Recently I visited a customer who had adopted Scrum. They were a few sprints, what Scrum calls iterations, into the project and were running into some difficulties. Although I was primarily brought in to educate senior management on disciplined agile software development, I was also asked to sit in on the team’s daily stand-up meeting so that I could hopefully provide some suggestions as to how to address the problems they were running into.
Their work area was fairly typical. They had some whiteboards which they were using for project planning and tracking, with sticky notes to indicate what work had been taken on by each team member. The current status of the task (not yet started, in progress, and completed) was indicated by putting each sticky note in a corresponding column for the status and corresponding column for the team member. This allowed everyone on the team to easily share their status and to see the status of everyone else. On the sides were sketches of the architecture as well as some business oriented models. In addition to Scrum the team had adopted several practices from Agile Modeling, in this case they had done some initial requirements envisioning and architecture envisioning, as well as practices from Extreme Programming (XP) for construction. In short, they had followed a fairly common strategy of combining practices from various agile methods.
This would have worked perfectly fine if they had tailored the practices to reflect the situation that they were in, but instead they adopted them "straight out of the book". First, the team was distributed, with most of the team in the location that I was visiting but some people located in two other distant cities. Therein was the source of most of their problems. The people at the other two locations weren’t getting much value out of the daily stand-up meetings, even though they would dial in, because they couldn’t see the project status information. Although people at this location were trying their best to represent these distant people in the daily stand-ups it wasn’t working well – their status information wasn’t being kept up to date and for some people it was a bit of mystery as to what they were actually working on at all.
This team also had 30 people in it, which isn’t a big deal although it can stretch the limits of the simple modeling and planning tools (in this case paper and whiteboards) that they were using. Because the team was larger they were investing a fair bit of time creating burn down charts at both the iteration/sprint and project levels. One of the unfortunate implications of using manual tools for project management is that any associated metric/status reporting in turn becomes manual as well. Considering how the agile community is so concerned with working efficiently, I find it comical that we have a tendency to overlook our own potentially unnecessary bureaucracy such as this.
The problem was that the team was applying strategies, in this case using sticky notes and whiteboards to capture the detailed iteration plan, applying similar strategies to capture key models, and were verbally relaying of status information between sub-teams. There are perfectly fine strategies for smaller co-located teams, but not so good for large or distributed teams. The solution was to recognize that they were in an Agility@Scale situation and needed to tailor their approach to reflect this fact. In this case they needed to forgo some of the manual tools and instead use electronic tooling such as Rational Team Concert (RTC) to share information across disparate locations, in particular the work assignment and corresponding status information. RTC also creates common agile reports such as burn-down charts based on the activities of the developers, providing accurate (nearly) real-time information while removing the burden of status reporting. The RTC project dashboard does more than just this, to see an actual example of one visit www.jazz.net to see the dashboard for the RTC development team itself. You can also see their actual work item list too, a more advanced version of Scrum’s product and sprint backlogs.[Read More]