August 22, 2013

Agile anti-patterns list

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, 23, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 1011, 12, 13 and 14

Smell no. 15 - Using story cards to look busy

Story cards should be used as placeholders for conversations. They show who is working on what and are meant to deliver some sort of business value when completed. It could be a philosophical discussion whether to split, or not, story cards into tasks. My personal preference is to avoid doing that. But regardless how your team handles playing stories at an implementation level, the smell to look out for is creating cards that have no reason to exist. 

I've seen oceans of cards with menial tasks written on them. Activities that should take no longer than five minutes but instead linger for days and are shamelessly covered during stand up. They can look like “Send meeting invite to so and so”, “Talk to John about X”, “Create extra column on evaluation spreadsheet” or all time favourite “Wait for [somebody] to review document blah”.

Smell no. 16 - Too many, too long meetings

I once heard the following remark from a team that had started with more responsive practices: “Agile is nice and all but there are too many meetings. Stand-ups, retrospectives, planning meetings, huddles, showcases, lunch-and-learns, our team is always in meetings!” You guys might have missed a thing or two. I say that because there is no Agile certification or Agile rule book and certainly there is no end to doing it. It’s not like if you did x, y and z for 10,000 hours you’d suddenly become Agile. It’s not like you can define a process that applies across all projects like in ITIL, Prince2 or PMBOK cookie cutter. It just doesn't work like that! And if anyone tries to sell you “Agile in a box”, run away because it’s a scam. Agility requires applied common sense, creativity, deep respect for your team, ridiculous amounts of self-discipline and the willingness to play a game without instructions or rules.

Hence, if the team gets the feeling that they are spending too much time in rituals and not getting enough value out of them, that probably is the case! Then the team decide which meetings are worthwhile continuing and which ones to ditch. No one said that if you have no standups you’re not Agile. To preemptively avoid this smell start by clearly defining the problem you’re trying to solve by having a given ritual, then apply it, not the other way around.

Smells no. 17, 18 and 19

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