Sunday, December 12, 2010

Real World Agile - Finding Some Rhythm

It's been a few weeks since my last post - November seems to have come and gone and I was knocked sideways a bit by a nasty cold and a couple of weeks of unplanned work. We're still practicing Agile, though (or at least trying out best) and I wanted make an observation about how things are going in relation to rhythm. This is a bit of a ramble, but I wanted to get my thoughts out before too many weeks had gone by.

In music, the beat is key - it doesn't matter if it's four-on-the-floor dance music or experimental jazz, without rhythm it's just very hard to follow along. Rhythm provides predictability and stability as well as a routine. It is a pattern that makes it possible for anyone to follow along and jump in - even in the middle of a iteration.

We've been experimenting with one-week iterations, just to get our routine and rhythm down. Each week starts with a retrospective from the last week, moves into planning and then execution until the end of the sprint. In between we complete stories, deal with business as usual support and maintenance and start it all over again the next week.

The pattern is simple, but getting a consistent beat for the iterations has not been. We've had sickness, unplanned work, PTO and holidays to disrupt the cadence. Our velocity has been highly variable (which is not unexpected when first starting Agile) and the focus of our stories has been less defined than I'd like.

I think, however, that we are starting to hit our stride. The repetition, despite the variability, has brought predictability to the week, if not the results. We're finally starting to see a flattening of the velocity line and the way we approach the work is starting to gel.

The one thing we've noticed is that one week iterations seem a bit short for us - especially with a three-hour retrospective and planning block in the middle of it. Starting in January, we're going to experiment with a two-week iteration making the three hour block much more tolerable since it only occurs every other week.

Agile is definitely a process worth keeping, but it's hard work and not a silver bullet - especially if you're in an organization pulling you in several directions at once. It's something that takes time and commitment. Having a champion to drive the process and team buy-in is key. I've found that, so far, focusing on the basics and making small incremental improvements week-after-week has been the key to keeping the momentum. I look forward to finishing out the year and seeing our improvements in the next one!

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