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Maybe courage is the key...

I went to an all day planning session yesterday for the next set of sprints for a client, they're doing 3 sprints for the next release with each sprint being 2 weeks long. I was there to provide architecture advice on the implementing the functionality using their newly adopted MVC(P) pattern and layered architecture.

I sat in on several sessions for one team and they where going great guns at producing a development backlog. By the end of the session they had a good break down of the technical tasks required for the sprints, this included estimations of the time required for the tasks and the total estimated time fitted well with the total time available per sprint.
At the end of the day the team then presented there proposed sprints to the whole development team. When one of the other teams was presenting it became apparent they had fallen back into the safe & familiar waterfall approach. The glaring evidence for this was an ad-hoc Gantt chart stuck to the wall!

It became obvious they'd taken their backlog and not only assigned tasks to specific developers ahead of time but had also assigned an order for implementation with hard dates & times for all tasks. This instantly made the sprint structure fixed and brittle - it would be unable to deal with changing requirements and feedback from the customer, they didn't have there Agile thinking hats on! They were seeing dependencies in the order of the tasks where they didn't need to - you know like 'you can't build that before this because...'. These type of dependencies are broken by building software in a more Agile manner because principles like dependency injection, mocking and BDD (I'm starting to think BDD really ROCKS!) allow you to develop systems without have all your dependencies implemented before you start.

Now there are plenty of blog entries out there about why Gantt charts don't feature frequently if at all on Agile projects. I was more interested in why it appeared and I started to think about this, it then became apparent the person who produced the Gantt chart didn't have the COURAGE not too! They didn't have the courage to say 'I don't know how this fits into the time scale for project' you can probably tell this came from a senior person on team - one of the guys managing the team. This intern made me realise they didn't have the courage to trust their team to deliver and this is a symptom that they didn't trust the agile process. Plus I get the feeling they're still thinking in a chronological approach to delivery when they should be thinking in a feature based approach.

So for me at the moment the most important Agile principle is courage - not only the courage for a team to communicate back to a product owner problems or the ability of team members to be honest about their technical knowledge, but the ability of the management layer to communicate their worries and concerns without resorting to waterfall methods of reassurance.


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