As a coach, I often reflect on how the approaches and the practices have evolved from the traditional to the Agile. I can recollect many instances and moments, when we did things differently, improvised a bit, in the traditional world. These were steps, tips, tricks that improved the effectiveness in the traditional approaches. Over a period of time, I found that Agile embodies all that we had evolved as “traditional wisdom” and improvised, into a very nice comprehensive package.
In this blog I will share one such instance and contrast traditional and Agile. Hope to follow-up with a few more blogs along the same lines. I have been able to leverage the learning from the traditional approaches for Agile and that is another motivation for sharing the same here.
One of my favorite topics in the workshops on traditional project management, was tracking project progress and specifically the status update.
I would ask the participants which of the two approaches they would choose to get a status update from their team. Quiz them on why they made the choice and which would yield better results. Those were the days where the team would typically track progress on a weekly basis.
- A. The team gets together first thing on a Monday morning and each team member provides a verbal update on the progress he or she has made.
- B. The team sends a brief update on progress by email, as they get back to work after the weekend and then get together slightly later in the day to update the progress face to face in a meeting.
Most would opt for Option B with some pitching for Option A. A few felt that email update to be a waste, as it may not be read, given one would be meeting soon. I would then share the gem of a learning from one of my early managers – the status update is as much for the individual as it is for the manager, it is the individual who can make a difference. For the individual to make the difference, he or she should know where they stand.
Creating and sending an update by email helps provide one, the moment of reflection, where one is just by oneself and there is no pressure to look or sound good as in a team meeting. One may make the progress look better in the email than it is, but one knows what the “real” status is. If this is achieved with each individual in the team then a large part of the leader’s job is done.
It is not that one may not reflect when providing an update directly in the team meeting. There will be diligent team members who will prepare and provide an accurate picture. There will be some who may fudge a bit to look or sound good. If that is not countered, for whatever reason, there is a risk that the individual may himself start believing it and fail to make needed amends. Then there could be few who may not have a correct assessment for whatever reason and provide an inaccurate update.
The moment of reflection is key, this is where the maximum impact happens. This followed by the act of writing enhances that impact by making one aware of the situation, quickly leading to thinking of solutions. Mindfulness practices talk about silent reflection and journaling and is acknowledged to be of significant help. An email status update is sort of a mini journaling exercise.
In the Agile world
Now let’s look at how we do the same in Agile. Firstly, there is a sea change here due to the tracking being daily and iteration being just a few weeks. That itself brings in a lot of benefits, keeping that aside let’s focus here on how the progress is tracked.
Typically, teams do a daily stand up where they share their progress. Most teams use a physical board or a tool to track the progress, and update that prior to the stand up. Quite a few teams follow the practice of updating the remaining hours in the tool they use. Updating progress in the tool before the stand-up is a good practice which enforces one to reflect and the act of updating can be likened to journaling.
Doing the above leads the team members towards naturally thinking of solutions to issues and planning any corrective action. With this the daily stand-up stands a good chance to turn into the daily planning meet as it is intended to be. Each of the team member is aware of where he or she stands and hence a clear outlook on how to proceed.
Teams that do not update the physical board or tool may not make good progress and may miss their goals. Key is ensuring that the daily stand-up is a daily planning meet. This can happen if each team member is doing the equivalent of reflection and journaling.
As a coach I make the leader/team aware of this, sharing the past experience from the traditional world, as articulated above, helps them grasp this quickly. Whatever approach one follows, ultimately the contribution is from the individual team members working towards a goal. Agile makes it easy by it’s many practices, incremental approach; but the team member needs to be mindfully aware of where they are on a daily basis. A leader helps the team members on this journey.
Would like to hear your thoughts on this, please share your thoughts.