Saturday, November 10, 2012

Follow rules of the road


A tall scrawny guy looked up at the street light, showing red for pedestrians, at the row of taxis waiting to make their turn, and started walking across the wide stretch of Las Vegas Blvd.   I heard him say “Oh, what’s the worst than could happen…” before his voice drowned in the noise of dozens of cars honking and slamming hard on the breaks.    

The signs were all there – the street light, clearly visible, shining bright red and showing a stick figure of a walker standing still.  The crowd – the typical Vegas crowd, rushing about their usual touristy business between the many temptations of the Sin City, was patiently standing on the sidewalk, waiting for the light to turn.  But this man somehow decided that he was different, that his getting on his way was more important, that the rules of the road did not apply to his situation.

Many teams that go through Agile adoption act similarly.  Scrum, a popular Agile process, comes with very detailed directions and roles.   While Scrum has a lot of ceremony, it is an easy process to follow, and it is all but guaranteed to deliver results when followed faithfully, in every detail, for at least a few months.   Except hardly anybody follows Scrum exactly as prescribed.    People tend to read through the directions and go: “This is all fine, but…”

What comes after is rarely original.   Very often people say that they do not have time to spend on daily meetings, iteration planning, or grooming the backlog.  That the project owner is not available once a month(!) to see and comment on the demo.  That their project is big and complicated, and therefore their sprints should be longer.  That there is not enough resources to use proper development practices. 

So the team goes forward with the Agile adoption, and takes up some new process, that cannot truthfully be called Scrum, or Agile, in all conscience. That process is still heavy on ceremony, uses similar terminology as Scrum, but largely allows the work to proceed as before – and to be stuck as before. 

It is as if a team was walking across the wide Las Vegas Strip against a clearly visible red light, away from a pedestrian crossing, but holding hands, as a team should. The cars are screeching to a halt all around, with drivers getting red in the face screaming at the silly tourists.   The team members respond by getting in a tight circle and holding their ground right there, in the middle of the road, while the traffic jam piles up all around them.

Granted, Scrum is an old and heavy process.  But it has proven itself over and over again, and has a great record of success – when followed exactly.   The same way it pays to obey the rules of the road, it makes sense to implement Agile processes to the letter.    The honking will stop, and the destination will be so much easier to reach. 

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