The agile power of saying no- 4 minutes read - 807 words
I am sitting on the train as I type this coming back from my first IRL conference. Lean Agile Scotland 2022 was brilliant. I met so many people with ideas that just chime with my thinking on agile, I feel energised and full of ideas
- No Bugs
- No Decisions
- No Deadlines
- No Fear
What follows are some thoughts that I took away from some of sessions the conference. There were lots of exciting talks and workshops and it was a pity that I couldn’t clone myself to go to more of them (I was gutted to miss sessions that coincided with my own talk). Here’s a little flavour, though by no means covering all of it:
Wouter started things off for me with a simple solution to bugs:
The solution is simple, instead of parking bugs on a backlog and spending time on endless bug prioritisation sessions, why not simply fix the bugs? And if we don’t want to fix those bugs, throw them away (or mark them as “won’t fix” - tomayto tomahto). Teams are happier because tech debt does not build up to an oppressive mountain and customers are happier because their issues get fixed quicker.
Just think about it, it really can be that simple!
John’s session on Reducing Decisions in Progress also was critical of the backlog. What is the backlog other than a decision that isn’t being made? How often do software engineers fall into the trap of just not making a decision. This question has come up, but it’s too hard to think about it, so we’ll just put it on the backlog. But does filling our plate up with lots and lots of unmade decisions make them more palatable? Which system was ever helped by just hacking around a bit rather than talking about the fundamental flaws. We shouldn’t be afraid of tackling big things and ensuring that decisions that are not important do not take precedence over important ones (vis-a-vis bikeshedding).
Finally, Sree gave a fantastic talk where they told the amazing story where he took over a project that had been put in by a big consultancy with a team of 40 and costing $1 million for 18 months and not delivering any value. He and his team replaced this with an agile team of 8 that produced first results in 3 months. To be able to get buy-in for that plan from “the business” is nothing short of agile magic in my opinion.
His approach was simple:
- It is an experiment
- Start simple
- Allow yourself to fail and learn
- No deadlines
His experiment ran for 3ish months and he was not afraid to be prepared to that his experiment failed. If it didn’t work, he wasn’t worried about admitting maybe wasn’t the right man for the job.
I’ve previously mentioned that I don’t like estimates, and it was great to see this being part of his story. Instead of spending energy on predicting the unpredictable, he mentioned a simple mental model:
- for something completely new, we should be able to put something into production in 12 weeks
- when we’re just getting started, maybe 6 weeks
- when steady, we should be releasing daily
One emergent theme of the conference for me was that fear is the problem. For giving and receiving feedback, fear is detrimental. Fear is the collaboration killer. Fear stops us making decisions. And being afraid to fail means no experiments. If I can only take away one thing from the conference it’s “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”
Strong Opinions, Weakly Held
After 3 days of being in the presence of lots of clever minds in Scotland, it was Joe that mentioned we should have “strong opinions, weakly held”, and I think that is wonderful. Opinions are great. Another term for them might be alignment which has got a lot of positive properties. To throw in a cliche, if we’re all pulling in the same direction, it is easier to shift a bigger weight.
But we also mustn’t hold on to our opinions so rigidly that we can’t change them. I previously suggested that an agile way of recruitment where we look for people that can learn rather than fulfil all of our requirements upfront might ensure a better fit for a team. That language was quite wrong.
Vimla taught me at the conference that to really get the best out of people we need to look for
culture add, not culture fit
Surround yourself with people that have different opinions, have different experiences rather than “fitting your mold”. Don’t be afraid of different.
I’ve waited too long (I’m 45) to “discover” how brilliant it is to go and speak at conferences, there really is nothing to be afraid of… (except maybe mayonnaise on chips)Tags agile conference lean-agile-scotland
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