Agile has gone mainstream. Companies do it, governments do it, consultants, and contractors. Everybody does it. Right? Maybe not. The metaphor that comes to mind is a group of young men discussing sex. It’s cool, new and everybody wants in. The majority say they are doing but the sad fact is that most of them are lying and those that are actually doing it, are doing it wrong.
After seen Agile done well, and badly I started to become aware of “smells”. These smells are signs that despite of an Agile veneer, it’s not agile at all. A side point is that the word Agile has lost its meaning. It became this silver-bullet-buzzwordy thing and now it’s close to worthless. See, the point is not Agile, the point is to get better at developing software. Hopefully these smells will give you ideas on how to get better at what you and your team do.
Smells no. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12
Smell no. 13 - Invisible work - 2AM commits
When starting new projects it is a good idea to come up with a Team Charter. This charter can be a simple piece of A4 paper on the wall containing the basic rules all team members must abide by. It has things like pairing hours, what to do when late for stand-up and general guidelines like speaking English at all times. It should also contain a bullet point with acceptable commit times.
I’ve seen individuals that are really excited about the project, or maybe because they lack something else more interesting to do, consistently go home after a day’s of work and continue testing/coding for hours. This kind of behaviour may seem harmless, or even perceived as true commitment to the project, but it can turn out ugly. In this particular project I was in no one spotted a problem until the rogue night committer left the team. Suddenly our velocity dropped far more than anyone expect. The issue with workaholics is that they set a pace hard to follow and create “ghost” points that no one tracks, making planning releases harder and masking the team's true capacity.
The smell here is invisible work. Should the entire team agree that it is OK to continue working after hours, then fine, make it official in the Team Charter, track the work and watch out to prevent burn outs.
Smell no. 14 - Using cards to not get it done
Grooming a backlog to keep it healthy and meaningful is hard work and requires a great deal of self-discipline. However to make a mess of it doesn’t take much. To create a new story card is simple, it only takes a card, a Sharpie and a little Bluetac. Such simplicity can lead to problems. I’ve witnessed teams that deliberately create new cards as an easy way to get rid of work. Their backlogs were big and messy and a billboard could very well get lost in there. When the business, architects or anyone else requested work they’d say: “Sure, let’s create a card and put in the backlog.”, when in reality there was no real intention to ever play that card.
There are several reasons why we make work visible, amongst them is to enable meaningful conversations to take place. I’ve heard teams complaining about how hard it is to find information and how impossible it is to know what people are doing. Simply increasing backlog to pretend work will get done only compounds to the problem. There’s no visibility with hidden agendas and the false expectations created that will eventually make the entire process collapse due to the loss of trust.
Smells no. 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19