Monday, April 28, 2008

An Good Agile Team is a Disciplined Team

Since last year I have been at two different development shops that were in various stages of adopting Scrum. At the first I was the development manager and initial Scrum Master for a medium sized team that was moving from a waterfall/cowboy process to Scrum. Most recently I have been consulting with a smaller company that had previously loosely adopted Scrum, but has been bought by a larger company that has a more structured methodology. It has been a very educational experience.

One thing that I have learned is that a development team that wishes to get the most out of adopting Scrum must be a very disciplined team. It is sometime a misconception that agile methodologies are basically "the inmates running the asylum", but agile (and Scrum in my experience) requires a more mature and self-reliant team than waterfall. Scrum team are "self organizing" and are given almost total freedom to get their job done during each Sprint. They are left to determine what needs to be done, who works on what task, the approach for each item, etc. often with little to no outside influence.

This is quite a big responsibility and I have seen many people (and I include myself) struggle with it. Less mature developers may dive into a technical task and be oblivious to how their task relates to the project as a whole. Often they do not take advantage of the Daily Scrum meetings to get a good sense of how the team is progressing towards the current Sprint goal. These developers will often under estimate tasks and their deliverables will tend to be less on target.

Scrum Masters can fall into old habits also. As a Scrum Master I tended to want to "lead" the team rather than facilitate the team leading itself. Sometimes this was "muscle memory", but often I had to provide a more hands on approach when my team would start to drift away from the goals of a Sprint. I had to make a concentrated effort to let go and allow my team to run itself. I also am guilty of getting off track in the sacred Daily Scrum meetings. My team takes great joy in using my own phrase "Don't tell me about the pregnancy, show me the baby." when I do this.

I think that most every developer really knows what must be done to create a solid software solution, but what we struggle with is the discipline to execute in our daily activities. It is often easy at the beginning and then gets decidedly harder as the pressure increases. I personally struggle with this and am trying to make a real effort to make myself adhere to the principals that I believe make me a better developer.

Just this last Sprint I found myself continuing on a task that we had time boxed to a few days. At the end of the time period I was very close to wrapping it up and decided to extend the time period. Each time I got "close to finishing" another issue arose and I extended the time period again. I did finish the task and the result will greatly benefit the team, but other tasks were sacrificed. I also had to admit to myself that if another member of the team had done something similar, as the Scrum Master I would have probably called them out on it. It was another lesson it how to be more disciplined in my approach.

My hope is that each day I gain a little more experience and a little more practical approach to how I adopt (and sometimes DON'T adopt) agile/Scrum philosophies. That way the next day I become a more disciplined developer.

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