Agile - A spotlight, not a silver bullet

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Agile - A spotlight, not a silver bullet

What in the world do you mean?  Agile is a spotlight?  That's ridiculous.  It's all about daily stand up meetings, burndown charts, cards on walls, and other fun stuff like that, right?  If I do those things, I am Agile, right?  

WRONG!

Come on, doing all of that stuff has to count for something!!!

OK, fair enough, it actually counts for a lot.  It shows commitment to the process and a desire to make the life of your project less painful over the long haul.

Enough warm up, let's get back to the spotlight analogy...

Think of it this way: All of those meetings, cards, and charts are all little spotlights showing you what is going good and what is going not-so-good in your project.  The goal is that everywhere you go, every meeting you have, you see/hear some reminder of exactly where your project is, good or bad.  Forget trying to decipher some massive MS Project plan (good luck sharing that with your project team) in order to see where your darling little project is at.  Simple charts, simple meetings, simple actions.  

Cool.  So we have all of these spotlights showing us how we are doing.  We are super-sweet Agilistas right?  We should at least get a badge or something.

Wrong.  Not in all caps like before, but still wrong.  Sorry.

You can do all of the things mentioned above and still watch your project turn into an epic failure.

How can that happen? Everyone walks past the burndown chart  every time they walk to their cubes and we all stare at it during out stand up meetings! How can we possibly fail with burndown charts!?!?

One word. Apathy.

Life (your project, after all, is a microcosim of life) is about handling adversity.  One of my favorite sayings goes something like this, "Adversity never killed anyone, only their reaction to it."  The same goes for your project.  If you blissfully ignore your projects adversity, it will fail.  You have simple tools practically shouting your team's progress at you.  Don't disregard the pleas for help that your burndown chart is sending your way.  Sure it's easy to walk past a flat burndown chart and think "Meh, we'll get it turned around and headed in the right direction.  We still have six days left!"  Don't wait!  Fix it now.  Imagine how much easier it will be to get back on track when you are two days behind scheule versus being eight days behind schedule.

Right, so I see the problems we have thanks to our little spotlights everywhere, and now I even recognize the problems and plan to do something about them.  How do I fix my project?!?

Communicate.

That's it?!  That's your big reveal.  Communicate?!?  I do that already.

Do you communicate about the problems your team is having?  Do you even know all of the problems your team is having?  If so, good for you, but I bet you can do better.  Here are some tips:

  • Don't just throw a problem in the ring and see what happens.  Do a little homework.  Think about the issue at hand and come to your team with a couple of ideas on how to solve it.  Use those ideas to spark the combined intelligence of your team in hopes of finding the best solution.    
  • In the heat of a sprint, focus on how you are going resolve the problems rather then debating about how you got there.  Save that for your team's retrospective meeing at the end of the sprint.  You are having retrospective meetings after each sprint, right?!

That's it. It really is that simple.  All of the flashy components of Agile (burndowns, task cards, etc.) shown in books and powerpoints that people use to define their Agility are nothing more than simple mechanisms put in place to force teammates to communicate about the project.  Don't waste all of the effort you put into charts and cards by not asking a question like "Hey, why aren't we burning down like we should?"

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