Changes at work (Agile Methodology)

Mai 28, 2014

For the past few days I pondered  on the fact whether I should keep my attention on the changes that are being gradually introduced at my work place or I should embrace (good) change as a principle of life. As with any change they do create a certain level of discomfort.

The management is introducing Agile Methodology and all teams will sooner or later be „affected”. For the readers which are not familiar with the concept of  agile working, the internet is already a good source of information and I will just say that it is an organic methodology to ultimately achieve increased productivity from the team of workers which it is being applied on. It is said to have its roots in Lean Manufacturing (also Fordism). Its strength is in the fact that it deals with changes very early in the project lifecycle and addresses them whilst concentrating on the results. The worker’s tasks should note take longer than 2 weeks to complete. This two weeks interval is called sprint. The completion of a project is achieved after a certain number of sprint iterations.

Four years ago we started the project with a small team of three and 16 months later, a fourth person joined the team to help us tie up loose ends before launch and to improve the response for any issues cropping up during the first weeks of life of our product. The launch was kept low profile and the web application we developed had a steady growth and continues to grow with new requirements coming. However I do not want to talk about the success of the project, I want instead to look at the dynamics of our almost self-managed team. We delivered on time and on budget a working product. Business got confident that we can deliver, the budget increased and today, four years on, we are a team of eight people. In the process some people left, some people came to replace them and there was a moment when the team seemed to have lost momentum and it looked like the project was beginning to drift in some unknown direction. These were actually times when we could invest in redesigning and improving parts of the application with self-taught knowledge or use these quieter times whilst the application was running on autopilot to look into new business opportunities. I prefer the latter but under the current contract this proves difficult. How does one grow if his time and presence are measured?

Agile method of working implies stand-ups, which in our project means we all stand up for at least 15 minutes every day and communicate (report) to everybody else what we are working on, how long we estimate it will take to complete and whether anything is preventing us from doing our work. Besides our project coordinator there is also an observer, a consultant, specialising in coaching Agile. I generally do not have a problem with these daily catch ups but when I am busy and focused on my work I find them an unnecessary interruption. It’s an interference with work in progress, when there is nothing new to report. Ok, I got it, this is not for me, it’s for the manager. Four years we managed our selves, our workload and our time. We worked in pairs, we interacted with each other as when and how we needed. Now this question bugs me: how has the management come to the conclusion that we need to be coached Agile?

It seems to be widely accepted that programming is a science but also an art. Do you see a bunch of artists reporting at regular intervals of time what they are working on or how long is going to take them to complete their work? I find this aspect of agile, and the aspect of obsessive meetings of any work method, quite demotivating.

If they asked me before introducing Agile what was really needed to make our work better and the team more efficient, I would have asked them to introduce hierarchy in the team. Instead of bringing  other senior developers, each of them eager to change what has already been done because his method is superior, a second senior developer would have been sufficient to balance the decisions of the first one and the rest should have been developers of medium experience in one skill (i.e front end development because this is the area were our team lacked strength) and junior level in the other area (back end) where he could learn from the more seniors. (I suppose in the current workforce market place I am too pretentious.) Having too many architects introduced the problem of inconsistency in our code. I would trade imperfection for consistency any time.. In fact, what the new developers did was to almost dismiss the existing work on the basis of self skill adulation. In the domain of building cities you do not have this luxury, you must work with what you have. Follow what you have to preserve consistency then have a strategic approach for re-factoring the product with minimum disruption of services.

I would have also suggested a dedicated tester person moved to our office to continually test and provide immediate feedback to us in order to quickly fix problems.

One other idea which could work for our team is to have a dedicated senior developer which could play the role of an assembler. What I mean is that he/she could be assigned less development work but perform more integration work, a sort of architect who requires pieces of working software from the other developers and then glues them together.

To my colleagues I would suggest each of us should try to make the life/work of other person easier by overlooking minor faults and not clinging on them. This way we will benefit from less friction in the work process.

I think this is what our team needs and I hope Agile is a step in the right direction and will put my observations into the light.

 

02.06.2014 update: Today we had our end-of-the-spring-assesment-meeting.

At the end of every 2 week sprint we meet to discuss what went well and what went not so well during the sprint. We list the good things and also the bad things. Sometimes an item shows on both lists like it happened today, the Daily stand-ups showed on both. :-) We propose solutions to each problem we identify and we bullet point those on a white board with maximum visibility to the team. We then vote. Each team member looks at the list of identified issues and votes according to his opinion and/or priorities which should be addressed in the new sprint. At the end of the voting, the more critical aspects will reveal themselves. We choose three of them and try to address them during the next sprint(s). I think I like Agile but I’m too old for sprints.

The coach said, in Agile we try to make everyone take ownership of the product (the code in our case).

03.06.2014 update: I am not yet convinced about the necessity of the daily stand-ups.

