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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Agile needs to understand and focus on agility more

Over the last few weeks, I overhead a few practices such as the following while claiming to practice agile.
a)       Not finding the tasks in the sprint backlog for sizing the user story
b)      Evaluating the definition of done during almost every sprint
c)       Focus on the sprints and lose the value not delivering on committed time
d)      Not factoring capacity into account in a velocity driven planning

The major focus of agile is on maximizing value to the customer. This is stated as, “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” To accomplish that goal, it is imperative to ensure that we exhibit agility rather than claim to practice the so-called Agile paradigm. When the focus is on this value maximization to the customer, how could the above practices that fail to add value to the customer be considered agile practice?

Maximization of value means within the agreed timebox, the team self-organizes to add the appropriate tasks. The scrum master acting on the team’s behalf needs to hold the definition of done articulated ambiguously by the product owner. Similarly, the product owner needs to be held accountable to the larger committed timeline to the customer not losing focus on the slips in the timeline due to losing velocity in every sprint.  The scrum master needs to hold the product owner responsible for capacity planning in a velocity driven team rather than a commitment driven team.

If the principles recommended above are not upheld, then claiming to be agile is an understatement. This is because the maximization of value delivery with a focus on customer is falling apart. Some of the root causes are the following:
a)       Thinking that a team is agile just because of the use of a specific tool or adoption of a specific recommended ceremony.
b)      Merging the crucial roles of scrum master and product owner in one person who keeps neither role in check.
c)       Addition of new team members not sharing the same norms disrupting operating rhythm.
d)      Allowing the flexibility to let the team not meet the required commitment because it can always be picked up in the next sprint.

Going to the basics, if the focus is on value delivery to the customer, then, it is important to not lose the focus of time, scope, quality, and cost and the risk of non-delivery on these elements. Increasingly, as agile gains mainstream focus, it is indispensable for the agile team to understand these considerations and not just adhere to agile terminologies. Only when one understands these principles can one appreciate when to stay agile, when to adapt practices, and when to recommend going with traditional approaches.