Thursday, November 15, 2012

Drop Agile and Focus On Creating Value

About 2 years ago I joined a team to help grow a product. At the time, they were Agile....very Agile. Deep in my mind, however, I had a secret plan. Yes! I schemed and plotted like a proper evil Disney villain. My plan was to get this team to stop being Agile.

I talk more about this in a later post: Agile isn't about Product or Customers

Besides my contempt for process (some may argue blithe contempt), the team needed to stay competitive and change something. A lot of time was dedicated to process instead of being spent creating value for the customer. The market was mature but it was also shrinking. The competition was also becoming more aggressive,  making it hard for products to distinguish themselves. Products in the market had long moved from Land Grab to Ben & Jerry’s.

What’s A Girl To Do?

If you can’t grow by acquiring customers who are entering the market for the first time, you’ll have to grow by creating a superior product which takes away customers from the competition. To get here you start with a great process because...

The team had been doing ok with Agile for some time; however, I knew things could move a lot faster.

We’re Agile!

When I hear about a team being [enter process here] I try to discover reasons why they implement this process. After some clever questioning, I find it generally comes down to accountability and feeling secure. Agile tries to solve this problem in at least 2 ways:

  1. A feedback loop back to management about the effort of a task. (Planning Poker)

  2. Enforces a structure whereby management can monitor progress. (Velocity / Backlog / Roadmaps)

So here’s the kicker, how are these two processes ( along with many other processes ) generating value for your product and customers? They don’t. Instead, they are just about creating accountability while making the team and management feel secure. Suppose then, we had a team which did not have any problems with accountability and feeling secure. What would that process look like?

Always Be Creating Value

Always Be Creating Value or ABCV! It’s a mouthful and not as sexy as ABC, but it’ll get the job done. While the aggressive character in the ABC video is generated for entertainment purposes, the frequency which he says “Always Be Closing” is similar to how often teams should be concerned with creating value for their customers. They should be thinking if what they are doing, right now, is creating value or is just busy work.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? When management is concerned that a team or employee is not generating optimal business value, they implement a process which not only does not generate business value, but takes away time to create business value!

Tracking velocity and generating burndown charts is not studying what your customers want. Sitting around in Planning Poker is not fixing bugs and creating features.

The Mighty Text File!

So if I’m not advocating Agile, what process am I advocating? How do things get done? Well, that is up to you and your team to decide. Every team and product is different, so you’ll need to agree upon your own process. I will say that in this particular team, it was an iterative process to find out what parts of a process worked and what didn’t. We slowly evolved from strict Agile workflow, to just a daily catch up meeting and a simple todo list.

The daily was similar to a stand-up in that it was short, but different in that it wasn’t so formal. We also might do it a few times a day. We used Pivotal Tracker, but in our own way. We used it because:

  • It has nice integration with JIRA

  • Allows easy rearrangement of tasks via drag and drop

  • Has a nice way to make comments and attach files to a tasks

Everything else about Pivotal Tracker was just ignored. For anyone thinking about this process, I suggest: If you don’t need the bug integration, just go with text file.

Whatever you do, just make sure your team is motivated to generate value in everything they do. It’s the job of management to help them in this process and break down any barriers in their way.