Sometimes they appear necessary but after yesterday’s stand-up and the 1 hour sprint review at the end of the day yesterday, I am really not looking forward to today’s stand-up. I feel demotivated and thoughts of leaving the project started to come back after some time in which I thought we found the right working formula. Do I again kill this miserable soul and go ahead fulfilling the role or do I go where I should have gone a long time ago, my way? Perhaps this is one of the purposes of Agile, to refresh the team with new blood.

Why do workers leave? (06.06.2014):  Because they are not the organisation. Because their will does not count too much and they are expected to leave when disagreements arise. There ore other reasons but they are not worth mentioning here.

11:4o am: working away, Beethoven concertos in my ears (). If you wanted to take the human factor into account, I could do without this meeting due in 5 minutes.

12:00pm: done. deadlines were reminded at the end of the stand-up. I don’t really care too much about those partly because I usually complete my work on time. It takes what it takes, however long is necessary to complete the work without anxiety and enough breaks to make it feel less like a toil. With the amount of work ahead of me I do not think I’ll make the deadline. The challenge is not to give in to this thought, stay serene, keep making my work interesting which means slowing down enough to be able to experiment new things and last but not the least, bogging about it.

 

04.06.2014 update: Could daily stand-ups be targeting introvert-ism?

05.06.2014 update:How long do you think this piece of work will take?

– I don’t know exactly. When you go to doctor do you ask him how long is going to take him to operate your appendix?

 

10.06.2014 update: Lunchtime inter-team work games was announced. The scope is to enhance the collaboration outside the scope of our project. I have the feeling I stayed beyond the point at which dignity is loosing its teeth. Agile is gently becoming aggressive. I feel the need to stick to my self preservation philosophy: I’m an old dog and I don’t want to be re-trained

Why these changes alienate me from my work? Because they are rather imposed on us as ‘good practice’ instead of coming as a necessity from within the team.

After today’s stand up more classical ensued..

And this launches me into strangely remote thought: Do you want to find out if Steve Mc’Queen made it to freedom when he answered his friend Does it matter?” and jumped into the ocean? There is only one way to find this out: I should jump out into the unknown too.

The scene of:

DH:” -Do you think it’ll work?”

SMcQ: „-Does it matter?”

 

 

12.06.2004 update: I did not want to attend the stand-up today. I felt the meeting and the presence of the consultant intrusive. Even more so as I am not an employee, I am a consultant myself. After four years life’s supposed to get better not worse.

Imagine you are at home enthralled in your favourite text and someone rings your bell, every day, at the same time. Except that I sit at my desk with enough work for the rest of the month, which by the way, I just managed to make it seem interesting, and the Outlook Daily Meeting reminder pops up. WTF!

I refused to make myself available for today stand-up and I left 5 min before it started. I returned half an hour later and I haven’t seen the manager or the coach. No one said anything, yet. they will probably bring it out in front of every one at the next stand up tomorrow. Do I give them the chance to do it or do I refuse the meeting again? I am thinking of attending it to see how they deal with my absence today.

 

13.06.2014 update: I spilled the beans. To avoid potential conflict I told the manager I am not happy with the fact that I need to work agile. The reaction was positive. He will raise it to superiors and asked me to wait to see what they will say. It is getting interesting. It will probably be the highway. They will also maybe thinking what they did wrong. Probably nothing. It is just me not wanting to work under current conditions. Not sure about the others but the feeling is that the daily stand-ups seem a bit too much. They do obey them though.

16.06.2014  – 10:35am update: Very early this morning I woke up and it occurred to me that the Agile could have an eavel effect – it turns the managers in control freaks and the developers into quiet puppets or just developers.

In today stand-up, which I attended, it has been announced that it has been realised this is indeed not the right time to have the lunchtime teams game. My reaction had some effect.

17.06.2014 update„I am what I am and what I am needs no excuses…” 

I think I ought to end this post and I think this is a good time. I refused the stand-up meeting today and I returned just in time to bump into the consultant which run it since the manager was not in. We had an amiable discussion standing by the building door. Nice chap which i think he understood my points. I am what I am and it takes what it takes. If they tolerated or liked my work for the past 4 years it’s for them to think about. Obviously not expecting him to stop doing what he is here to do. At least he’s also aware of my position and will not need to wonder in the next meeting if I’m in or not.

18.06.2014 update: Only if you could stop „the windmills of your mind”. I had to come back with this comment.

The team should not care if I care. Each one should care about his work getting done. Working in a group should not result in imposing the group upon the individual. I think this is what Agile is insidiously driving at. Eventually the individual will give in to the group.

Coach, what do you feel? And please don’t answer with the text book, just tell me what you feel Agile is doing. And if you’re not able to feel, it means to me you are applying Agile top-down, which is wrong

19.06.2014 update: Tomorrow stand-up has been cancelled.

Is the Agile gone? Should I call it a victory? Don’t think so. It will probably come back wearing a different hat when the heat of deadlines are way behind. Let’s see what next week will bring.

 

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