Agile – More than a Stand-Up

Recently I’ve had conversations and interviews with people that mention working in an Agile Scrum environment. When I drill a little deeper into how they operate, the standard answer seems to be “daily stand-ups”. Many people associate stand-up meetings with an Agile process and it certainly is a key component. However, doing just stand-ups misses a lot of what an Agile process has to offer.

I’ve implemented Agile across a number of different teams and each one is slightly different. We tend to start out with the basics and then build. I think there are two key components to an Agile process: cadence and feedback. Without these two items, Agile teams tend to struggle.

Cadence

I am a runner and sometimes cyclist. In both of these activities, cadence is a key component to high long lasting performance. If I intend to finish a long running race, I need to understand my pace and the cadence I have to run to achieve it. At some points in the race I can go faster and some slower. However, I can’t vary my cadence widely or I will burn precious energy.

Development teams are the same. If we push really hard for some deadlines and sit back for others, the team has no rhythm or pace. Team members will tend to burn out on the short deadlines and slack on the long deadlines. It’s in our nature to deal with things only when they are important and relevant.

A good Agile process helps smooth out the sprints and stops by setting a defined cadence. In Agile Scrum there is a two key cadence: sprint length and daily stand-ups. The sprint length can vary from team to team. From a pure agile perspective, sprints are 30 days. In my experience implementing Agile for BI teams, sprints of 2-3 weeks are generally the most comfortable.

To have the high throughput and to accurately gauge the velocity of a team, sprint cycles should remain consistent. If a team decides on a 3-week sprint cycle, they should stay with it for a while. It’s okay to change if that makes sense for the team, but changing back and forth all the time knocks teams off their pace and significantly drags on performance. Try to keep sprint lengths consistent.

Daily scrums should also be there. Having a daily checkpoint helps everyone keep moving forward. If a team regularly misses stand-ups or varies their timing the team won’t perform well.

Feedback

Again, as a runner I need feedback to keep my performance up. I’ve had stretches when I’ve run without a watch and my overall pace drops significantly. I need to know that I’m either on pace or not. Agile teams are no different. There needs to be a mechanism to gauge what’s going well and what isn’t. This is where Retrospectives, Planning and the Daily Stand-ups come in.

Retrospectives seem to be one area people commonly skip. With busy teams, it seems to be the first thing that is cut. This is a huge detriment to Agile teams. How do we know we how we did if we don’t reflect on it? It’s worth spending 30 – 60 minutes at the end of each sprint cycle talking about what went well and what needs improvement. This simple conversation can drive out some key areas that need to be addressed and give positive feedback to the team on items that went well. We all need positive feedback to stay energized.

Planning is a time to understand what everyone else is working on. It is important that all team members are present and participate. It takes time to plan and it is time well spent. Teams that skip planning or remove team members from planning spend additional time during a sprint discussing items that could have been dealt with all at once. Spend the time to understand what everyone is doing and get any open questions and concerns out of the way.

Daily stand-ups are for more than just status. Make sure that each team member goes through: what they did yesterday, what’s their plan for today and what’s in their way. The last question is crucial. Roadblocks will always appear. Its key to identify them early and deal with them before they completely disrupt the sprint cadence.

Wrap-Up

Agile is more than just a daily-stand up. Make sure you use the right processes for a consistent cadence and gathering timely feedback. Keeping these two key principals in check will significantly help overall team performance.

Dave DuVarney

Talavant, 5510 Nobel Drive, Suite 235, Fitchburg, WI, 53711

Dave DuVarney is President and Co-Founder of Talavant.  Dave has delivered numerous business intelligence projects in both a technical and functional leadership role.  Dave's latest technical focus has been on the Microsoft Business Intelligence tools including Analysis Services 2012, Integration Services 2012, BIML, Reporting Services and Power BI.  Along with technical delivery, Dave has assisted clients in establishing Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence initiatives.  This includes working with executive stakeholders to define objectives, assisting in the identification of team roles and implementing development best practices using Agile Scrum.