Actual Fred Blogs

Jul 03, 2017

The Scrum Master, the techie, the method and fixing Agile Madness

Once upon a time, in a place not far from London, there was a client who was developing software using an agile methodology or at least they thought it was agile. This is the story of a project that I joined as “the techie” in the title of this blog.

Like most people who have been working in software development for as long as I have, there are many tales to tell but there is hardly any spare time to write them up.. Now that I have decided to give Blogging a go, I thought I will start with one such tale that I remember well for a mixture of reasons.

Anyway, I better start before mind switches to goldfish mode again.

The Techie

I joined this project with some friends whom I had worked with before and our job was to help the client’s development team carry on being agile and productive. All they needed was a few extra pairs of hands.

Excitedly, we joined and thought “Good project, easy money”. We spent the first couple of weeks trying to figure out where the best pubs where and which toilet was within the catchment of curry kings (or queens) so we could avoid them. Ha ha, got you there. Your imagination is probably not somewhere pleasant right now but that was just a little teaser to wake you up in case you are reading this on the train and started dozing off. The thought of the curry king might even keep you awake for the whole journey.

Back to the project, so we spent some time trying to understand how things were done there and who was who in the team.

The first thing we noticed was how their understanding of Agile was different to ours. This of course was not a total shock to us; we had already seen that to many organisation, being Agile simply means not being formally practicing Waterfall and having no documentation while delivering some functionality frequently.

Ok, so these guys were not that bad in terms of broadly understanding Agile. They certainly were not practicing it effectively but they didn’t know how ineffective/un-agile their ways were because they did not have a consistent way of measuring it.

I know this story is not exactly as unpredictable as “The Usual Suspects” file but bear with me as there is a point to this. If we all look back at every project we have done and had made some “lessons learned” notes, we could actually make a difference to our next gig.

The Method

In order for us to show that we were making a positive contribution to the project, we needed a way to measure velocity and it had to be a formula that everyone could buy into. The team was already calculating their velocity based on the number of story points done per iteration, but what was not clear was the Definition of Done, (DoD). That’s right; the first question people from outside the team were asking was “Is it done or is it done done?”. This, of course, highlights the lack of clarity and consensus on what ‘Done’ means to different people.

The Scrum Master

Enter the Scrum Master with a not so sexy rendition of Delia’s ‘here is one I prepared earlier’ and showed the team a list of things to check and tick before you call a task ‘Done’. With a few tweaks, we now had a DoD that the team believed in and we could use to mark a user story as being completed, which in turn helps define the team’s velocity.

With DoD in the bag, it was time to focus on the overall process that was being followed on the journey. We noticed that although there were some colourful slides that attempted to show the process, these were interpreted and understood differently by different stakeholders, including the co-located geeks. As for the techies that were off-shore, you will need to make good allowance for lost in translation. Add cross-cultural differences, eagerness to say “Yes” and time difference, you are left with a good chance of people not on the same page for a good number of pages.

Re-enter the Scrum Master; and this time we re-jigged the process without hurting the pride of any senior folk. We arranged for the whole team including off-shore to be co-located for a whole iteration to encourage the adoption of our method (and some of our madness). We tweaked the process with the team to give them the sense of ownership too and there it was: we had a process that you could translate to Chinese and back via Mongolian on Google Translate and still could make sense.

Now that we had nailed the DoD and the process, we thought the rest would be as easy as clicking “Skip” on a YouTube advert for a political party after an election. As you may have guessed, that was not the case but I will stop here for now as I need more than one session and I want you to come back for more.

Until next time, live long and prosper.

Blog home