done. Ask if there are any questions. After there are no more questions, have people write down the amount of effort they think it will entail. Pick the persons with the lowest and highest numbers and ask them to explain why they thought so.
Vote again.

Although I hope they'll agree on the same number, they probably will only get closer. It's best to let the team decide the final number. Regardless, I've found that the conversation and team member engagement was so much greater in regards to the requirements and the estimates than I ever had before, and this thoughtful, focused exercise will yield much better understanding and therefore estimates.

These are just some things you can do today to improve your project with collaborative practices that shift focus towards agile values such as individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

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